Having several children in your homeschool can pose a challenge: Should I create individual lesson plans for each child, or teach them all together? HOW would you teach them all together?
For many years I’ve had a WIDE range of ages, from toddler to teen. There’s simply no way my sanity would allow for each child to have their own history lessons, science books, read-alouds, geography worksheets, etc. Either I would go insane, or the lessons would never get done.
I learned to combine the entire family for everything but Math and Language Arts (and some of this even gets combined!). After many years of doing this, I still have a wide range of ages, and it still works.
My kid are 6, 9, 11, and 16. Here’s what our school looks like:
- 6 year-old-girl: learning to read, participates in group subjects
- 9 year-old boy AND 11 year-old-boy: do same math and language arts, participate in group subjects
- 16 year-old-girl: will graduate this year; does her own math, writing, French, science, and participates in group subjects
Our 17 years of homeschooling have seen different age ranges and shared subjects, but they have always resembled this trend. (Last year, I included my niece and nephew in our homeschool, and we still did used this method.)
So what are group subjects?
Basically, group studies include everything except math and language arts. I include World History and American History (taught simultaneously), geography, science, government, economics, literature, religion, art, and music. We study the history of the world in chronological order, beginning with Creation in Genesis 1 and working our way, over several years, to modern times.
You may be wondering how a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old can study the same thing? The best answer is: books and activities that meet their level. So while we study the American Revolution, the six-year-old listens to the read-alouds, Mom will read a picture book to her on that subject, and she will color a related picture. The 16-year-old will listen to the read-alouds, along with reading advanced books on the subject, and will add pages to her history notebook (timelines, analysis, biography or author pages, and maps).
Here’s how we do this:
We study history chronologically. Each historic event builds on the ones before it, and also help students understand so much about WHY it happened.
Example: The Pilgrims settling in America were a result of strict religious rules by King James as head of the Church of England; the Church of England was a result of King Henry VIII’s desire to divorce his first wife (when the Pope would not grant that divorce) and was perfectly timed with the Protestant Reformation; the Protestant Reformation was a result of the Bible being printed and distributed in the German (as well as the English) language; this was a result of the invention of the Printing Press. This is a very simplified explanation, but when you read world history in chronological order, you see the really BIG picture. No single event in history stands alone; each event is one chapter in the history of the world.
We don’t study American history separate from World History. (America’s history is a direct result of events in England and Europe, so it’s kind of impossible to separate the two.) We learn about each person, event, invention, book, and discovery as they naturally happened.
History and geography naturally go hand-in-hand, so I do not use a geography curriculum. Instead, we include geography in every study. Printed blank maps are a great way to reinforce “what happened where” in every story.
Science is studied (as much as possible) in conjunction with historic times and events. Biology fits perfectly with creation and biblical/ancient history. Physics can be introduced (even on a very elementary level) in the 17th century with Isaac Newton. Steam inventions introduced the Industrial Revolution, which was steamrolling (if you will) through the 19th century. Inventors all throughout history made profound discoveries for their times, and understanding those times brings the discovery and the scientific laws and theories to life.
So, in our homeschool we don’t study composers, or literature, or explorers, or inventors in a stand-alone unit. They all fall somewhere on the timeline, and that’s when we study them.
Let’s take Biology. Both of my high schoolers have taken a homeschool biology course. We really like the 101 Series. It consists mainly of videos, with a printable book of quizzes and assignments. All of my kids watch the videos together, and while the oldest is doing the assignment in the book, the younger ones will follow along at their level.
If the oldest is focusing on the human body, the younger ones are, too. We might read a “Magic School Bus” book about the digestive system, or the Usborne Human Body Flap Book. One year they made outlines of their own body and glued the body parts to it.
When the older kids are studying the intricacies of birds, we will read elementary books about birds and flight and their habits, and everyone will observe birds and try to identify them.
How about history? This is where the most “sharing” happens. (Read my detailed post about this HERE.) As I said, there are always read-aloud times, so everyone participates in that. It’s really amazing how much kids grasp, even if the book we read wasn’t “designed” for their age level. Not only do they learn from the story, they hear the proper usage of the English language.
Sometimes I provide maps or hands-on learning activities to do while I read aloud. Other times I allow them all to choose their activity, which may be drawing, building, knitting, or lounging on the floor. From the youngest to the oldest, there will be something to reinforce what I’m reading. The oldest (high school age) will do a bit of research, or write a paper, or do an in-depth study of the topic, and will also likely read another book on the subject. The middle kids (elementary or middle school age) will do maps, or illustrate, or answer questions. The youngest (lower elementary) will color or draw, and probably color and label a map.
When we studied the Middle Ages, each child had different books to read, and I read Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, The Great and Terrible Quest, and Otto of the Silver Hand aloud. We all worked together on a castle model and created a “history fair” display for our local co-op. Each kid tried drawing a cathedral. The younger kids did a Language Arts curriculum together that focused on The Whipping Boy. We enjoyed a “feast” like medieval people. We rounded out this study with a trip to a local Medieval Faire.
Whole-family learning is a game-changer. As the teacher, I get to focus my energy and planning on just one or two topics at at time. My lesson plan consists of one topic, and a list of resources at different levels. And the fun stuff is a family affair. We are not just learning together; we are creating memories together. (I could go on and on about that one statement, and I will in a future post.)
Classic literature, art, and music/composers are also studied in this way: whenever they appear on the history timeline. This cycle of chronological learning will be repeated several times over the years, especially since my kids range in age from 6-21. Though the youngest is getting the barest introduction to world history, science, and the rest, she (and all the others) are getting a foundation laid for covering those topics more in depth later. They will hear or read abridged classic novels, and not be afraid of the unabridged versions in high school. They will already have heard basic science concepts and history stories and be familiar with simple geography at an early age. They will already know from young childhood that ancient history is IN the Bible, and that the two are not separate subjects or events.
This method has been a huge blessing, not to mention a lot of fun, for our family. Do you combine ages? How do you do it? If you haven’t tried this in your homeschool, what questions do you have? Comment below!
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Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Advisory Board and The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew. She also teaches ESL online from home. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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