The One Room Schoolhouse

The largest home schooling study ever done found that most home schooling families are educating more than one child/grade level at one time. This is what is called Multilevel Home Schooling (MHS). So how does one school several children at different grade levels? Or rather, how does one keep his or her sanity when having to teach several grade levels? Speaking from experience, this writer has a difficult time with it! The following is some tips and tricks when teaching several grade levels at once.

Peer-Tutoring (Williams)

The first key is to have older sibling tutor younger children. Often times younger children respond better to older children teaching them. Younger children seem to relax when reading to an older sister or brother. Siblings are not usually authoritarian. This is particularly helpful when the parent must attend to little ones or make meals.

Integrative learning (Williams)

Although children need individual attention on the core subjects of Reading, Writing, Math, and Grammar, other subjects such as Science, History, Geography, etc… can incorporate several grade levels in one sitting. This is what is done in many MHS homes. The parent-teacher chooses one subject, such as biology, and gears it towards several age/grade levels. For instance, teaching about cells can be basic for younger grades: the basic unit of all living things or difficult for older children: Mitosis vs. Meiosis (cell reproduction). Children will still have their own grade level books, but will have a groups study. (Bauer) Often parent-teachers will read from one history book, but expect varying levels of output from narrations and illustrations to detailed reports. This is called Vertical Integrated learning.

Another solution is through Horizontal Integrated learning where several subject areas are multitasked into one theme, such as unit studies. This way the parent-teacher can focus on one theme, but use all the subjects to teach it. These units often incorporate Social Studies, Language Arts, and Science leaving Math, et al to individual lessons.

Plan Creation

A common theme through all studies was the creation of good plans for a week at a time. This begins with Organization day (Badr). This is usually a Sunday (but could be any day depending on personal schedules) and includes the whole family. Family planning and goal setting are paramount. Have the family sit down and talk about what they want to accomplish for the week. Involving everyone ensures accountability. One writer suggests having one binder for all lesson plans. Each child get his/her own color tab. This helps one to refocus during the day. The reality is that some days the plan goes out the window, but still is there to bring everyone back on track.

After your weekly plan is made, each evening look over the and create a daily plan for the next. Some tips to remember:

  • Do it late in the day during a quiet time, perhaps even late at night.

  • Make a specific plan that fits your children’s learning styles.

  • Choose mornings for focused learning

  • Leave activities or art for afternoons.

  • Have a flexible structure, but still…have a structure!

  • Encourage independent learning.

Keeping Sanity

Teaching several levels can be daunting. Often by the end of the day, one wonders where all the time has gone! First, stay home. It is very difficult to keep a schedule for home education, when one is constantly running out the door to run small errands. Next, make sure everyone pitches in on chores, many hands make for light work. The laundry in a large family is one of the most overwhelming chores. Encourage responsibility by having the children care for their own clothes. Some parents mark dishes with children’s initials, so they can also care for their own dishes. It is a bit hard to say that a cup marked with an initial doesn’t belong to that child. When one has little ones, those extravagant art projects can be taxing. Save them for when the little ones are older and could perhaps assist in the projects. There is no rush, one large project a year is good! Finally, set some time each day for parent time. Everyone needs down time to regenerate. These small exercises can save much burden off a home educating parent.

Learning Atmosphere

A benefit of home education is that a child can be immersed in learning. Take the time to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. Choose one spot for school work, but be sure to make children responsible for their own school things. Restrict television viewing and computer time. These encourage passive learning and could hinder attention span, among other things. Create a rich learning environment with plenty of books, then set aside an hour a day for free reading. Get plenty of board games that use strategy and problem solving. Help ignite the fire of learning within the child.
Personal Note

When researching for this piece, I had a two fold goal: to find help for myself and for my home schooling comrades. I, too, have difficulty teaching so many grades. How do I give my second grader personalized lessons and yet assist my seventh grader on her lessons? I kept find myself feeling like a mouse scurrying from one child to another and being completely spent by lunch time. I am considered a “veteran” home schooler, but really I feel like I am always new to it. These families that I researched had more children than I, but seemed to have it more together. So out of my mistakes I hope to show the reader how to be successful. Of the above, here is what I see as the most difficult and most important to master.

  • Make a plan and stick to it. Set aside that “one day” to get your and your families head together.

  • Teach one subject at a time, but leave wiggle room for the younger students that don’t have to spend as much time on a subject as an older student.

  • STAY HOME! This is particularly difficult one in our house. We are busy people, but no truer words could be spoken…stay home and set up specific errand times or days.

  • Use peer-tutoring, shared chores, and group work. A family is a team; work together for the common goals of a good education and a happy home.

  • Mornings for focus, Afternoons for activities…by the time you get to the afternoon, you will want to just relax doing fun activities or art projects.

  • Take time for yourself, just go in your room and stare at the ceiling if that is your idea of relaxation. The brain needs a rest while awake…give it just that!

We parents are worked hard. Some of us are volunteering time in the community, writing for publications, networking with others, creating a future for our children, etc…we are strained to capacity, now add educating our children… This last one is the most important work we do. Use the above suggestions to be successful in your home educating efforts.

Kathy Metzger, Home schooling mother of 7

Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the igniting of a flame! ~ Socrates


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