Before the introduction of institutionalized public schools in the mid-1800s, parents taught their children at home. These families commonly had ten or more families and they not only taught their children academics, but they also taught agricultural, parenting, and homemaking skills.
Today, many families are going back to teaching their children at home. The big difference today is that there are so many curricula choices on the market that it can be difficult for parents to choose what’s best for their large family.
There are ways to teach children of several different age levels at once without losing your sanity. Here are some suggestions.
Unit studies are one of the best ways to teach children in different grade levels at the same time. Fun, educational studies are designed around a particular topic like the American Revolution, airplanes, weather, baseball, oceans, or just about anything you can think of. Unit studies incorporate various subjects into the schoolwork. For example, a unit study about kites might include a biographical study of the Wright Brothers, a history of kite-flying, a look at China on the map (where kite-flying probably originated), the aerodynamics of kite flying, the science of why you shouldn’t fly kites during a lightning storm, a field trip to practice flying kites, etc. Unit studies revolve around the “topic” being studied and lessons can include math, science, history, geography, and many other subjects.
The great thing about unit studies with students of varying ages is that you can present the unit study and allow each student to ask and answer questions based on his own academic ability or grade level. This makes unit studies ideal for teaching multi-grade levels.
Literature Based Curriculum
With a literature based curriculum, your child’s studies include reading great literature or “living books.” Living books are the opposite of textbooks. Instead of snippets of information scattered throughout a textbook, living books contain interesting, well-told stories that stand the test of time. Great literature from the 1800s is still great literature today.
Many families prefer a literature based curriculum because children read great stories, learn life-lessons through the characters, and study vocabulary, social concepts, and historical information that is not as commonly taught today. As with unit studies, a literature based homeschool is perfect for large families because you can read aloud great literature to the younger children, allow older children to read the books on their own, and then hold family discussions about the story, characters, authors, values, etc.
Chronological Lessons that cover several grade levels
Many curricula with chronological lessons, such as The Mystery of History or The Story of the World, are designed to cover material during a particular time period like “Creation to the Resurrection” or “The Middle Ages.” The great thing about lessons in these types of books is that many of them are created not for one grade level, but for grade spans – such as fourth through eighth. It works quite well to teach with a chronologically based book where all your children can participate in lessons at their own age/grade level. Also, even though the book may be geared toward grades four to eight, for example, you can still include even younger children in the lessons as long as you believe the content is appropriate for them.
Educational Movies and Software
While I do not advocate children sitting in front of a television or computer for long periods of time, if you use movies and computer software appropriately, these can be a great way to supplement the subjects you teach your child. Used appropriately, educational software is like having a tutor work with one or two of your children while you are working with another.
Finally, when trying to figure out how to teach more than one child at a time, remember that one of the blessings of home education is that it involves freedom. Teach your five- and seven-year-old to read at the same time. If your second grader wants to do a chemistry project with your high school student, let him. Learn Spanish as a family. Relax and use the resources you have at your fingertips.
Homeschooling is fun! If what you are doing is too stressful, try switching to one of the educational methods listed above. The important thing to remember is to find something that works for your family!