Homeschooling one or two children can be challenging enough, but what happens when you’re homeschooling 3, 4, 5 or more? Like parenting these children, sometimes it can feel like there’s not enough of “you” to go around. As a mom of 6, figuring out just how to homeschool multiple children simultaneously was a needed survival skill.
Here are a few of the strategies I’ve used over the years.
My children have a 14 year gap between oldest and youngest, but my middle 4 are just 5 years from oldest to youngest. My 2nd child is only 5 years older than my 5th child! (If you do the math, you’ll realize that at one point, I had 4 children under 5!) I had to figure out how to homeschool multiple children almost from the beginning of my homeschooling years, because they pretty much all started kindergarten within a few years of each other.
My first priority was to teach them independence.
Not just in life skills but academically as well. That means that before I even thought about social studies, art, science or music, I focused on teaching my children the basics of reading and writing.
I also set up our home and homeschool to foster independence.
So I color coded my kids, so that everyone knew which things were theirs. I had separate boxes of school supplies — glue, scissors, pencil, eraser, etc — that matched the color of each child. They had (and have) their own plates, cups, even towels and cloths. And I put it all within reach, when possible. This helps prevent confusion and fighting over who’s things were whose, which means less time spent in refereeing and problem solving, and more time spent in learning!
And the less time I can spend on dealing with squabbles, the easier it is to homeschool multiple children.
Another tool I use a lot are clipboards.
Again, I color coded these, and I use these to assign daily work. Clipboards allow for mobility, organization and even safe storage of special projects (like paintings or science projects. They can act as writing surfaces, but also trays for snacks and toys.
I try to keep readers and resource books easily accessible and organized as well, so that my kids can find what they need quickly. And so that I don’t have to interrupt what I was doing (working? chores? helping another child?) to find it for them. Labels help — especially with pictures for younger children.
I also use crates and file folder boxes (color coded when possible) to hold school books and folders of work. This helps not only keep ME organized, but lets the kids know what they have to do every day.
Second, I grouped my kids when it was possible.
It was a little bit easier when they were small, because they were so close in age and ability. We could do a lot of preschool and kindergarten activities together, and I could work with all of them fairly easily, because we could all sing, color, draw and move together, and they could all listen to the same stories.
As my children have grown, grouping doesn’t happen as often, because despite their closeness in age, ability has varied wildly. My 2nd daughter is autistic and developmentally delayed, but my 3rd child is very advanced for her age, leapfrogging over her big sister. My 4th child is a typical learner, but my 5th child has some unique challenges that have slowed her a little while we figure out how to work on those issues.
When you homeschool multiple children, you definitely have to be flexible!
But the changes here have led to my 3rd strategy: tutoring.
I encourage my children to help each other, and I’ll often assign an older child to work with a younger sibling.
This strategy accomplishes two goals: one, it gives the older child a chance to practice and cement learned skills & review already learned concepts and information. And two, it occupies two of my children, freeing me up to help another child.
So if my youngest child needs a story read so she can work on her comprehension, and my 5th daughter needs to practice her reading skills — the solution is obvious right? Or if my 4th child needs some help working through her times tables, and my 3rd child has been missing a few easy multiplication problems because of rushing, then I’ll get the older to help the younger, and they both get the help they need.
And I don’t have to help either of them!
Another strategy I will sometimes use is to get my kids to “tag team” in and out.
Since the way we do homeschool is highly individualized and self-teaching, I don’t have to do a lot of direct instructing. Instead, my role is more in the “helping with the homework” style. So when my kids are struggling, I’ll sit somewhere central, and they’ll rotate in and out getting specific, quick help with their problem, then going back to where they were on their own, so the next child can come with their question.
This works well if they’re all working on the same thing — like math, for example — because then I don’t necessarily have to switch gears from math to grammar to history. But it can get a little overwhelming when you homeschool multiple children and they all need help in different subjects or topics.
So sometimes I will outsource the support my kids need.
This can vary from child to child, and even from subject to subject. For example, when my gifted child needs help with math, sometimes I’ll get her an instructional video instead of working through the instruction myself, so I can work with other kids while she gets the help she needs. When my youngest needs more practice on letter sounds, and everyone’s busy, I’ll set her up on a tablet with a fun preschool letter game.
Whether it’s art techniques, stories from history, or writing encouragement, there’s always a tool, video or someone else to help. And I encourage my children to ask for help. They can chat online with a historian for questions about history, or call Grandma for spelling help. Not sure if that science fact is true? Let’s see if there’s someone at the museum who can help!
Bonus? My kids learn appropriate social skills and gain huge confidence boosts when they interact with other adults besides me.
Lastly, just as much as I prep my kids for independence, I also encourage them to be mobile in their learning.
In my busy household, there just isn’t time for me to sit down and homeschool multiple children for 2-3 hours at a stretch. I have laundry to do, dishes to wash, meals to prep and bathrooms to clean. And I need to work, with clients, invoicing and marketing to do. So I’m not sitting down at the table with my kids for any long period.
If they need help, they usually have to come find me.
I’ve already mentioned that clipboards help with our mobile learning. We also use tablets and phones, with instant messaging and texting. My kids will text me a question, send me pictures, or voice recordings — or even actually call! — when I’m in the laundry room in the basement, or outside gardening, so I can keep doing what I’m doing while helping from a distance.
You don’t have to sacrifice the customization and flexibility of homeschooling when you homeschool multiple children.
My kids, despite their closeness in age, vary widely in ability and interest. And I can tailor their homeschool programs to each of them, by using some strategies that stretch out my time and ability to support them. Homeschooling multiple kids just takes some creativity — just like parenting them.