How to teach your kids all together, otherwise known as multi-level teaching, can be boiled down to these few words: use hands-on activities in units … it is that simple!

Hands-on activities are the great levelers, because everyone is doing the same activity regardless of age or grade level and units are the great unifiers because everyone is studying the same topic. Everyone doing the same activity keeps mom sane—a necessity to homeschooling!

But how is this one-room schoolhouse mentality possible when parents desire challenging academics for their 8th grader when he has a 5th grade brother and 3rd and 2nd grade sisters in his homeschool class? Must quality teaching to the oldest or the smartest student be sacrificed when less advanced students like younger siblings are in the class? Definitely not. The secret is to individualize expectations appropriate to each child’s developmental level. We can see how this is done as we walk through an activity.

Each activity is like a bus ride; all the kids get on together, however, because of their different ages and levels, each gets off the bus when they have performed their individual expectations appropriate to their level … according to mom. But how does mom know when each child has covered enough to get off the bus?

Most moms think “expert teachers” know much more than just parents. However, Jane Healy, PhD, in her book, Endangered Minds, reports studies showing parents having a “built-in knowledge” and a “special advantage” as language coaches over other well-meaning adults and teachers. The studies show mothers “instinctively shape and expand their child’s language … and know just how to pull the youngster’s language up a notch by using forms in their own speech that are just one degree above the child’s current level.”

Think about that example for a moment. God equips moms with “a special advantage” and “built-in knowledge” to intuitively know what is appropriate and how much is “enough material” for each child. Amazing!

Now, let’s see this bus ride in action. While studying the character trait of Attentiveness, the five senses used to be attentive are studied. Naturally, a hands-on activity of dissecting a cow’s eyeball is perfect for all the children to do together.

After going over eye parts and functions, watch several three-minute cow/horse eye dissections on YouTube. Kids all get on the bus when each begins the activity of dissecting the eyeball.

Mom helps the 2nd and 3rd grade girls with their dissection, asking them to identify at least five eye parts in their cow’s eyeball while finding the same parts in their own eyes, and then explaining the function of each part. In my experience teaching this activity, my youngest got off the bus at this point, taking his cow’s lens around the house to magnify objects as he sang “O Magnify the Lord”.

The 5th and 8th grader then draw and label the eye and point out eyeball parts while reviewing functions to each other. Together they take apart an old camera, or could in today’s world watch a YouTube video on how cameras work. At this point, the 5th grader gets off the bus, while the 8th grader writes a paper over the next few days, comparing the eye to the camera.

Units can be expanded by adding related topics and more hands-on activities such as learning Braille, locating siblings’ tear ducts, giving siblings an eye test with a homemade Snellen chart, finding blind spots, learning Sign Language, or reading a biography of Helen Keller.

By adding activities and requirements, moms individualize expectations according to each child’s capability and level. And the real perk is siblings working together often build lifetime relationships.

The more subjects included (e.g., history, science, music, art, and English), the more teaching methods used (e.g., hands-on, singing, drawing, dramatizing, and writing), and the more resources employed (e.g., books, movies, songs, graphics, You-Tube, and hands-on activities) the easier it is to hold kids’ attention, get them to think across disciplines, and retain what they learned because they are having fun.

Doing hands-on activities in units allows mom to teach all her children together (in a multi-level format) while holding their attention and increasing their retention, because learning is fun! At the same time lifetime memories shared between siblings leads to long-term relationships into adulthood. Three of my four sons work together in businesses they created, while the fourth son does all their advertising in the business he created … and their mom is still relatively sane.

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.

Jessica Hulcy

Jessica Hulcy is an educator, author, and popular former national homeschool speaker prior to a near-fatal wreck in 2009. A University of Texas graduate, mom to four grown sons, and "Grandear" to ten grandchildren, Jessica and husband Wade live in McKinney, Texas.