There are several different strategies that can be used when homeschooling a large family with many grade levels. Just as every family is unique and each has different needs which are always in a state of flux, there is peace in accepting that we will never have all the answers to the best way to homeschool our family. “Best” is a dynamic state and is always changing. So, pick and choose from the following ideas to find out the best path for your family right now.

Independent Learning

We all know that independence is good for kids, and eventually they must figure out how to learn and study on their own. It is one of those grand end goals and something we often strive for our children to reach as soon as possible.

We build up their independence and are grateful when our third grader no longer needs assistance with math and can just read the book or watch the video and do the lesson without any assistance.

We seek to lighten our load by removing ourselves from the role of teacher. We delegate ourselves into a role of teaching assistant, responsible only for grading, copying, and selecting the curriculum. The curriculum … therein lies all the secret answers, and we tell ourselves if we pick the “right” one, we will have smooth sailing from now until our children head out to use all those wonderful scholarships that come their way.

But, in our heady eagerness to embrace the American frontier spirit of independence, we forget one thing. We are beings of connection.

God saw Adam and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Gen. 2:18. We can sit under one roof all day, studying, learning, and growing. But are we connected? Do we know our children? Do our children know each other?

Teacher Tip: It is all a matter of balancing the areas in which we act independently and the areas in which we embrace each other’s presence and make the decision to learn together.

Unit Studies/Shared Subjects

The idea of connecting, learning, and growing together makes unit studies an appealing option for large families. We learn how to engage with each other. We learn not only our topic, but also how to be a good brother, sister, mother, teacher, and student.

Unit studies tend to require pre-planning. The more kids you have, the more tailor-made plans you may need to make, in addition to picking the resources that will be appropriate for all ages to study together.

Teacher Tip: Let the children choose the topic and find resources that engage all levels.

A Little Bit of Both, Please!

If you don’t want to go full-on unit study, you can pick a few subjects that lend themselves more easily to teaching multiple levels together. I find most content subjects, such as history, science, and literature, lend themselves to a larger age range. In contrast, when working on skill subjects like math and writing, the child needs to be working at the level that is right for him or her.

I think introversion and extroversion are both important soft skills, and as our kids are ready, it is good for children of all personalities to be practicing independence as well as participating as part of a community.

Teacher Tip: Keep a good balance of learning together and learning independently.

Older Children Teaching the Younger

Another favorite tip is to have the older kids help teach the younger ones. I am careful not to overwhelm them by asking them to take over my role, but they can be helpful assistants. There are two subjects I like my older kids to teach a younger sibling from time to time: their worst subject and their favorite subject. Teaching a younger sibling can be a great way to review and cement ideas your older child struggles with. (How much more have you learned as a teacher than you did as a student?) Teaching what they love is fun for both student and assistant.

Teacher Tip: It is always more fun to learn from a teacher who is passionate about her subject.

Read Aloud Together

Last, but not least, read aloud together. Even if you choose the independent learning option as your primary method, you can easily reconnect with the family over meals and shared books. There are many great books that appeal to a broad range of ages.

Teacher Tip: Daily read-aloud time is a favorite shared activity in most homeschool families whether that is during a meal or before bedtime. Good books open up good discussions and help create lifelong learners.

Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Marla Szwast lives in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and six children. She is a lifetime homeschooler.