The secret art of teaching multiple kids at one time

Have you ever seen an action movie where the hero fights twenty bad guys all at once? It's amazing that he always spins around just in time to take care of the next guy, never losing his rhythm. Now I know you never think of your children as "the bad guys," but perhaps you can identify with that hero from time to time as you tackled the job of teaching multiple kids all at the same time.

While your five-year-old isn't likely to pull a kung-fu move on you, you may occasionally wonder how to gracefully handle the barrage of sweet-voiced questions or the need for structure or entertainment from your children.

Teaching children of varying ages is both a blessing and a challenge. I hope to encourage you with a few tips to help you focus in on the blessing part by dealing with the challenges upfront.

Take advantage of learning moments you can enjoy together

The whole family can enjoy a science experiment together or cuddle up on the couch to read an exciting book aloud. Sonlight offers Read-Aloud books with every Core curriculum package that are designed to engage children (and parents" and sometimes even grandparents and neighbor kids!!) of many different ages.

Great literature is not restricted to a particular grade. One of the advantages to family learning experiences like these is that younger children, or children with learning challenges, can often understand more than they can read or do on their own. But the exposure to compelling plots, great vocabulary, exciting science discoveries, and living history allows them to catch more than you might think and sets the stage for a life-long love of learning.

Encourage older children to help the younger ones

A great benefit to teaching several children is that you can encourage your older children to teach the younger ones. This tactic offers several benefits, in that it...

  • frees up your time
  • solidifies what older children know as they are forced to explain and simplify for their younger siblings
  • builds close relationships between siblings
  • gives older children lessons in patience and leadership

Have children create their own space

While a picture of a one-room schoolhouse is quaint, that's not the only way to do things! If one of your children is most comfortable doing school work while sprawled on the living room floor, or sitting in the backyard swing, or up a tree, so be it. Wherever your child can find a place to concentrate and learn should work! You'll be less likely to have as many interruptions and your children won't distract one another as easily.

One mom on the Sonlight® Forums actually bought each of her three children TV trays to work from wherever they can set them up. She says allowing them to create their own space cuts down on quarrels tremendously.

Empower children to work independently where appropriate

Use your creativity to come up with a system that helps your children know what subjects to tackle during the day, and let them take whatever level of responsibility you think they're ready to handle.

A couple ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Use colored personal folders to help kids easily locate subjects. You're eight-year-old can grab the yellow folder when it's time for language arts and get going. The Sonlight® Instructor's Guides lay out a clear schedule so you can see at a glance which subjects your children can start independently and which need your special attention.
  • In each room of the house, put up a list of simple chores to be done and who is responsible for completing each chore. Your children can handle these tasks as a part of their daily schedule. They'll gain a good work ethic and practical life skills, and you can find relief that you don't have to clean the entire house on your own.

When you've set the children up to know what to do each day, you'll be amazed at how simple it is to encourage one child to complete his chores while you work with another on a subject that requires more attention from mom.

Set guidelines to avoid interruptions

When you homeschool more than one child, you're sure to face the challenge of interruptions not just from children in your family, but outside interruptions as well. What are some ways veteran homeschool moms diminish the distractions? Here are a few ideas:

  • Let your voice mail (or answering machine) get your calls during school time.
  • Don't feel guilty for saying no. You don't want to overcrowd your schedule by agreeing to too many activities that take time away from pouring into your children during "school time." Just because you're at home doesn't mean you are constantly available to the world's demands—you have to school your children!
  • Set a timer for half an hour or so when you sit down to work with each of your children one on one. Your children will appreciate their alone time with you even more when they see the way you protect it. Each of your children will feel special to have time set aside just with you, and can learn to respect their siblings' time with you as well.

You don't have to use a completely different program for each child

In the same way that a college classroom often includes a mix of various "grades" from freshmen to grad students, you can successfully teach a variety of ages together as well.

While you will want to be sensitive to each of your children's unique capabilities in various subjects and try to tailor assignments to your children's learning styles, it's not usually necessary to reinvent the wheel with each child.

The Sonlight® Core curriculum packages make teaching multiple kids relatively easy. Introducing your children to living books is a great way to spark the interest of several ages at once without boring anybody.

While you might want to do subjects like language arts and spelling separately, history and literature should be appealing for a wide range of abilities.

And finally...

Carve out quiet time

Plan on setting aside time (maybe a half hour) during the day where you and your children plan to be quiet and spend some time alone. Encourage your children to read or write quietly or take a nap during this time.

If you desire to spend a few moments reading Scripture, painting your toenails, answering emails, or quietly reflecting, this island of time in the midst of your day can be priceless in avoiding burn-out.

Learning to make time for quietness and rest is a great lesson to pass on to your children and the quiet time leaves them (and you!) ready to tackle the challenges of the rest of the day.

If you'd like more information on teaching multiple kids...

These podcasts are full of practical homeschooling advice from mothers of multiple kids.

  • Search our Sonlight® community forums (get free access here). Sonlight moms are full of great ideas and many of them have lots of experience teaching big families. In fact, many of the tips you've read today were inspired by our customers' forum posts and advice.

No matter what strategies you use to make life easier and teaching your children fun, I hope we at Sonlight can be a resource and support for you.

Besides the community forums (full of great advice 24/7), Sonlight's Curriculum Advisors are always delighted to hear from moms with homeschooling questions. They are veteran homeschool moms themselves with a wealth of advice and great listening ears. Feel free to tap into their expertise when you run into a challenge at (303)720-6292 (Option 3) or advisor@sonlight.com.