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5 Tips for Homeschooling with an Age Gap

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Monday, February 27, 2012

5 Tips for Homeschooling with an Age Gap

One of the biggest challenges I have as a homeschooling parent is the age difference between my boys. I have one in 7th and one in 1st. Switching hats during the day from one thing to the next is just plain hard!

2 boys.

2 different grades.

2 different learning styles.

2 different just.about.everything.

Some days I feel exhausted from juggling the day and all of the differences. Sometimes it feels like a swirling tornado here and I'm in the eye of it, just trying to catch my breath. One son with some special needs and another with enough energy to power the city, leaves me with a daunting task of creating a positive learning environment for two very different students.

Although, it's hard. I'm up for the task! I've gotta be. I rest in knowing that God will equip me for this! (Hebrews 13:21)

There are a few things that I do that help keep my sanity in the midst of the chaos.

1. Shifts!
When I began homeschooling I had visions of all the Duggar children sitting around their dining room table and schooling together with a smile on all of their faces. Um? notsomuch. My boys are so different, that unless we're doing a science experiment, or something that they both really enjoy, sitting together and learning doesn't really go well together for every subject. My oldest is easily distracted and my youngest is a busy bee. Not a great combo for either one of them. Or me. I have  found that schooling in shifts works well.

I plan the day so my oldest does most of his independent work in the morning. During this time chunk, which is usually a good 3 hours, he doesn't need me much. That frees me up for my 1st grader, who needs me for just about all of his schoolwork. My older son understands he needs to let me give my morning time to his younger brother, and I block my afternoons for teacher instructed lessons with him. I can usually get all of my little guy's school completed before lunch. Then we all get a breather and round 2 begins. That way each child gets the one-on-one they need and deserve.

2. Have Back up! 
Plan for back up. You're gonna need it! With an active 7 year old, who is easily distracted, I need a plan B and C and D.  I have a bin designated for back up. It's filled with lots of fun busy work like pre-printed worksheets, puzzles, play-doh, markers, crayons, paper, flashcards, manipulatives, books, and all sorts of goodies. It's my bag of tricks. I even put together something I call "practice packs" for him. They're file folders filled with a hodge-podge of review activities. This back up stuff is more for me than it is for him. He doesn't necessarily need the busy work, but I need to keep him busy!

3. Combine what curriculum you can. 
Although we can't do everything together, we can do some things. One group activity that's sure to please here is science! They both love it! I generally plan science experiments to be done together in the afternoons. Even though they are both learning different topics, they can come together and learn from each other over an experiment. It gives both boys a chance to put what they're learning about into their own words, and allows for some great teamwork building skills. We also have Bible Time together, and sometimes my youngest might be done with his required schoolwork, but just wants to be a part of what my oldest is doing. I always try to include him somehow if he's interested. For example, my oldest is studying the Holocaust. To keep my little guy busy during the reading and discussion with my oldest, I prepared ahead of time for him to make a Star of David craft. He sat and worked on that while he listened to the history reading. I love that.
Also, I love Apologia Science, as it enables you to teach multiple ages with one curriculum. Spelling Power is also a favorite here. I can use the same teacher's guide for both kids! LOVE.

4. Preparation. 
Awww...the P word. If dinner is my number enemy, than school preparation is next! Preparation (or lack thereof) can either make you or break you. It's imperative that I set aside time each week to gather supplies, lesson plan, and sit down with our calendar. I need to do this each week to prepare for the upcoming week.    If I don't make time for this, it's a guarantee that I'm going to be scrambling during the school day. When I'm scrambling around trying to find this or that, or remember what lesson each child is on, or  have too many periods of dead time, then the kids get restless, unfocused, and off track. My preparation has everything to do with the mood of our day. If I'm not prepared, I'm stressed. If I'm stressed, than the kids are too. I sit down on Thursdays afternoons to prepare for the upcoming week. This allows me to make a list of supplies I may need from the store or around the house, and it gives me the weekend to gather them up. I have separate planners for each child. Once I have the lessons in order, I can sit down with our calendar and see how I will block out the time slots for out of the home activities and how I can best use the time in the home for each child. Just getting a mental picture of the week helps me to stay focused.

5. Organization. 
Everything needs a home. Supplies such as paper, pencils, crayons, etc. need to be kept in the same place at all times. The boys always know where to find what they need, and they can help put things away too. When I have to get everything and put everything away it takes a lot of time away from teaching. Encourage the kids to help out with organization, by keeping things put away and knowing where to find the things they need.  Each child needs the freedom to work alone. My oldest has a desk in his room, and my youngest with usually sit at the dining room table. Get creative with small spaces by using portable and hidden storage, such as behind the door hanging storage and utility bins with handles. I do not have an extra room for school, so I have to be very smart with our school storage. Next Monday, I'm sharing 5 tips for making the most of small homeschool spaces. Be sure to come back! You can also subscribe by RSS feed or email to be sure not miss a thing!

Do you have a large age gap between your kiddos? How do you manage the differences?

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At February 27, 2012 at 5:05 PM , Blogger Dwija {House Unseen} said...

These are some great tips. Thank you! Right now I have a 4th and 5th, but next year I'll have 6th, 5th and one in kinder. I need all the help I can get!

At February 27, 2012 at 6:35 PM , Blogger Our Side of the Mountain said...

I have a 8th grader, 4th grader and 1st grader. They're just far enough apart that it's hard to combine their studies (mostly). And of course they all have different learning styles and interests! LOL

My tips? You've got GREAT ones already! My kids have also been taught how to find information if I'm busy with a sibling. Dictionaries and computer are available for them to do quick searches. I also choose curriculum like Saxon that have the lessons right in the student text so the older 2 can refer back to those lessons to help them solve the problems. And sometimes an older will help the youngest while I'm helping the other! LOL

At February 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM , Blogger Not a Perfect Mom said...

I'm not a homeschooling mama...but for some reason I am totally drawn to your a totally uncreepy way naturally...ha!

At February 29, 2012 at 1:41 PM , Blogger Jessica said...

These are such great tips! I have toyed with the idea of homeschooling my children and have often asked myself how it could be done with multiple age groups. So thanks for this!

At March 3, 2012 at 8:18 AM , Blogger Jackie H. said...

Wow, great post! My boys are actually close in age but since they are both preschoolers, it feels like 2 years apart is soooo diff. In what they can do ;) I like your tips and I need to work to schedule 1 on 1 time for both of them.


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