how to homeschool more than one grade: a tale of four grades

I don’t have four kids homeschooling anymore. But for many years, I did.

a tale of more than one grade

I have four children. Let me tell you about them.

I have a teenager, finishing her final year of high school, who is very much as independent as a college student, waking herself for early morning online classes, tracking her study hours, watching her deadlines, and getting to town for her part time job or numerous dance classes. She has always excelled and loved her online science classes, eagerly listened to her physician dad’s medical stories, and even has a scalpel and surgical stitching set to practice. She’s a perfectionist, competitive with herself, now plans to head to a two year ballet program in Toronto in a few months, and wonders if she’ll pursue a science degree afterwards.

I have a just-turned twenty year old who is finishing her second year in university in Ottawa. She is taking a double major in Psychology with Latin & Greek studies. When she discovers her passions weren’t as she first thought, she pivots to her passions. She’s been a headstrong, indepedent soul since the day she graced this earth. She was indepedently backpacking Mexico before legal adulthood and found her way to the high school finish line a year earlier because she wanted to move on toward adulthood. She can be a workhorse, helpful in every way from the beginning, and always wanted to do everything her way.

I have a teenager who began school for the very first time since this last September. She’s finishing her grade ten year. Until now, she preferred working on her pink bed in her pink room with her grey cuddly cat. She liked a consistent routine, one that she can work through at her own pace. She loves dressing up her bullet journal, her room, and her wardrobe. In her spare time, she’s very social, so social that she even has her own thriving YouTube channel. She aspires to being an actress and it would seem hard to see her in any other profession.

I have a twelve year old kiddo who is presently sitting behind me, taking a chess break with a Bear Paw snack, nestled in his blankets in front of an electric heater after he finishes his math practice. He’s loving his catapults and crossbows science kit, reading voraciously, and practicing his cursive rewriting presidential quotes for a few minutes in the morning. He’ll read for hours without interruption: ancient Egyptian history, then how oil drills work, then researching goat husbandry. When he’s not in his formal homeschool day, he’s shooting bows and arrows in the backyard, building a treehouse, or gaming when he’s allowed.

Things in my homeschool look a whole lot different than they did once upon a time. Once upon a time I had four kids in the same room.

I had an eight month old, a three year old, a six year old who just finished kindergarten, and an eight year old who finished grade 2 at a private school.

I had all these kids in the same room until my oldest child wanted to attend grade 10 in a local high school.

What I’ve learned about homeschooling multiple grades:

Grades don’t mean much.

I let the kids know what grades they’re in mostly to stave off fear of the general public. (So the general public isn’t worried that my children are illiterate and incapable of numerical calculations, even when my children happen to be correcting the cashier on their incorrect calculations, roll eyes, while the cashier is asking about their educational gaps).

Content is deliverable across the age spectrum.

Okay, I’ll grant you that math concepts are delivered at different times for differing aptitudes (but sometimes even at wildly different ages, the younger kids are capable of older kids’ concepts, cause math is math and it wasn’t designed for different grades. it’s just math). But anything related to history, science, geography, reading, or games can be delivered to the eldest and to the youngest, no matter the age gap.

Comprehension is based on the specific child, not on the grade they’re in.

The process is the same as the explanation you give each family member when they attend an art gallery or museum together. You’re at the museum: not every child cares to be there. One of them pays attention to the paint strokes. One of them is just happy to dress up to do an art gallery visit in style. Another child is interested in the security guard’s uniform and whether he’ll take her to jail if she touches the painting (she’s six, so probably not). One of them might be there because he’s too young to stay at home alone. They have different interest in the content. Some of them love it so they ask more questions. Some of them just nod their heads blankly. Some of them tell you about something even you didn’t know because they’ve been learning about it outside you. Some of them don’t ask anything hoping to be quiet and get through the museum already so you can go get a smoothie from the cafeteria.

They’re all different, so they’ll ask you different questions, they’ll understand things differently, so answer their questions as they ask. (It’s how they learn).

If you’re looking for a history program you can share together, check out Sonlight or Book Shark. Or you could choose any history book and read it together. Let them ask questions as often as you can handle interuption, locate the geographical location on a map, find out what else is happening during that time period around the world, if the kids have a special interest in how they lived, find out more about that, if they’re especially interested in war, then find out more about those details, or an interest in building things? Search out architecture in that era and place. If they like to write, ask them to write a couple paragraph summary, a fictional narrative of a family who lived through that time period, create a pretend newspaper of that place. Whatever their interest: incorporate that.

If you’re looking for a geography book for three levels of comprehension? We’ve been using Trail Guide to Geography and enjoying the quiz style random trivia questions.

Or if you’re just looking to read books together, watch documentaries, or have field trips, you can do that together.

Aptitude isn’t determined by age.

Mental math appeared easiest to our two youngest children. Though math concepts are taught individually, they can be reinforced collectively. Word problems, logic games, card games, board games, minute-to-win-it games: all these are mental math games are useful and easily accomplished in a game approach across the age-spectrum.

Reading abilities developed at similar ages in our family. You can read more about that here. I find it interesting that the child that learned to read at the youngest age now prefers it the least and is our slowest reader. Go figure.

One of our girls loved history, read all day long, knows the intricacies of the British monarchy, and had no interest in my interest in teaching them Latin. In fact, she didn’t really like learning anything prescribed from anyone, neither me as homeschool mom or her high school teachers either. She decided to pursue Latin language study in University and also Greek history as one of her University majors. (My twelve year old’s interest in ancient history propels him and his oldest sister to have chats about what they’ve learned still.)

Obviously writing levels are naturally different across the age-spectrum, but incorporating the same writing prompts or projects doesn’t have to be different. For years, no matter the writing prompt, my third daughter wrote everything in sales copy. No matter her story, essay, or journal entry, I felt as though she was selling me something. She decorated her stories with verve and pizzazz.

So for a Thanksgiving writing prompt one year, the thirteen year old sold me Thanksgiving, my fifteen year old shared her writing an existential narrative titled “Who Am I?” My nine year old shared his favourite traditions of thanksgiving.

To each their own.

Communal reading time is easy to incorporate across the age-spectrum.

I am a homeschooling mama first, and a professional reader second, ha, so I always found a way to read a LOT of books. I had a bookless childhood. so I am now caught up on children’s literature, though it took me my adulthood to do it. I love love love reading. There couldn’t be a better way to gain an education than to read read read.

For years, our young homeschool family read in the afternoon for history and we read in the evening for our bedtime routine, but now we read in the morning, after breakfast.

We have read so many books. Here’s a few of our favourites. But I’ve got five overflowing bookshelves that I am challenged to part with. Each book represents a different stage of our family. Each book represents a memory. Many of the books we’ve read are associated with specific places we’ve lived or travelled to , because we travelled seven years of our homeschool.

Though my teenagers are less interested in readalouds these days, I try squeezing it in anywhere I can. And sometimes they sit with my twelve year old son now, just to hear what we’re reading. I recently finished The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate with my youngest but the older two girls often hear snippets as I read. If I can promise ‘massage exchanges’ before bed, I can even read with my teenagers.

Communal community time.

Until a certain age, about adolescence, family field trips and family playdates easily happened en masse. An eight year old led the dress-up time with toddlers, preschoolers and similar-age mates.  So many times, I have heard: “Your kids play so well with younger kids.” (Because they’re used to hanging out with families, not segregated groups of same-aged peers).

When they’re young, any activity can be a family activity. Joining together to help at a summer BBQ at the seniors center, visiting a new homeschooling family of younger kids, field trips: you name the activity, you can do it as a family. (And you can do it when they’re older too, but they have their own plans at that age too and sometimes want to do things differently or choose not to engage simply because they want to assert their separateness).

Ultimately, homeschooling four different grades means you’re engaging four different people, with four different developmental stages, and four different interests & aptitudes, so the grades? They don’t mean anything.

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