I have three children. The youngest two are only 21 months apart in age. There are benefits and challenges when it comes to homeschooling children close in age. The following tips are my suggestions based on my own experience and from talking with other moms of closely-spaced siblings.
1. Teach them together.
When my kids were younger, Bible study, history, and science were group subjects for all three kids despite the four-year age gap between Brianna and Josh. I would usually choose curriculum and topics with Brianna in mind and modify as needed for Josh and Megan. We loved Story of the World for history, and the Christian Kids Explore series for science because both of those easily covered a span of ages.
For many years, we used Bible Study Guide for All Ages for Bible study because they offer activity pages on four different levels. That allowed us to study the same passages and topics while using the activity pages appropriate for each child’s abilities.
Until only the last couple of years or so, I taught Josh and Megan together for language arts. I loved the original First Language Lessons when they were little. After that, we moved to Easy Grammar and Daily Grams, which we’re still using.
2. Try unit studies.
Unit studies are an excellent option for teaching kids together. It’s what we did exclusively for the first several years we homeschooled. It’s not hard to write your own unit studies, but there are some fantastic, ready-made unit study curriculum options on the market, too. We really loved the Trail Guide to Learning series. I could have avoided a lot of frustration if I’d only discovered it a year or two sooner.
Unit studies allow each of your children to learn about the same topic, but in increasing complexity based on their age and ability levels.
3. Don’t teach everything together.
Learning together definitely streamlines the teaching process for mom (or dad), and it can help forge strong family ties, but siblings also need some time away from each other and some one-on-one time with mom and dad.
Plus, not all kids learn at the same pace. This can cause feelings of resentment or inadequacy if a younger sibling is catching on faster than an older one. If you find yourself in that situation, you might consider using a different curriculum for each child so that levels aren’t so obvious or teaching that subject one-on-one in a different room.
In my experience, assuring a child that everyone learns at a different pace and has different gifts and talents only goes so far when a child is feeling one-upped by his or her sibling. Using different curriculum is a small price to pay to allow self-esteem to remain intact.
4. Encourage cooperation, not competition.
I’m not someone who thinks every player should get a participation medal. I’m all for competition – but I’ve found that, among siblings, it can do more harm than good. I honestly think that being close in age and competing against each other in an academic setting hurt the close relationship that Josh and Megan had when they were little.
I love using games to teach, but if I had it to do again, I would have adjusted the game play so that they were working toward a common goal, rather than competing against each other. I did this a year or so ago with a Jeopardy-style review game. Instead of competing against each other, I told them if they reached a certain combined score, we’d go out for ice cream. We achieved the same goal (review) with a spirit of cooperation instead of competition – and we got ice cream.
5. Make adjustments for different skill levels.
It’s easy to teach siblings together with simple modifications. We used to turn board games into reading practice. This is easily modified for players on different levels by having different word cards for each. A beginning reader’s cards might have CVC words, while a more fluent reader will have more challenging words. Even my preschool niece would sometimes join in. Her cards had letters on them since she was practicing letter recognition.
A beginning reader’s cards might have CVC words, while a more fluent reader will have more challenging words. Even my preschool niece would sometimes join in. Her cards had letters on them since she was practicing letter recognition.
So, all the kids played the same game but answered from a different set of questions (or word cards) based on their ability level.
6. Provide opportunities for autonomy.
While doing school together as much as possible makes sense when you have kids close in age, it’s important to provide opportunities for your kids to develop as individuals. Extracurricular activities provide a great opportunity to do this. One of your kids may take an art class while another takes music. One may do gymnastics while the other plays baseball.
My kids also learned at an early age that just because one gets to do something fun doesn’t mean everyone does. If one sibling has a friend invite him or her to an amusement park that doesn’t mean they’ve all been invited.
When Josh reached middle school age, he went to a couple of middle-schoolers-only social events. The moms who organized it had kids of various ages and recognized the importance of kids having activities that were just for them rather than the whole family. (The “whole family” being older and younger siblings. Parents weren’t discouraged from attending.)
Megan was a little disappointed that she couldn’t go – but she was happy to have her own social group apart from her siblings a few years later.
7. Consider workbooks.
Teach them together is probably one of the most common suggestions when schooling kids close in age. It worked well for my family for many years. However, it doesn’t work for everyone or at every stage. Some families find it much easier to use a workbook approach, having each child in his or her own workbooks at his or her own level.
I have a friend with five children who are all close in age. She once told me that schooling them together with unit studies would drive her batty. She found it much easier to use workbooks and have times throughout the day to work with each child one-on-one while the others worked independently. I definitely saw the benefits of using workbooks the couple of years that we used them.
These days, Josh and Megan work independently, and it’s working great for us, but in those early years, these tips were a lifesaver for me.
If you homeschool children close in age, what tips would you add?
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.