Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Homeschooling Multiple Grade Levels

Dear readers, I received the following email today:
Hello Maureen,
I am a fellow Catholic homeschooler and fan of yours. I was hoping you could help with a solution I am looking for. We have 6 children ages 10, 9, 7, 6, 3, and 1. Next fall I will be teaching 4, possibly 5, grades as my 3 year old seems ready to learn reading and basic preschool. Most of my children are above average students. I do have a son in the 1st grade next year that seems to have a different learning style but that is for another letter. Here is my question ... I am looking for material that I can use to teach all of the kids at the same time. Mostly in history, science, religion, and I am open to others as well. I feel like I have just been getting by the last few years with the material I have been using. I would like to add another depth to the education my children are receiving from me. We have been using CHC for the last 2 years and I do like many of their products but I need something more.
Thank you for your time,

Can you help me help her. It's always good to get ideas from a variety of homeschool moms. I'll add my two cents in the comments but first I want to give you all the opportunity to chime in with advice and experience.


Yvonne said...

I hope this helps. Each family, and each child is so unique in their strengths, interests and ways of learning that a blank answer might not help. However, this is my observation and experience.

While I was in school I spent two years in what was referred to as a combined class. I was in a 4/5 and then 5/6 combination classes. Both years we had a very experienced, gifted teacher (different each year.) What made these teachers gifted was that while they taught one level, the other class had quiet time. What happened was that those of us in the upper grade got a fantastic review, and those in the lower had a fantastic preview.

What I would suggest is to combine your four older children in two lines of learning. There is no exact science (other than what educators want you to believe) in the order in which we address some academic subjects. So, teach a concurrent history to your older two, science, etc. Use the same read-alouds for all your children.

As for your preschooler, just let them play school as you teach the older ones. Trust me on this, they will learn far more than if you give them their own work. Naturally, you will have age appropriate materials for them.

The other thing I would encourage is to have your older children help with instructing younger siblings. I suggest at least a 4 year age difference, though. This serves two purposes. First, it will allow you time to focus on a child that might need a bit more attention. Second, it give both your children more of that excellent review/preview. Teaching a subject, imho, is the very best way to learn it.

Good luck. These years will fly by. A family that works on cooperating, and relating as a family will be rewarded with a tremendous closeness that will follow all your children through their adult years.

Maureen :) said...

One thing we did in the past in combining classes was history. We did a co-op with several families and had kids of all ages. We all studied the same period together. I would give them all books to choose from based on their age and grade level. Then they all gave reports on what they read. They all learned from one another that way. We'd do various projects (mosaics for Ancient Rome, pyramids for Ancient Egypt, etc.) that they could do together.

I found that I could combine a couple of grade levels in doing narration. For example, I might read a Bible story to the kindergartner and the 2nd grader. Then they'd each retell the story and draw a picture in their art notebook.

Nature studies are great for combining grade levels. Go for nature walks, observe, bring along field guides (they come in all age levels), etc.

We have a microscope and I put the older kids in charge of running the show, allowing the littles to look at the slides but the olders adjusting, etc.

I've always put together my own curriculum so I'm not much help in helping with a curriculum that works for all ages at the same time.

Unit studies such as History Links may be the way to go.

Shirley said...

Sorry to chime in so late... I just have 3 grade levels to manage. We do a lot of similar activities to what Maureen and Yvonne wrote about. We do not use a specific curriculum but instead rely heavily on the local library system.

My teen helping the younger ones is not only a terrific benefit to me, but really seems to have given him a good review and confidence in leading. My 4th grader is excellent at explaining things to the 2nd grader - she can phrase things in ways her sister can understand them so much better than I can!

The subjects you mention – science, history, and religion are in general ‘knowledge’ activities more so than ‘skills’ activities (like math or foreign language). With these subjects, group activities can really work well. When studying 1700's Colonial America for example, we did several read-alouds together (e.g, the "Hannah of Fairfield Farms" series) and talked about the differences in the characters' days vs our own, what parts of the story "really happened" in history, and what else might have been happening during the period - historical events, science breakthroughs, etc. We also talked about parts of the story that might not be realistic or historically accurate (and why). Sometimes we go on to research topics that stimulate the most conversation (for example, weaving seemed to fascinate them so we looked for and found several YouTube videos that demonstrated different methods of loom weaving. We found one of those small loop-looms and they immediately made up a half-dozen potholders the same day! Even the ‘cool’ high-schooler!)

In addition to the group activities, the children also selected their own books to read on the topic. In the above example, I just generally directed them to the 973 section of the library - in the children/youth areas for the littles and the teen/adult section for my high-schooler. It didn't matter whether they chose a 'strictly informational' book or one told via a story... the goal was to get them to choose books that interested them so they could be exposed to as much history and/or culture of the period as possible. For each book they read, they could choose to simply take notes, "illustrate" it, or do some other project of their choice… in each case the expectation was that their work reflected their abilities (and the work had to be completed before the book was due back to the library!). Between the group reads and their individual reads, we have built a collective timeline of the period that is quite impressive looking. As we went along, the children would each periodically propose additions to the timeline. When ‘approved’ by the group, they wrote down their information on small cards and hung them along a long piece of yarn strung on the wall.

With science, we took a similar approach in that I set out a loose topic framework, such as "scientific method" or "weather patterns" or "mammals", covered some basic materials as a group, and then again turned them loose in the appropriate section of the library. (This method almost backfired because they wanted to do so many of the experiments they read about that I almost couldn't keep up!).

Hope some of this helps. Know that whatever you choose, because you are choosing it out of love for your family and your understanding of their unique abilities, it will be what is right for you and your family.