Homeschooling Preschoolers in a Multi-Age Setting

One of the things that we love about homeschooling in our family is that the lessons can be customized to suit the individual needs of a particular child.  Yet how does one homeschool several different children in a family - most of whom are too young to work independently - while still ensuring that all of the children's individual needs are met?

It does not always work perfectly for us; sometimes the ideal and the practical do not meet.  When I need to concentrate on helping the only "registered" homeschooled child in our family (the now-7-year-old, Charlotte), I find something to distract the younger children.  There are days when my 2-year-old (James) and 3-year-old (Josephine) are occupied by PBS programs on the computer while I tutor my oldest and nurse Thomas, the baby.   We also have a collection of toys and projects and busy bags that do keep the little ones occupied for awhile.  Further, we are teaching the 3-year-old how to read so that she can do more work independently and eventually read for her own pleasure.  This is not an ideal situation by any means, but sometimes necessary with more than one child.

That said, there are some days - some magic moments - when everything does come together nicely, and all of the kids are learning simultaneously in the same room (while the baby watches or sleeps).  While most of our homeschooling energies do go towards helping Charlotte, I feel that it is critical to keep the younger children involved and "schooled" in their own activities.  Plus, part of homeschooling is about keeping strong family bonds, so getting the kids to work together and help each other is crucial.

We call our preschool portion of the day "circle time" as it reflects how we gather.  Josephine chooses the theme for the week; these lessons are geared towards her, as Charlotte has her own separate curriculum. Charlotte assists or simply participates as much as she wants, and I allow her to choose how she does this.  James participates when his attention span allows, but he always stays in the room to at least be surrounded by what we are doing.

I will give you an example from today, from the "circle time" part of our morning. 

Our theme this week is Fish.  We started by announcing that it is circle time and then doing a circle dance together to center ourselves.  We then read a nonfiction book about the octopus (science) and a fiction book where fish were the main characters (literature).  Charlotte read a book to her siblings.  At this time, James started to lose interest (we got a late start), and so he went over to his alphabet puzzle and began playing with it and checking in with me, which was fine.

Charlotte reading "The Rainbow Fish" to siblings.
Storytime then morphed into an exciting interactive discussion.  We talked about what we learned regarding the octopus, and we remembered what happened when we went to the aquarium and saw some real octopus.  We counted the legs of the octopus with James to reinforce counting concepts.   [I quizzed Charlotte about the names of the oceans, reinforcing our geography lessons from her own curriculum.]  We talked about how the octopus defends itself against predators, and what predator meant.  We talked about how the octopus has no bones, and neither does the shark; at this time, both Charlotte and Josephine then discussed which fish they thought would have bones vs. no bones.  Charlotte then reminded her siblings that they had learned that our bones bend at the joints, and they named some joints together.

We are currently working on writing and spelling with Josephine, so she got out her magnet doodle board to learn her words of the day.  She learned to write "fish" yesterday, and "water" and "shark" "eel" and some other words today.  [Earlier in the week, Josephine had studied words with "sh" sounds.] Charlotte got out the chalkboard and began suggesting other "fish" names for Josephine to practice writing.  This also helped Charlotte with her spelling and vocabulary as we thought of names together.  After this, James started to get cranky, so we ended our "circle time" in order for me to prepare him for a nap.

Josephine writing "shark" in upper and lower cases.
Later this week, we might watch kid-friendly documentaries on fish, and we will read some more fish books.  I also plan to play "Go Fish" with Josephine today in order for us to learn more about counting by twos (math) and keeping score (math).  I also plan to do at least one new writing word per day, in keeping with the theme.  We will also continue to sing "fish" songs and make pictures of fish throughout the week.  Each day will look different depending on our collective mood and time constraints.

Basically, the gist of this is that the older siblings have things to teach the younger siblings, and they usually love doing it.  Even the youngest siblings can be involved, even if they are not active participants throughout.  With most themes, there are many different options that can keep the interest of all ages.