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.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

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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. 

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. We’re not in our 8th (?) year of homeschooling, I always lose track and I find that trying teach multiple grades together gets harder the older they get. For history and science, I teach it all at the same level because we’ve been doing the four-year rotation forever so I just keep aging it up each time we recover the same material. Math is a whole other ballgame with one working at a 7th grade level and the other still trying to get the 4th grade stuff down (in 5th grade). Can’t wait to read the burnout post!

    1. Valerie

      I think history and science are two easier subjects to teach together because the topics work so well on a rotation. And each time you go through it the kids get different things out of it. We’re kind of all over the place with math here, too. I have them “do” math together and try to bounce between the three as needed.

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