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Multigrade teaching: it’s defined as teaching 2 or more grades in one class. As homeschoolers, teaching children with a range of ages (not to mention grade levels…) is a challenge we have to face.

In the following guest post you’ll find five quick tips for making multigrade teaching work for your family.

Multigrade teaching in your homeschool: 4 quick tips for teaching your big family from a mom of 7! #homeschooling #largefamily

Quick Help for Multigrade Teaching

“What do I do with the Littles when I need to teach the Bigs?!”  This is the question that I get most while speaking to homeschool moms. 

Do you ever feel, as a mom, that you are a rope in a giant game of tug-of-war between your Littles and your Bigs?

The young ones are the small but loud, demanding team tugging at your shirt and hanging on your leg.  On the opposite team are the Bigs – they’re not the needy-seeming ones, and yet it is their schoolwork that is complicated, and they have hearts that need discussion for character development. 

As a home educating mom of seven (5 now graduated), I often felt overwhelmed with the younger children who constantly clamored for my attention while I knew that my older children needed my help in other ways – schoolwork, relationship dilemmas, character issues. 

We’re being stretched, not knowing how to give our time and attention in ways that meet all the needs of both teams! Oiy! What’s a mom to do?! 

Here are five quick ways to end the tug-of-war and get everyone on the same team!

1. Top of the Hour is Littles Time

Mom’s focused attention is an emotional fill-up to children of all ages. Since little children deplete more quickly than the older ones, Moms of littles can schedule the top of every hour as a set time to give your young child an emotional fill-up!  This means get down on their level, eye-to-eye, with hugs and cuddles and kisses and words of love.

Follow the mom fill-up with a learning activity. I recommend that you have a different type of activity each hour in a set routine.

Some examples of learning activities are a

  • Book Basket – they pick out two books from the basket to look at in their special “book spot”
  • High Chair Art – tactile things to play with in their high chair
  • Playpen Praise – listening to… or learning songs while playing with a few toys

These are just a few of the activities that I recommend as Top of the Hour routine activities in my book, When Littles are Loud: Maximizing the Moments without Drowning in Chaos

A routine brings added peace to your toddler which increases their confidence and thus their independence as well. Once the Learning Time begins, a timer is set, and they are to stay with that activity until the timer goes off (gradually increase the length of time from five minutes up to 20).  Then free play the rest of the hour while you can help your older children with the school, relational, and character needs they have.   

Multigrade Teaching, Schedule

2. List and Schedule for the Bigs   

Following a schedule and checking off a list are such helpful life skills for your older children to develop. Each of my students had a clipboard with their DAILY SCHOOL SCHEDULE on it plus a sticky note with a TO DO LIST on it. 

The schedule has a spot each hour for the student to record what they completed in that subject as well as the score achieved on the assignment. The TO DO LIST is something they can add to throughout the day in addition to the chores you have listed. They might add “finish last four problems in Algebra” or you might write, “load dishwasher.”

Let the schedule and list be their reminder instead of you! This is teaching them to take ownership of their day, which helps them be better prepared for college. The schedule can help them know what to do next when you’re busy with a Little. 

Plus, they know that Top of the Hour Littles Time will be over soon, and they’ll be able to get your assistance with their school subject then! 

I did save the most complex subjects that needed mom’s help for the scheduled naptime of the Littles.  With some students they needed most help from me in math while others it was grammar or writing.

Multigrade Teaching, Homeschool

3. Check Together to Save Time

One more detail to add to this section – check work WITH your student.  They have their workbook in front of them; you have the answer key in front of you.  They read the question and say what answer they listed.  You say “yes” or “no.” 

Then when you’re done checking it together you can see how many “no’s” there were and decide what should happen next.  I believe in mastery at every step, so we go over all the missed problems and, if necessary, have them rework the assignment.

Mastery means a more solid understanding and is more valuable to me than keeping on a certain timeline of completion.  Better to be solid than quick.  Checking work together saves an enormous amount of your time, provides reinforcement on the material to the child, and allows their work to be checked much sooner. 

Checking assignments together immediately after completing them means your student doesn’t keep wrong information in their mind, and it means they’re completely engaged in finding out what they missed.  These are two helpful keys in mastery at each level.

Multigrade Teaching, Combining Subjects

4. Start Some Subjects TOGETHER

Often, we would all start a session with everyone, and the littles would drift off to play as they lost interest while the older and I would continue on with the lesson. 

Audiobooks have played a big part in our education for this reason – so that multiple ages are listening and learning while the olders are taking notes and the youngers are keeping their hands busy with various crafts or toys. 

Certainly, it is important for independent textbook study times as well but breaking up a subject into parts that everyone can participate in and others that are alone or just with mom helps to bring a fuller academic experience and thus increases retention and understanding of the subject.

5. Teamwork for the Win

Mom, you can’t do it all!  Not only that, but your children NEED to work and clean and serve and care.  It is good for your olders to help your youngers.  It is good for all the ages to chip in on chores.  Turn on some fun music and all of you clean together!

Pair them up to work on school extras.  For example, an elementary student can quiz a middle schooler on their vocabulary and then the middle schooler can quiz the elementary student on their spelling or math facts. A young reader can read picture books to the baby for extra reading practice. 

Make a list of each child’s weak areas and strengths. Then make paired activities that work with those lists.

If Tommy is in 5th grade and struggling with his multiplication facts, pair him up with Sue who is in 3rd grade and just learning her times tables. Have Tommy practice Sue’s flashcards with her which will give him added practice while making him feel like a teacher.

Our pairing time lasted 5-15 minutes per day or a couple times a day.  We all learn more when we’re teaching, right?! Turn those kids into teachers and team them up for the win!

Multigrade Teaching

About the author:

Val Harrison is an author and blogger who has been multigrade teaching for 21 yrs.  She and her husband Rich have seven children, five of which are homeschool graduates. With a degree in communications, she has taught speech and career skills to homeschool students for just under two decades.

Val loves to encourage and equip parents. Her latest title Gaining Momentum: Preparing Your Student for a Career with or without College, is designed to help homeschool parents get their young adults on a path to success.

Find more from Val on her blog, Practically Speaking Mom and on Facebook and Instagram. Look for a podcast coming this fall!

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