How To Homeschool: Teaching Multiple Grade Levels Together

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

For the 2019-2020 homeschool year we have students in 8th, 6th, and 3rd grade. So, one preparing to wrap up middle school, one just beginning middle school, and the youngest right about the grade we start kicking expectations up a notch

In traditional public or private school, they would obviously be in different classes, and the older two would likely be in an entirely separate school. Here at The Oscar Darwin Homeschool for Happy Humans {yes; that is our official name}, however, we have no choice but to make a mixed-age “classroom” work.

Following are a few tips for teaching multiple grade levels together. I realize our students are not that far apart in age {currently 13, 11, and almost 9} so this may not work as well if you have, say, a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old. But we have used these ideas and you may find them helpful as well.

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This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Work Together, But Independently

I find it useful to have everyone doing the same kinds of things together, even if they work at different levels. For instance, all three students sit at the table and work on math and language arts simultaneously, using student-appropriate material at their own pace. 

This will give your homeschool more of an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse feel, which can greatly benefit everyone. It makes it easier to switch gears if everyone is doing written work as opposed to one student completing a reading assignment, one working on science experiment, and one solving math problems on the whiteboard. Often I sit with them and do my own “work” {blogging drafts and planning} at the same time. 

Here you can also enlist the help of your older students; they can help the younger ones if a problem arises while you offer one-on-one help to another sibling.

You Do Not Need To Stay At Grade Level

For the most part, it is totally fine if what you study does not follow typical grade level expectations. If chemistry fascinates your second grader, go for it. If your middle schooler wants to cover algebra and geometry in the same year, great. 

I used to be a huge fan of checking those “what do second graders need to know” and “which subjects are typically covered in sixth grade” kinds of websites and books. And, truth be told, sometimes I still do. 

However, these are all just suggestions and averages. While certain concepts do build on each other, there is no reason why you can’t mix it up. 

You probably remember from your own school experience there were specific subjects you learned in certain grades and that was just the way it was. But why? Obviously some areas need more order than others {I would not ask my third grader to factor polynomials} but most of it can be pretty arbitrary. 

Do we need to explore the life cycle of a butterfly in first grade? Do all fourth graders need to know their state history just exactly then? Did it matter what year you took biology versus physics? 

When you consider possibilities beyond “do this because you’re in this grade” teaching multiple grade levels together based on interest becomes much easier. 

Choose Excellent Resources Regardless of Reading Level

When teaching multiple grade levels sometimes your book choices won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It is okay if what you are reading is “too simple” for your oldest and “too much” for your youngest. if you read a variety of books—and a lot of them—it will balance out.

I touched on this a bit when I discussed exposure over mastery in 3 Things That Might Surprise You. I strongly believe sharing good ideas from quality resources is more important than translating everything into a teachable, testable moment.

For example, during  the Senior Agents’ 3rd and 5th grade years, we read Evolution: The Human Story by Dr. Alice Roberts. This is a great book, but it is not geared toward kids at all. It is extremely dense with information and graphics, and we had to take it very slow. We even skimmed parts. But, they loved it, and wanted to re-read parts of it a few years later, when more of it began to click for them.

As another example, since Agent E {now 8th grade} started 1st grade or so we have been reading the Words are Categorical series of books by Brian Cleary every year. This collection covers parts of speech and grammar in a whimsical way with lots of examples. It is definitely geared toward younger students and can be kind of silly and even cheesy. But, we can read them very quickly and they provide a great overview each year when we begin our grammar studies. 

The next post will look at burnout and what to do when you feel like giving up.

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Homeschooling Update {Weeks 13 and 14}

Hope everyone is enjoying the final days of September. Starting in October I am going to move to monthly homeschooling updates, posting a summary at the end of the month instead of every Sunday. Because—as evidenced by the title of this post—weekly updates are apparently too much for me to keep track of.

We did have a couple of lovely homeschooling weeks, though. I feel that we have accomplished a lot in the first three months of the school year, and we have settled into a content groove. Of course, we will be uprooting all of that soon with yet another move. But more on that later. 

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In the meantime we will be doing some traveling. If you follow along on Instagram you can {temporarily} expect to see more photos of humans and beaches and landmarks and fewer photos of cats.

As I was thinking about our upcoming plans, I realized I have not made any attempt to tie our trip to our homeschooling. We went to two libraries this week, and I did not search for a single book on our destination. We plan to make a trip to a very significant historical landmark, and I did not incorporate it into our history studies. There are numerous books and movies I can think of just off the top of my head that we could have read and watched just for fun and I did not even consider them.

Am I even a homeschool parent at this point?

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Homeschooling Update {Week 12}

One of the many things I love about homeschooling is the scheduling freedom it provides. We do not have to choose between going to school and worrying about what is going on at home, or staying at home and worrying about what we might be missing at school. 

This week our adorable kitty needed some intense work done by a veterinary dental specialist. The Agents, of course, are very attached to this feline and just had to be there in the waiting room the entire time. Then after we returned home, they wanted to be close by and make sure he was okay. 

Luckily we were able to decide to forgo school for the day, knowing we can make it up later. Instead we focused all our energy on making sure our sweet cat principal stayed safe and healthy. Not like they would have been able to concentrate on anything else, anyway.

I am happy to report that Oscar {Agent O} is doing great. He is down to just six teeth now. Adult cats typically have 30 teeth. He came to us two years ago with about half already missing. They removed some remaining ones that were causing him issues, but I don’t think he will even notice. He is very capable of compensating and has adjusted well to life with minimal teeth.

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This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

This week we added a new art book to our loop schedule: Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Art. It just came out this week {we had pre-ordered it} so we haven’t really gotten a chance to take a careful look at it, but I think it will be a welcome addition. 

She also authored another of our favorites, Women in Science, which we read last year and will probably add into this year’s loop schedule at some point as well.

We are very close to wrapping up our review of the first 20 lessons of Coffee Break Spanish, although I am a bit torn on how to proceed. I feel that we are mostly ready to move on to lessons 21-40, yet as I pointed out in last week’s update we could always use more frequent practice, especially with conversation. For now, though, it seems to be our most successful attempt at foreign language learning so far.

Agent E {grade 8} has been working through the series Practice Makes Perfect Spanish, which is very thorough and will give her a great foundation for high school or even college level Spanish. Of all of us, she would definitely be the most prepared if we ever had to rely on our Spanish writing or speaking skills. 

Should be business as usual here the next few weeks, then a bit of travel planned for October. How was your week? Any exciting plans coming up?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 11}

Another blogging lesson I have learned: If you plan to post something on Sunday, and you are going to be gone the whole weekend, you might want to have it composed in advance.

We spent the weekend at Disneyland—probably our last visit for a while—and I should know better than to think I am going to accomplish anything other than laundry and maybe feeding people the evening we come home from any Disney trip.

This was the first time we stayed “on property” at one of the resort hotels, and it definitely cut down on the amount of travel time. However, unlike at Walt Disney World, I wouldn’t consider it a necessity, because everything is much more contained to start.

The Grand Californian is a pretty sweet hotel {and expensive; we used DVC points for our room}. Unfortunately with just a two-night stay we did not have the opportunity to check it out as much we would have liked. The Agents have already requested a return visit so we can spend more time taking advantage of the amenities. 

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We had a four-day week {we did school on Labor day, but left for Disneyland on Friday}. I like that with our loop scheduling this year we do not feel behind when we miss a day. 

One tweak I might make to our loop, however, is to rotate Spanish in twice. I feel that we need to bump up our lessons to every other or every third day. Especially if we are going to have any chance of practicing our conversation skills with an acquaintance we will see next month. 

Because we start the school year so early the Agents have already finished up a few workbooks and projects. So now I am back to my continual mission to find the best way to organize and store completed work. 

We have eight years for Agent E, six years for Agent J, and four years for Agent A. Right now it resides in a combination of boxes and plastic bins, which is not optimal. What kind of storage solutions have you come up with for keeping your students’ work? 

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Homeschooling Update {Week 10}

So Long, Charter Option

We have decided not to continue with the Agents’ charter school this year. Last year we enrolled in a charter for the first time, and while the experience was okay, it really wasn’t worth the oversight and paperwork IMO. 

Honestly the only reason we stuck with it all year is because the Agents really loved their in-person drop-off classes, and they have eliminated those for the coming school year. So, we are back to submitting the forms on our own.

{If you are curious about what homeschooling is like in California, the California Homeschool Network is a wealth of information.}

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This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Parenting Weirdness

A few weeks ago I shared a parenting dilemma in our weekly homeschooling update. The short version: When do you decide it’s okay to leave your kids home alone? 

Well, I am happy to report that after fretting over this we actually had to do it one day this week and everyone lived to tell about it. It still just seems so bizarre to me, though, that Hubby and I both left the house and all three kids were just there—hanging out, surviving without us. Parents of older kiddos: Tell me this gets less weird.

Foreign Language Fun

Do you or any of your kids use Duolingo? I have been doing the Spanish lessons for a few months, and this week I started Latin. Agent E also does Spanish, but her daily streak is much better than mine; she has been doing lessons every day for just over two years. 

I find it fun, and it encourages me to practice writing and listening, but I really need to improve my conversational skills. You would think this would not be too difficult given that we live ten miles from Mexico in a town filled with bilingual people {seriously; like everyone you meet} but alas, I don’t put in the effort I could.

Music Help

In other school-related news, we are a bit stuck on what to do for music. We find that a lot of the “music for kids” books tend to be too basic or cutesy, and the “history of music” books aimed at adults tend to be way overwhelming and detailed. 

Plus, you can only read about Bach and Beethoven so many times. We did enjoy Kathleen Krull’s Lives of the Musicians but we’ve already been through it twice.

So, if you have great ideas for middle school music I would love to hear your suggestions. I will add that one Agent {the oldest} does dabble in a few instruments, but the younger two are not interested just yet.

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How To Homeschool: What Do Very Young Children Need?

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

If you have been following along with these posts, you may have noticed I have only addressed from Kindergarten on, nothing for pre-K or preschool or toddlers. There is a reason for that.

At those ages, say before five or six, play is the most important part of their lives, and all they need to thrive. 

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Oh, reading to them is great, of course, and if they start to read on their own, that’s great, too. Mine all did by around age five with no real “instruction” of any kind. Art is fun, too, and most kids enjoy creative pursuits {i.e., coloring and getting paint and glitter everywhere}. Outside time is always encouraged, and if you are fortunate enough to have parks and zoos and museums nearby to explore, even better.

But play is how children learn. Play is their job. Play is all they need. Really.

{For additional perspective, you may want to check out Help! My 5-year-old won’t “do” school! over at Simple Homeschool.}

Are You Sure About This?

At least once a week on one of the homeschool-related pages or groups I follow, someone wants detailed information about curriculum choices for their two-year-old. Or expresses concern that they are not “doing enough” with their three-year-old, or that they need a plan for their four-year-old to follow, or that they are afraid their kindergarten student is behind. 

No. Just, no. 

Very young children do not need structured learning. 

I know that statement makes at least a few of you reading this uncomfortable. Edgy. Even mad. You might have big plans and put lots of careful thought into how you will do toddler time and preschool at home. You might feel that I am judging you personally. I am not. 

Still, it doesn’t make it less true.

It might help you to have a plan, a schedule of activities, a routine in place. But realize it is all about your own need to have control over events at this stage. Routines are extremely useful in parenting, especially when your children are littles. I personally love routines. I am all over making plans and having a weekly schedule. But, your kids don’t need this.

No one will ever say I wish I did more structured schooling with my toddler. Literally, no one. 

I have BTDT with three young students of my own, and I obviously have so many feels about this. Suffice it to say that your preschooler or kindergartener—or heck even your first or second grader—will be 100% fine, a-okay if they are not into “doing” school with you. The best laid plans and most awesome curriculum will not matter to them.

{This post by A Magical Childhood from nine years ago is without a doubt the best post I have ever read about early childhood education.} 

So What Exactly Do You Do? 

From my experience, anything before age five should be strictly for fun with no educational strings attached. Kindergarten through about second grade is sort of a grace period where you can try out different things and see how it fits your student, and maybe focus on some basics {math and reading}, but not get too jazzed up about “school work” just yet. Third grade is where we kick it up a notch and have more specific expectations. 

Agent A is at this point now. Oh, he’s done lots of written work in the past few years {due to his weird love of workbooks} and he’s been sitting in on his older siblings’ coursework, but he is turning a corner now. He pays more attention, seems more involved, is more of an active participant.

On a related note—and I realize this irks some people—you are not “homeschooling” your two-year-old. Home education is an option you choose once your children are of typical “school age” and would reasonably be expected to be at some type of public or private educational institution on weekdays during the school calendar. Unless complete strangers regularly ask your kid “oh, no school today?” when you are out and about on a weekday, you are not homeschooling—you are a parent, full stop. 

Please just let your kids enjoy having you in their lives and spending time with them. Any structure at this age is for your benefit. Have a routine—even a very specific and detailed routine if you must—but do not feel that you need to be “doing” any kind of formal schooling with them. I promise you, you do not, and you absolutely will not regret it in hindsight.

Next up we will consider some ways to make teaching multiple grade levels together easier.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 9}

This week we had our kitty to the vet {again} regarding his dental issues. {We adopted him at age 7, already missing multiple teeth.} Long story short, he will be seeing a veterinary dental specialist in September. 

Of course I had all three Agents with me at the appointment. Which several folks commented on, as the {year round} schools here went back in July. 

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Interestingly, I rarely get even remotely negative or passive aggressive comments about homeschooling or socialization. Instead, I get a lot of “I wouldn’t have the patience” or “that must be so challenging” or “how do you manage with three” kinds of observations. 

I mean, how do you even answer that? “Well, actually, I am not a very patient person, it isn’t that hard, and I’ve had three kids for nearly nine years now so I’m kind of used to it.” 

When random people comment on homeschooling in your presence, how do you react? Do you feel the need to “defend” it? Or do you mostly shrug it off? 

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Homeschooling Update {Week 8}

How often do you go to the library, and how many books do you typically have out at any given time? 

We went to the library yesterday {we normally do not go on Saturdays, but we had errands to run near a branch we do not get to often} and came home with 48 books. Combined with the ones we already had out, that brings our total to 114.

I have found that we prefer to go just once a month or so and check out more items each time. We tried getting into a routine where we visited the library once a week and took out fewer books, but the Agents like this method better. 

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This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

In the area where we live, we actually have access to four separate library systems, three of which have multiple branches. We have been sticking primarily with just two—because it is too confusing otherwise—but now apparently we are back up to three. They each have their own shelf on a separate bookshelf in the dining room.

Of course, only two of those books are mine. I find it difficult to go through books anywhere near as quickly as the Agents do. My current reads are Beyond Religion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons.

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How To Homeschool: 3 Things That Might Surprise You

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Becoming a homeschooling family is a lifestyle change. No matter how prepared you feel, there will always be aspects that surprise you.

This post will address a few key points {all positive} that I did not fully appreciate when we first undertook this venture. 

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Conversations not related to “school topics” can provide the best learning opportunities.

People will say that both the best and worst aspect of homeschooling is all that togetherness. It is true . . . you are around your kids {and your kids are around their siblings} way more often than if they each went off to different classrooms {or schools} each weekday. And that means plenty of opportunities to chat . . . about everything. 

Probably one of the most profound discussions that arose organically out of that intense camaraderie was when the Agents innocently asked me what religion they were. That talk led to more mulling over, which led to a startling {at the time} revelation for me. For the Agents, it was simply a way to quantify and label what they had been feeling all along. It also fostered our love of world religions and mythologies, and even today it remains one of our favorite topics to explore.

Exposure over mastery is okay most of the time . . . even for older students.

Of course there are subjects where you need to master earlier steps before you can build {math, reading, foreign language}; however, many subjects we learn do not work that way. 

I strongly believe that children should be exposed to lots of ideas without always worrying about turning it into a teachable moment. You can always go back and memorize facts or give quizzes or write term papers . . . if that is your jam, and if you think it will help. 

Do not let the thought that you need to be “teaching” all the time stop you from simply wandering around the zoo, watching a documentary just for fun, or choosing random selections from the library because the pictures look pretty. When your students are ready for more concentrated study, they will let you know. 

If you consistently expose your students to good books, fun places, and interesting people, they will greatly benefit and be more well-rounded for it. They will love learning, and not see it as something they need a break from.

The teacher is also always learning.

I doubt I would have ever read as many books, or started Spanish lessons again, or discovered how much I enjoy podcasts, or done any of the “educational” things I have in the past several years if it weren’t for homeschooling. Because I am responsible for my children’s education in a way that I would not be if they went to public school, I feel compelled to keep learning alongside them. 

Also, much of my education over the years was, shall we say, lacking in many areas. My entire K-12 experience could be summarized as: I memorized efficiently and tested well. I was woefully unprepared for college and it’s amazing I didn’t give up and drop out. 

This is why I find homeschooling so fascinating: Much of what is new to them is “new” to me as well. At the very least, I’m seeing everything in a different light.

Next up we will be taking a closer look at the early years, and what exactly you need to be concerned with when homeschooling very young children.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 7}

We now have 17 items in our book rotation {as part of our loop scheduling} and I can neither confirm nor deny that I am tempted to add more. 

After a few adjustments early on, we now have a cycle that includes math, language arts, Spanish, geography, American history {3 books}, world history, science {2 books}, health {2 books} world religions and mythologies {3 books}, art, and music. 

We have no logical reason as to why some subjects have multiple texts; we just found them interesting and added them and here we are.

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On average we read 3-4 books from our loop each day. We used to go through more, maybe 5-6, but not read as much from each. We have found that we prefer to read more pages from fewer texts, even if that occasionally means finishing a few rather long chapters in one go and only getting to 1-2 books that day. It feels more focused. 

Our written work seems to be moving along at a speedier clip than in the past. The amount of time we spend on it seems to be about the same as previous years, so maybe the Agents are just getting more efficient? Most days, they work on “table stuff” {as they call it} for about an hour. Everyone does some written assignments for math, language arts, science, and social studies. Additionally, the older two {8th and 6th} do some written Spanish. They are also all working through this really cool human body coloring book. {Because who doesn’t love to color?}

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