Homeschooling two or more children can seem like a daunting task, especially when those children are different ages or at different levels of maturity. There are a few things, however, that can make things go smoothly.
- Plan Ahead It is important to have a clear picture of what you expect to accomplish on any given day in homeschooling your children. For some, a strict schedule is the only way they can get things done. Many families have very successfully used Managers of Their Homes in order to schedule their day. The book includes helpful tips and reproducible pages that help you plan your day in 15 minute increments. This works great for highly structured and organized people. For some families, however, this type of schedule is too restricting. This type of schedule cannot account for the various things that come up every day--your 3 year old spills her milk, the baby won't take a nap, your 3rd grader lost his reader, etc... It can be frustrating to find yourself 15 or 30 minutes behind and eventually this schedule gets tossed out the window! Personally, I like the idea of a schedule, but we aren't disciplined enough to pull it off, so we use a loosely scheduled routine. To create our daily routine I made a list of what subjects each child needed to complete daily and then marked whether they could be done independently, partially independently, or required my direct supervision. I then rearranged them in such a way as to have only one child at a time requiring my direct supervision. These are each plotted into a grid that I divide hourly. The kids always know what comes next and they know when they are finished.
- Teach Independence When your children are capable of reading on their own you will find that they are ready and able to become more independent in some of their work. From pretty early on I try to teach my children to listen carefully to the instructions and then work independently to complete the work. My children alternate one-on-one time with me throughout the school day and it is during those times that I teach new concepts, make corrections, and give instruction for work to be completed. Each child's one-on-one time is not to be interrupted, so if one of my children has a problem while working independently they are to skip that problem and finish the work. If I am still working with a sibling they are to look at that problem again and see if they can figure it out. Usually they figure it out on their own and are able to move on to their next assignment, and if not I offer help as soon as I am free. Teaching your kids to be independent workers will ultimately be as good for them as it is for managing your time. Independent workers turn into great problem solvers!
- Make Use of Older Siblings Often an older sibling can step in and help out with a younger brother or sister, freeing you to work one-on-one with the another child. If your older child is a good reader, try having him or her read aloud to a little sister or brother. My oldest child reads aloud to his little sister every day. I love the bond that it has created between them. She will always remember that he read some of her favorite stories to her. Older siblings can use flash cards to help teach colors, numbers, shapes, and letters. Alternatively, they can simply play games or help them complete a puzzle.
- Combine Subjects Wherever Possible If you have children that are close in age you can take advantage of combined teaching. History, science, art, and foreign language are all subjects that lend themselves well to combining. Even with children that are two or three years apart combining still works with some modification. You would obviously require more retention and understanding from your older child and perhaps add additional reading or writing assignment to go along with the lesson. Combining subjects not only saves time, but it also has the added benefit of having your children working and learning together. I've often discovered that when my children are learning the same things at the same time it carries over into non-school times as well. One day last year, after my boys had been studying they same subject in history, I found them writing a puppet show related to the building of the Great Wall of China. Currently they are both interested in gardening and this is also carrying over from school times to non-school times. What a great way to enhance the knowledge they've acquired than to talk about it together and expand it into their daily play. This is a benefit to homeschooling that I don't believe you will find to be at all common in public schools!
- Occupy the Little Ones Sometimes it's the littlest ones in our homes that can provide the biggest distractions to our homeschool day. Toddlers and preschoolers often just want to be a part of the activity centered around your homeschool. I have found that having special, school-time-only, activities available is usually enough to keep even the most persistent preschooler occupied while the older children need mom's direct attention. When my second son was a toddler I set up some activity boxes in a cabinet for him. The plastic shoe-box sized containers are perfect for this. It is important that the boxes contain only activities that the child can do on his or her own. It defeats the purpose if you give a 3 year old a 500 piece puzzle that will only serve to frustrate and reduce him to tears. My boxes included things like lacing shapes, counting bears, paper and stickers, crayons and a coloring book, puzzles, and play-doh. Occasionally, I would also dump a large canister of oatmeal into a shallow, but wide, plastic bin and add some scoops, spoons, and cups. This serves as an amazing "indoor sandbox", and the clean up is pretty simple--a broom and a dustpan or, even better, a dustbuster. On rare occasions, when nothing else worked, I have also been known to fill up a shallow bin with water and supply the same scoops and spoons along with a strainer and a funnel. This one was good for hours of play! If you set it up on the kitchen floor on a couple of towels, your mess is pretty limited too.