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5 Tips for Homeschooling Multiple Ages

Make the Most of a Multi-Age “Classroom”

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If you're homeschooling more than one child, it can be a challenge to work with kids at different levels of understanding and ability. But multi-age "classrooms" are nothing new. They go back to the time of the one-room schoolhouse, and continue up to some most innovative schools today.

Here are a few of the strategies parents can use when homeschooling multiple ages:

1. Let Preschoolers "Play School"

Cuisenaire Rods
Image: Kathy Ceceri

Trying to work with older children when there's a toddler underfoot can be distracting. One way to keep preschoolers safe and occupied is to give them "schoolwork" of their own. Set them up nearby with their own crayons and paper or coloring pages, puzzles, or (if they're old enough not to mouth them) math manipulatives.

Preschool standards like a rice box (a small-scale, indoor version of a sandbox with measuring cups and other digging tools) are also good for keeping little ones busy in one place. Just remember to stay focused on working with your school-age kids, and worry about cleaning up the mess later.

2. Have One Child Help Another

It's common to have more advanced students assist their peers, but it doesn't have to work in only one direction. My younger son did a good job of helping his older brother learn his times tables by holding up the flash cards and checking his responses against the answer on the back.

3. Find Ways to Differentiate

With two bright sons three years apart, I found the easiest way to keep them both engaged was to teach to the older child, and let the younger one pick up as much as he was able. Classroom teachers call this differentiation.

For example, I would assign both boys a research project, but with different expectations of the length and complexity. So my older son would write a biography of a famous figure we were studying using additional resources and make it a page or more, while my younger son was asked to draw a portrait and fill in a few lines of text below.

4. Split Them Up on Field Trips or in Classes

When my kids were younger, I was lucky to find a music school where my older son could take a piano lesson with one teacher while my younger got his violin lesson with another. I signed them up for enrichment programs where they could each choose a class for their own interest and ability. And when I organized a field trip for the homeschool group, I made sure that there was an exhibit that would entertain the little one while his brother got to take the school-age tour.

5. Draw Them All in With Read-Alouds

Children can usually understand things well above their reading level. When you read aloud -- whether it's a nonfiction book about nature, a chapter from a well-written history book, or a classic of children's literature -- you can reach a range of listeners at once. If needed, you can always stop and explain something briefly to the younger audience members, but often the context and any pictures are enough to help them follow along. And the shared experience can make you and your children feel closer, no matter what age they are.

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