Do you find it hard to balance the homeschool needs of children at different ages?
The age difference between my boys is the biggest homeschooling challenge I have. My oldest is in 7th grade and my little one is in 1st grade. Switching hats from one child to the next can be difficult. They have different learning styles, personalities, and needs. Although it’s a challenge, I’m up for the task! I rest in knowing that God will equip me. (Hebrews 13:21)
We do a few things here that help manage the age gap, and I hope they help you, too!
1. School in shifts.
When I began homeschooling I had visions of the Duggar children sitting around their dining room table and schooling together with a smile on their faces. Um? notsomuch. My boys are so different, that unless we’re doing a science experiment, or something that they both really enjoy, sitting together and learning don’t really happen. My oldest is easily distracted and my youngest is a busy bee. Not a great combo for either one of them. Or me. I have found that shifts work great!
I plan the day so my oldest does his independent work first. During this time, usually a good 3 hours, he doesn’t need me much. That frees me up for my youngest, whose needs are greater in the morning. In the second shift of the day, we switch and I plan for teacher instructed lessons with my oldest. At which time, my youngest works independently. This way each child gets the one-on-one they need and deserve.
2. Plan back-up. You will need it! With an active 7 year old, who is easily distracted, I need a plan B and C and D. Create a “back-up-bin”. Our bin is filled with lots of fun busy work like worksheets, manipulatives, Play-Doh, and all sorts of goodies. It’s my bag (or bin) of tricks. Put together file folders filled with reinforcement activities and use them as “practice packs”. This back up stuff is more for me and less for him, but it works. He doesn’t necessarily need the busy work, but I need to keep him busy!
Sometimes, my youngest is simply curious about what his big brother is learning. I hate to push him aside if he’s interested, but at the same time, it can be hard to occupy him at his age level. Try planning a simple craft for the younger child that correlates with the older lesson. As you instruct your older child, your little one can listen in and keep their hands and mind busy at the same time. You could also ask him to draw a picture of what he hears in the lesson, or try having visual aids and picture books on hand that relate to the older lesson.
3. Combine common interests.
Although we can’t do everything together, one group activity that’s sure to please here is science! Because it’s something they both enjoy, I plan science experiments to be done together in the afternoons. Even though they may be studying different topics, they can still come together and learn from each other over an experiment. It gives both boys a chance to put what they’re learning about into their own words, and allows for some great teamwork building skills. What common interests do your kids have? Take advantage of them!
4. Be prepared. Preparation (or lack thereof) can either make you or break you. It’s imperative that you set aside time each week to gather supplies, lesson plan, and sit down with your calendar. Scrambling around during the school day and having periods of what I call “dead time” will cause your children to become restless, unfocused, and off track. Commit to setting time aside each week to prepare for the upcoming week. Designate one day a week as your “planning day”. It could be the same day you plan your shopping and meals. That way you can grab any items you need for school while you’re out. Our preparation has everything to do with the mood of our day. If we’re not prepared, we’re stressed. If we’re stressed, than our children will be, too.
5. Stay organized. Everything needs a home. Supplies need to be kept in the same place at all times. This avoids children asking where to find the items they need all day long. Encourage the kids to help out with organization by keeping things put away. You would be surprised how much time is wasted simply looking for things you need during the day. Store items in clear bins, so contents are visible. Remember that labels go a long way! Most importantly, e ach child needs a space they can call their own, whether it’s designated bins, folders, or work spaces. Make sure each child is responsible for their own space. Mom shouldn’t have to do it all!