Reader Questions: How Do I Teach Multiple Grades at Once?

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It’s another reader question day.  Recently, I’ve shared my thoughts on making friends and why our family homeschools.  Today, I thought I’d tackle another question I hear frequently.

Living Creatively asks, “How will I have time to do it all? How can I teach three grades at once, and still do pre-K stuff, as well?

I think just about every homeschool mom with more than one kid wonders, at one time or another, how to get it all done.  I also think that the answer probably varies greatly among homeschooling families.  I’ve posted before on homeschooling with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers and on schooling children close in age.  Today, I’ll share some tips that have worked for my family and some that have worked for other families that I know.

1. Consolidate.  We do as much as we can together.  Until this year, all of my kids did Bible study, history, and science together.  There are a couple of different schools of thought on how to make group subjects work most effectively.  One is to teach to the oldest and let the younger kids pick up what they can.  You might be surprised at how much the little guys to pick up.

The other thought is to begin teaching to the youngest, then, increase the complexity for the older kids.  So, for example, you might read a picture book about a historical figure, then, move to a biography geared toward an older audience.  Though I tended to use the first method, one big benefit to the second is that picture books tend to boil everything down to the essential facts, so hearing them first may help reinforce them for your older students as you move into more complex reading.

2. Divide and conquer.  While it makes sense to do many subjects together, for others it is much easier to split everyone up.  When Josh and Megan first got old enough to do formal schooling, I had this idea that we’d all have things like math time and writing time.  I quickly discovered that trying to teach more than one kid on more than level can be an exercise in frustration.  There are three of them and only one of me, after all.

I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to stagger the subjects that are probably going to require me to work one-on-one with each child.  So, I’ll have two go work on something they can do independently (which is most everything now, as far as my oldest is concerned), while I work with one, then, we’ll switch.

3. Nap time!  For families with younger children, nap time can be the most productive time of the day.  When Josh and Megan were younger, I would always save Brianna’s most “mom-intensive” work for the afternoons when they napped.  Even if your little ones don’t nap for a long time, twenty to thirty minutes of concentrated time with Mom can be very productive for an older child.

4. Workbooks.  Now, if you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I’m not a huge fan of workbooks as a whole, though we do have a few that we use and love.  For most subjects, workbooks just sound incredibly boring to me.  However, what sounds boring to one mom may sound like a sanity saver to another.  I have a friend who homeschools her five children.  Very early on, she discovered that it made her life much simpler to have everyone in workbooks.  One-on-one time, planning, and keeping everyone on their appropriate grade level were accomplished for her family this way.

5. Timing.  Pre-K is not, in my experience, a time intensive part of a homeschool mom’s day.  It can usually be accomplished in little bursts of 15-20 minute time slots.  These can be fit in while older children are working independently or at other times, creatively, throughout the day.  For example, bedtime stories can be themed with preschool lessons.  T is for turtle might mean reading stories about Franklin while snuggled in bed with your little one at night.  You could even toss in an age-appropriate non-fiction book about turtles as a follow-up.

You can also enlist the help of older students.  I know several moms whose older kids have an “assigned” time during the day to spend some meaningful play/teaching time with a younger sibling.  This serves several purposes such as freeing up time for Mom to work with other kids, allowing older and younger siblings to bond, and helping an older student gain confidence by teaching a younger sibling.

These are just some of my ideas for multilevel teaching.  Now, if, by “doing it all,” you mean the laundry, the dishes and the housework, um, don’t drop by my house unannounced, please.

What suggestions do you have for Living Creatively on how to homeschool a varying age-span of children at once?

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  1. I teach to all of them at once (except my 2 yr old). The only subject I do separately is math. I started with workbooks but it wasn't us, and I found it a lot of work. I find this gives me more time for one on one and for the little one. The older ones are expected to take him to the park once a day. I teach to my oldest. There is not much difference in their comprehension, just in the work they produce. I have not yet thought about when my little one is 7, but then the others will be 13, 15, 17 & 19 so I guess it won't ever be an issue

  2. Oh Boy…this was helpful! I was so stressed when I started homeschooling because I just wasn't exactly sure how to do it with three kids. The first day was a little crazy, but, as we've started our third week…we've sort of arrived at a routine and it's funny….we do just about all of the suggestions that you mentioned. We have some workbooks, my oldest reads to the girls as part of his lessons, and we alternate who I work with at any given time. Thank you, Thank you!

  3. I'm not really trying that one yet.
    It's my first year as a home educator.
    I have a K5 student and a 3 and 2 yr old! They are learning a lot by being around the big sister. I agree with you on the short bursts of lessons at that age! Thanks for sharing I always get so much valuable info from your blog 🙂


  4. You can drop in anytime. Just expect books everywhere, toys all over, a sink full of dishes, pots on the stove, and laundry… everywhere?
    Did I mention my two year old may or may not be fully clothed? But anyone is welcome!

  5. I use MFW unit studies. My girls are 5 and 7. So we only do LA and Math separately. Thanks for the great reminders!
    Monica at

  6. Thank you Kris. As a newer to homeschooling Mom I so appeciate your comments and your encouragements. They mean a lot to me on the hard days when it is easier to throw in the towel. Thank you for taking time to do this, I learn ALOT from you.

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