Teaching Multiple Ages

One of the reasons I chose to homeschool was so that I could meet my children’s individual needs.  When I started homeschooling, I intended to spend lots of one-on-one time so that each child could work at his or her own pace and pursue areas of interest in depth.  My first two children are only 15 months apart in age, and my youngest child joined the family four years later.  I figured I could cover the bulk of material with the two who were so close in age at the same time and then work with each one alone to supplement and enrich their learning. During their independent work times, I would teach my youngest child.  I only have three children, so how hard could this be?
Now, if all of you veteran homeschoolers could stop laughing I’ll go on.  Ahem.  Thank you.  As it turns out, teaching one child could easily have filled my day.  My son, while very bright, struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) auditory processing difficulties, and sensory processing challenges.  An assignment that I planned on taking twenty minutes to complete with my son often stretched to the two hour mark.  With his distractibility, I couldn’t leave him alone or he would stop working on his schoolwork because other things would catch his attention and he’d be off in a new direction. Not only were his assignments incomplete, it took me another chunk of time just to locate him and transition him back to the school task he was supposed to be working to complete.
In the meantime, his slightly younger sister was ready to go.  She was eager to learn and could sit still and listen while I taught her.  She would start an assignment and usually finish it before moving on to something different or requesting a break.  I would present a lesson to my two oldest, then repeat, re-teach, prompt, and rephrase for my son as my daughter got down to work.
As for the baby, she seemed to enjoy watching the activities from her perch on my hip.  Her early education consisted of hearing her mama label items and actions for her and doing other techniques I utilized as a speech therapist.  It wasn’t very structured, but incorporating learning in the context of her daily activities actually taught her a great deal.  She was raised in an atmosphere of learning and when she started talking she had a lot to say.  Within a few years it became increasingly apparent that she, like her big brother, faced the challenges of ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing difficulties.

   Whenever I could, I had my youngest sit with her older siblings for lessons.  She didn’t follow everything that was presented but just by listening in she learned and was able to participate at her own level.  When her sister was writing a sentence and her brother was writing a paragraph, my youngest would draw a picture about the topic being taught.  Rather than finding separate things to occupy the little one, I tried to include her and encourage her participation as much as possible.  Even if the concept of the lesson was far too advanced for her, there was always a more general lesson idea I could discuss with her, such as a desirable character trait and ways she could demonstrate that trait with her family.  I encouraged her older siblings to share what they were learning, which helped me gauge their understanding as I listened to their explanations.  While the little one enjoyed the attention from her siblings, the older ones were learning how to express themselves effectively.

One thing I needed to realize was that teaching multiple children of various ages did not necessarily mean spending equal time with each.  I learned that I needed to teach my children that “being fair” meant giving them what they needed when they needed it as opposed to treating them as if they were all the same.  They had different learning needs, strengths, and interests.  Sometimes one of them needed more of my help on an assignment while the other was able to proceed more independently.  Sometimes I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to spend an equal amount of time with each child for every subject, but I came to realize that it was fair to help the one who most needed it as long as each child was getting the level of support indicated by the situation.

Teaching multiple ages can be unifying for a homeschool family.  By being together and having each child contribute what they can during the lessons, children are learning far more than just academic subjects.  They learn that their family does things together and that a few years age difference is not a hindrance to sharing what they have learned.  Younger children benefit from the added lessons learned from older siblings, and the older siblings learn how to communicate and take responsibility as they interact with the little ones.  In the context of daily life and shared experiences, families are strengthened and learning takes place.

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