A day in the life of Homeschooling Multiple Ages

a day in the life of homeschool | homeschooling multiple ages | homeschooling ADHD, dyslexia

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is that we can all learn together as a family, and yet that also presents one of the greatest challenges—homeschooling multiple ages. I’ve homeschooled while pregnant, with a newborn, through the destructive toddler years, while potty training, into the preschool stage; and now, my youngest is finally kindergarten. Each stage has its challenges, and our routine has looked different at each stage, sometimes changing throughout the year. But no matter what our current challenges are or how I change the routine, a few principles have remained constant and made a world of difference in successfully homeschooling multiple ages.

Quick Tips for Homeschooling Multiple Ages

  • Budget your time.
  • Combine all that you can.
  • Don’t try to do it all.
  • Less is more.
  • Train independence.

A day in the life of

Homeschooling Multiple Ages

Though not everyday is exactly the same, most days we participate in our extracurriculars in the morning and begin schoolwork after lunch. Monday afternoons, I devote to my oldest. We meet together for a couple of hours with a cup of coffee or tea and go over the last week’s work, the new week’s assignments, and our Tapestry of Grace history and literature discussions. It’s also our video and game day, which means that my younger ones watch geography and Spanish videos, play learning games, or work on projects; they are occupied with these special activities that I only offer them once a week, which allows me some (more or less) uninterrupted time with my sixth grader. The rest of the week, he works pretty independently, checking in with me only if he has a problem or question.

 

On the other four days, I work with my kids from youngest to oldest, starting with my kindergartener. Together, my youngest and I work on phonics (Logic of English Foundations B), math (a mix of RightStart Math A and Math Mammoth 1), and handwriting for about an hour. Then, he goes off to play legos, and I switch my attention to my fourth grader. She’s dyslexic and ADHD; between her learning challenges and anxieties plus the ADHD distraction, working on her own is sometimes challenging. Because I cannot work with her in every subject every day, I budget my time with her. We work together for about an hour and a half in a block schedule. On certain days, I work with her in RightStart Math and Easy Grammar; other days we work on writing and comprehension skills. She then works for about another hour and a half on some copy work activities, reading, and craft projects. A couple of days a week, I’ll wrap up our homeschool day by working with my oldest for about 20 min. in his grammar, using the Abeka 6th grade grammar workbook. We read through the instructions together, and I’ll have him work through a certain number of sentences until I’m confident he’s grasped it. (By no means do we work every problem or even every exercise.)

 

For history, I choose a read-aloud for the lunch hour and assign some independent reading and projects for my older kids to do on their own. Science is another independent subject for my kiddos. My oldest works on his own throughout the week in his Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage, while my daughter is reading through the Thornton Burgess Book of Birds and Book of Animals and choosing projects about the animals in her stories.

On a good day, we will finish up around 3:30 or 4, but of course, there are those days when I wrap up our day just in time to start dinner.

Homeschooling multiple ages is a work in progress. It’s about finding a groove that works for one stage in your life, and being willing to make adjustments as your kids grow and change. It’s about looking at your whole day to find the best moments for learning. It’s about seeing all the opportunities in your day. It’s about thinking outside the box and taking advantage of all that homeschool freedom and flexibility. 

5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges

homeschool challenges | homeschool planning

The reality of any plan is this: it’s going to change. I’m constantly planning, constantly changing, constantly rethinking, constantly trying to make our days run more smoothly. But I’ve learned that the key to a good plan is how well it flexes. How well does a plan hold when life hits it? Planning for your homeschool is so much more than plotting out what days you do math and when you finish the year. There are toddlers and sick days and unexpected visitors and laundry and overflowing toilets and doctor visits and — life is messy, unpredictable. Planning your homeschool well involves planning for your homeschool challenges, anticipating what can and will go wrong and allowing for the chaos in your plan.

5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges

Routine vs. Schedule

Over the years, I’ve homeschooled with a newborn, toddler, poop-throwing potty training toddler, preschooler, ADHD times 2, dyslexia, month long stomach flu, and a coast to coast move. Let me tell you, the key to a good plan is a good routine. And I don’t necessarily mean a timer that goes off at 8:30 to indicate school has begun. (I’ve done that, too.) A good routine is a rhythm of life that fits your family. Set up your day by routines rather than specific times; have a morning routine, an after-snack routine, an after-lunch routine, a before-supper routine, etc. The idea is to allow for some distractions and upsets. If your child ends up in the bathroom at 9:00 in the morning and stays there for 15 minutes, you’re not behind schedule; you simply pick up wherever your routine left off.

Realistic Expectations

I am the worst at assuming I can do more than is realistic. But the reality that reigns me in is that I do only have so many hours a day. One of the first things I do when I’m planning a new routine is to list how much homeschool time I really have. What can I personally give my children, and what will need to be done independently? When I had a newborn and was nursing, I had to realize I could not personally provide all the instruction my kids needed. I purchased website subscriptions and online learning games. When potty training, I set up a lot of our homeschool time near the bathroom and in the hallway.

The idea is that we have got to lower our expectations. We simply can’t do it all. Something does have to give. In order to have a successful plan, be realistic about what you can do. I know I can provide one hour of instruction for my daughter and one hour for my kindergartener. That means with my fourth grader, we don’t do every subject every day. I work with her in a few subjects on certain days and the rest on other days. I understand that my priority has to be quality over quantity. In other words, one good writing lesson once a week will get more accomplished than a stressful, distracted, rushed lesson everyday. A good 10 minute lesson will teach more than 45 minutes filled with disruptions. Less really can be more.

System that flexes

My motto this year has been “the next thing.” I’m learning that some days, we knock out a huge amount of work and other days we come to a screeching halt. Instead of stressing over what is or is not getting done, I’m focusing on “the next thing.” We cover our studies one lesson at a time; we move on when my kids are ready to move on. That means we take two weeks for spelling lists instead of one. That means, my son lets me know when he’s ready to take that Latin quiz; sometimes its at the end of the week, and sometimes he needs two weeks. (I do set a two week limit.) Somedays we get through three math lessons with Right Start, and some days I can’t get past the warm up. We move on to the next topic in history when we’ve read the books and finished our projects for the first topic. We take things one at a time, because I’ve seen over and over again that it all washes out in the end.

How does this work in my actual lesson plans? I have an overall plan for the year and for each term; then, I sit down each Sunday night and plot out what I think we will get to in the week. If we finish it, I put a checkmark. If we didn’t finish it, I put an arrow through the box and write it into the following week’s plan. For my kids’ assignments, I don’t write out specific lesson numbers. Instead, I assign “math for 30 minutes” or “Read a chapter in Courage and Conviction.” They move through their assignments in the same way we move through the week, doing the next thing.

Celebrating the little things

Sometimes learning takes on a mind of its own. Your kids find an interest and run with it, a free video lesson pops up in your newsfeed that you know they’ll love, you stumble upon a gem on Netflix that you’ve just got to watch together, you get caught up in your read-aloud and can’t put it down. Maybe your kid writes and illustrates his own comic book, or repairs an appliance in your garage. These are all learning opportunities, and a flexible plan allows you to embrace these moments. Often, I will record these in my planner, too. It’s learning. It happened. I want a record so that at the end of the week when I have that “what have we gotten done” moment, I can see that learning did happen even if all my boxes aren’t checked off.

Willingness to try again

Planning for your homeschool challenges, bottom line, is a willingness to keep planning, to try again. Don’t scrap the whole plan, but be honest about what isn’t working. Maybe your time with your child is awesome, but independent work just isn’t happening; try a new plan. Just try it out. The best inventors and innovators, those found the most success in life, realized that every failure brought them one step closer to success. In the end, these are the life lessons that are the most meaningful for our kids. We are educating more than just their minds. We are teaching them that it’s okay to try and fail and try again. It’s part of the process. It’s part of life.

Homeschooling is challenging and filled with ups and downs. It’s beautiful in the way that birth is beautiful—a painful, messy beautiful. It’s life, and life is unpredictable. Planning for your homeschool challenges means you have a direction, a vision, and an end in mind; but you are also embracing that homeschooling really is about the journey, not just the destination.

Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.