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. 

Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

I have poignant memories of the chaos and trauma of those years right before we realized two of our kids had ADHD. The rages, the sensory issues, the meltdowns, the distraction, the hyperactivity! While early on we had embraced the classical method of education for our homeschool, I was drowning in the ADHD chaos. Trying to enforce a rigid daily structure with lots of memory work was a constant uphill battle. Additionally, our family was also experiencing different health issues at the time. My husband was going in for his second back surgery when I picked up Karen Andreola’s Charlotte Mason Companion to read in the waiting room. Within just a couple of hours, I devoured that book. It was a breath of fresh inspiration, the grace I needed to navigate our torrent of homeschool challenges. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason’s ideas became a game-changer, even a life-changer for us.

While I don’t adhere to everything Charlotte Mason, I really appreciated the outlook she had on children and education in general and her practical tips for maintaining a healthy love for learning. Charlotte Mason changed how I approached homeschooling ADHD kiddos.

Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason

Soon after my kids’ were diagnosed with ADHD, my pediatrician recommended a popular book on the topic. I hated it. I hated that the focus was largely on how hard life with ADHD would be. I already knew that. I lived it daily. I wanted to hear something positive. As I read Charlotte Mason’s ideas about children and people, I loved how she helped me gain perspective in those hard moments.

“We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.”

I needed to train myself to look for those positives. The struggles were obvious, but what were the triumphs? What were my kids excellent at? What did ADHD give them? For my kids, ADHD gives them an incredible enthusiasm for life, for adventure, for change. They love people and the spontaneity of life as a pastor’s family. They are highly creative and innovative. They rarely use anything for it’s intended purpose, and very often think of solutions most people would never see. They are idea-machines! They have more ideas in a single day than some people have in a lifetime. And my kids are flat-out funny! Oh my goodness, we are never short on laughs. In the daily grind, it’s not always easy to remember these positives. We have to train ourselves to see the beauty and joy.

“A child is a person in whom all possibilities are present – present now at this very moment – not to be educed after many years and efforts manifold on the part of the educator.”

Parenting is far from easy. In the midst of training who they will be, we can’t lose sight of who they already are. We tried ADHD meds for a year before deciding to treat it with diet changes. And I’m so thankful for that time. It allowed me to get my head above water and see the connection between what my kids ate and their behavior so that we could make permanent diet changes to help them. And both the meds and the diet allowed me to see who my children really were, beyond the moods and meltdowns and rages and behavior problems.

The possibilities are already present in each child. Look for them! Some days you may have to look hard, but they are there. You aren’t just educating their future possibilities; our children are full of possibility each day.

“We attempt to define a person, the most commonplace person we know, but he will not submit to bounds; some unexpected beauty of nature breaks out; we find he is not what we thought, and begin to suspect that every person exceeds our power of measurement.”

It is so hard to see people make judgements based on what they know or think they know about ADHD or your child. But honestly, we are all guilty of that. Even as parents, we can easily fall into this trap of attempting to define who our children are. But every person exceeds our power of measurement. ADHD kids know no bounds! That’s the best and worst of every day. They will exceed every measurement and every expectation. They go far above and beyond even where you want them to be. I am often surprised and humbled by my children; they are not always what I think, and they often exceed all power of measurement.

“Look on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern Education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the standardized test.”

homeschooling charlotte mason | homeschooling ADHD

“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.”

Charlotte Mason reminded me that my job as a homeschool parent was to nurture much more than the just the brain. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason challenged me to think of educating them emotionally, spiritually, and physically as well as mentally. This one aspect of Charlotte Mason gave me enormous freedom. So many days I would get discouraged about what didn’t get done academically; we’d spent the whole day talking through intense moods and character and behavior. There were days when I felt I did more counseling than teaching. And yet, Charlotte Mason reminded me that I was teaching, that this counseling and working through BIG FEELINGS was as much part of their education as math or reading. I am educating them for living and for life, not just for college and career.

“Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.”

homeschooling charlotte mason | homeschooling ADHD charlotte mason

“So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.”

“For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.”

“Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin, and that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food.”

Charlotte Mason has a lot to say about ideas. Ideas vs. facts—that is the cornerstone of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling, and the key to recharging our homeschool. I’ve mentioned already my kids are a fountain of ideas, constantly. When I switched our focus from simply memorizing facts to capturing and connecting with ideas, our homeschool turned 180 degrees. It was night and day difference. What did this look like? Instead of battling my kids to memorize timelines and facts, we read about people and wrote in the dates to the timeline that my child connected with. I stopped forcing quantity and chose a smaller assortment of content and facts that we could savor and enjoy. My kids remembered people and events because they connected with the ideas that resonated with them; they began empathizing and identifying with the people we read about. They remembered those connections for years, long after they forgot the memorized facts.

Other practical aspects of Charlotte Mason that we use to homeschool ADHD include:

  • Short lessons and lots of variety. For my younger kids, lessons are no longer than 15-20 minutes. Their sharp, fast minds learn a lot in a short time and then have to move on. Staying longer on a topic does not teach them any more; it just frustrates all of us. Even for my sixth grader, most subjects are 15-20 minutes with a couple of subjects (like math)  taking him 30 min.
  • Nature Study and outdoor time. Fresh air can do more for my kids’ moods than anything else. I’m an introvert and a home-body, but I’ve learned the importance of getting us all outside regularly. 
  • Variety and handicrafts. As part of embracing the education of the whole child, Charlotte Mason recommends a lot of variety and arts and handicraft. I’ve allowed a very loose definition of handicraft as any craft done by hand: duct-tape projects, rubber band bracelets, paracord crafts, crocheting, drawing, woodwork, making paper airplanes, sewing felt animals or monsters, building paper minecraft villages, legos, etc. Their hands are busy, and their creativity is nurtured as much as their intellect.

We are still a pretty solid mix of both classical and Charlotte Mason. A day in the life of our homeschool would clearly show a blend of both of these methods, but the Charlotte Mason method has enriched our homeschool immensely. Homeschooling ADHD with Charlotte Mason is a joy, a beautiful mess of ideas, and an atmosphere of rambunctious learning.

How to Blend Homeschool Styles to find the Best Fit

blend homeschool styles | classical and charlotte masonOne of the aspects of homeschooling that I am most thankful for is the ability to customize a learning approach that fits my kids’ individual needs. It’s a beautiful thing to recognize that classical or Charlotte Mason or delight-directed or Montessori fits with your vision and goals for your family and your children. However, I know first-hand that it is also really easy to trap yourself within these labels. What once inspired and informed your choices suddenly becomes what’s strangling the life out of your homeschool. What do you do when one size doesn’t fit the whole family? Or what if you feel like a conglomeration of ideas is a better fit than a single approach? The answer is simple: blend homeschool styles into the custom-fit for your family!

Our Decision to Blend Homeschool Styles

Shortly after beginning to homeschool our kids, I read about the classical style of education. My husband and I loved it. The logic, the rhetoric, the apologetics, the Socratic discussion, the learning stages—so much of this style appealed to us, and I dove in head first.

Of course, that was before I discovered that I’d been blessed with a house full of ADHD. A couple of years in and the rigid structure and rigorous demands of a strictly classical education had just about killed us. Toss in a series of family health issues, and our life was chaos. As I sat in the waiting room of a medical office waiting for my husband’s second back surgery to be completed, I devoured Karen Andreola’s book Charlotte Mason Companion. Charlotte Mason was the breath of fresh grace I desperately needed.

While I wasn’t ready to abandon the premise of classical education we’d loved and identified with, I immediately saw how Charlotte Mason’s principles both complemented and embellished the starkness of the classical model. Charlotte Mason gave grace and beauty where I was in much need of it. Over the next year, I worked to blend the two styles together in a way that kept what we loved about classical but gave grace in the areas of ADHD distractibility where I needed it most. The result: a perfect fit for our family, a blend of knowledge and grace.

So how do you achieve this for your family? How do you take what you like, toss what you don’t, and blend what’s left together?

How to Blend Homeschool Styles

Identify what you love best about the styles you are considering. Every curriculum, every homeschool style has it’s strengths and weaknesses. As you read and consider the differences, make a list of what appeals to you the most.

For instance, I love the classical model of a 4 year rotation of history; I love the learning stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; I love the emphasis on classical languages and Socratic discussions of ideas. But the rigor of long lessons, drill, and grueling memory work was squelching the active, creative spirits of my ADHD kiddos, not to mention creating real obstacles for my dyslexic child.

From Charlotte Mason, I loved the short lessons, the variety, the incorporation of handicraft and creativity and beauty, the emphasis on the whole person, and the rich feast of ideas to engage their busy intellects.

Exchange principles you don’t like with ones you do. I replaced classical suggestions of 45 minute subjects with the Charlotte Mason principle of short lessons. I was stunned by how much my busy kids learned in only 15 minutes, and the rich variety kept them engaged without gimmicks or bribes. While the encyclopedias and information-rich texts of the classical style appealed to my son, the living books of Charlotte Mason were much more effective with my dyslexic daughter who could follow a plot to remember information better than she could remember random facts.

Embrace trial and error. Ideas that sound perfect in theory may totally fail in application. And that’s okay. Make adjustments. I loved the idea of Charlotte Mason’s approach to teaching spelling, writing, and narration. But in practice, the method was a total fail with both my older kids. Though I loved the open-ended CM concept of narration, my children did much better with the guided, structured classical narrations. Blending the two has been a constant work in progress, but the result has been a style of learning that captures the very best of my kids’ ADHD strengths rather than frustrating their weaknesses.

A couple of years later, and I’m still towing that line between these two styles, daily making decisions about which principles fit our family’s vision and personality best. It’s empowering to blend homeschool styles to what works best for us. It’s liberating to have something else to try when we fail. It’s inspiring to know I’m not trapped in a method that feels like the wrong fit.