The first book I remember reading on my own that I truly fell in love with was Christy by Catherine Marshall. It was my mom’s favorite book (my older sister is actually named after it), and I wanted to read it. So with high expectations I read it when I was 12, and I loved it. I loved Christy’s compassionate heart, her boldness, and her grit. It fascinated me how this young woman taught all ages in a one-room schoolhouse. How do you teach all those ages and levels at once? Well, now I find myself in my own sort of one-room schoolhouse as I’m a homeschooling mom with 4 kids, and this is a question I hear from others quite a bit. It is a question I continually ask myself as well! How can I effectively teach these different ages and levels at once?
I come from the education world, having been a public school teacher for 7 years, but when I began preparing to homeschool, this was my biggest concern. I was going to be responsible for every subject for what would ultimately be 4 different grade levels! (When I first started out it was teaching 3 grade levels while taking care of a one year old.) It is a little overwhelming to think about! I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way the past three years of homeschooling.
Plan ~ but be flexible
I am a planner. I like to have my schedule and stick to my routine. Sometimes plans and schedules and routines are amazing and work out great! Sometimes they fall apart and end up in disaster! So instead of adamantly sticking with it, I try to remain flexible, to reflect often on where we’re experiencing success and where we need improvements, and then make the needed alterations to best fit our family and each kid’s needs.
I’ve learned to always be assessing what is working and what is not. I don’t recommend to continuously hop around trying a million different things, BUT if something is obviously not working, I don’t wait an entire year to change it!
The biggest example I have of this is from the first year we started homeschooling. I had researched and planned out everything …. Every. Thing. Seriously … like every minute of our day and every piece of curriculum and every book and … everything. I’m not at all saying that was a bad thing. Again, planning and being prepared is super important! It didn’t take much time, however, to realize that what we were doing was just NOT going to work! So very quickly I swallowed my pride and my plans and made a pretty big change that has been a huge success for our family.
We went from basically each child having a separate curriculum, to doing a lot more together as a family. Apart from math and language arts, which remain separate for their grade levels, I realized that SO much could actually be done together! This also lines up with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of homeschooling education that I connected with and wanted to follow (read more about that here).
We do all these areas together as a family: Bible study, nature study, science, history, geography, music, and art. The same content for these subjects is taught to all with varied levels of expectations on the outcome and response to the content. The curriculum I found and love works well with this.
For science I use Apologia, which has a text book we all share with a focused area in science for each year, and then individualized student workbooks that are available in two different levels that go with that. Then I use Living Books Curriculum for everything else (other than math). Here is how I use my Living Books Curriculum:
Last year our kids were these grade levels: 7th, 5th, 3rd, and preschool. I purchased the Living Books Curriculum for each grade level and used the language arts portion from each varying grade. Then I used the curriculum for the grade in the middle of my mix of kids, which last year was 5th grade, for our Bible study, nature study, history, geography, music, and art.
It makes so much more sense for us to be doing these subjects together, and it spurs on family conversations about what we’ve been learning together. It encourages connections between content. It challenges the younger ones to see and hear the older ones responding to the content on a deeper level.
Math and language arts, as mentioned, are completely individualized. I might need to work with each of my kids briefly to get them going, but most of the work they do on their own. For my older two, I use Teaching Textbooks for math, which is an online program. For each day’s lesson it has a video lecture, practice problems, and then independent work. That independent work is graded as they go by the program and if they miss something they have an option to click on how to work that problem correctly. It’s great! And I’m not needed very much at all for that, which is also great!
Our preschooler is obviously in a little bit of a different boat but surprisingly can sit in on a lot of this together work as well. For Bible time, he listens, he prays with us, and he even learns the memory verses (shortened selections if we are doing long passages). He usually is pretty good during science/nature study too. It helps that we typically do this subject outside every day, so he can kind of go back and forth from listening and looking at what we’re learning to playing and exploring on his own nearby. History time is the one where he usually gets to be watching some sort of preschool show.
It’s also been amazing at just how often the “big kids” jump in to help teach him or do different activities with him. They do this if they finish their own work early or if they see I’m busy with something else.
Every year we’ve homeschooled our daily schedule has looked a bit different, and honestly it is always more of a guide than a strict schedule. There are always extras sprinkled in each week for which we have to make room. I do believe having a routine is important though, as well as having my mom-teacher time planned out because, well, I can’t be everywhere at once. Here is the schedule we followed for the most part last year:
(*Side Note: at this point we only have one computer so my 5th grader and 7th grader had to take turns doing math on the computer)
(Before 8:00 is Momma’s time…don’t mess with her!)
8:00 Breakfast / Morning Chores / Daily 4*
9:00 Bible Study and Prayer (together)
9:30 Math (3rd/5th grade); Language Arts (7th grade); Preschool with Mommy
10:00 US History (together; preschooler play time: puzzle, coloring, trains, playdoh, etc)
10:30 Science / Nature (together outside)
11:00 Math (7th grade); Language Arts (3rd/5th grade); Preschool with Mommy
11:30 Lunch / Afternoon Chores / Play outside; Mom works (Did I mention I also work a job from home?)
1:30 World History (together; preschooler watches show)
2:00 Snack / “Extras”** [Music, Art, Geography, Foreign Language] (together)
2:30 Typing / Instrument Practice / Mom checks individual work for the day
3:00 Outside play / Creative play; Mom works
4:30 Personal Reading Time
5:00 Tech Time
*Daily 4: This is individual work that consists of 4 things each day:
-Bible study (last year we used a book called Exploring the Bible)
-Copywork (using quotes/passages from books to practice good handwriting-print and cursive)
-Dictation practice (think studying a spelling list, but in paragraph form; they are tested at the end of the week)
-Morning Worksheet (Last year I used grade level Evan-Moor Daily Fundamentals workbooks)
** I do not believe these subject areas are just “extras” but of vital importance. I was a music teacher after all.
I know I don’t have to plan out every single part of our day like this, but for me, it helps to be able to see this and know how to fit everything I want/need in each day. If we don’t stick with it or get to everything every day, I’m okay with that. I know I have to remain flexible and understanding that there will be other things that come up. There will be lessons that go off the train rails to something else, but sometimes those are amazing doors that open up if I’m willing to let my schedule bend.
Another thing you may notice about my schedule is that I am hands on a lot. I am teaching a lot. Sometimes that is really hard, and I start to wonder about doing more online schooling. But really, I love it this way. I’m learning so much about my kids. I’m learning so much WITH my kids. Their education (a huge part of which being about their character) is not something to take lightly. There is MUCH prayer that happens. There is much forgiveness needed for patience lost. There is much love and growth and memories and joy that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I love my one-room schoolhouse!