Homeschooling Multiple Ages (and being honest about it)

California, Homeschooling, Kids

Whenever people tell me they don’t know how I do it – the it being the juggling of homeschooling, having a social life, plugging away at my blog, my general June Cleaver-ness etc etc, I always tell them it’s not like I woke up one morning with three kids, an overachieving husband, and all of this…life. Please picture me gesturing wildly. I also usually tell them I’m not all that big on sleep, which is also totally true.

However, when it comes to homeschooling, I really did just wake up and start doing it one day. I’m going to attempt to outline how we homeschool, what our schedule is and the challenges we face while we do it – with the hopes that it will help others who are starting out on this journey with kids in multiple grade levels and one not yet school aged child. I should add here to people who don’t read my blog on the regular that we are homeschooling for a set period of time. Our school aged children were in public school before we moved to Los Angeles and they’ll go back into the same public school system when we move back to Canada in a couple of years. For us, this is a three year situation. I’m sure for people who have done this for a decade plus, or people who are planning to do this for their children’s entire academic career what works for us might not work for you. This post is essentially a (hopefully helpful) response to all the questions we get. 🙂

So, let’s do some honesty first, shall we? Most days I wake early, wake the kids with a cute breakfast, sweat glitter and kick ass all day (more or less). Then there are days when my toddler isn’t into anything I present to her. At all. Instead of all the fun amazing things I painstakingly set up for her, the thing she wants to do most is pester my 2nd grader. Or days when my 2nd grader isn’t understanding something right away and gets incredibly frustrated. Then there are days when my 7th grader is learning something tricky and needs a good chunk of the day. None of these things are anyone’s fault, they just happen. My kids aren’t horrible creatures who wake up ready to mess up my plans, and neither are yours. Honest, they’re not.

Take a deep breath and know that everyone who has ever homeschooled has had a bad day. I haven’t looked that up but I have no doubt that it’s true. Then look for ways to make it better! There are zillions! I didn’t look that up either, just fyi.

It seems so duh, but I find these situations don’t really affect me the same way when I keep in mind why certain situations play out the way they do. My toddler is really close to her sister, so naturally she wants to hang out with her all day. My 2nd grader gets pretty much everything on the first try so when she doesn’t, she gets frustrated pretty quickly. My 7th grader is doing challenging work, so of course some days are going to be even more challenging than others. There of course are so many other little annoyances – to the kids! If they don’t know when the next break time is coming they may start to feel antsy and distracted. If they’re hungry or tired they will probably get grumpy. This is my house, you have your own sets of challenges at yours, but I bet we have at least one in common!

  • Have loads of activities on hand for your toddler. Looooads. Make sure a lot of them are things they can do when sitting alongside siblings.
    • Make fresh play doh with Jello so it’s vibrant, soft and non toxic.
    • Beads with long, thin elastic for making bracelets.
    • Colorful buttons and small containers for sorting.
    • Construction paper and scissors – cutting doesn’t need a reason!
    • For most toddlers, markers are serious contraband. Let them use washable markers (at the table only of course)!
  • Post a schedule for the day in a prominent spot and stick to it as closely as possible.
    • If you don’t get everything done you planned to in the alloted time, think about changing the schedule to reflect that in the future.
    • If it’s time to move on to another subject and you’re not finished, move on and assign the leftover as ‘homework’ or….
    • Choose a ‘catch up’ time to finish up anything that wasn’t done within the time you alloted for it.
    • Make sure to include a decent lunch break and a hearty (but not food coma-inducing) lunch.
  • Have light, nearly mess-free snacks on hand all day for school aged kids.
    • Whatever healthy snacks they like, lay them out shortly after you start.
    • Replenish the snacks as they are eaten, it helps keep the kids from constantly breaking for a snack but helps them stay energized.
    • This should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway, choose light, healthy snacks, not sugary treats.
    • We usually put out orange and apple slices, banana chunks with toothpicks in them, grapes, banana chips, nuts, seeds, carrot and celery sticks and crackers.
    • Keep them hydrated too!
  • Make a ‘nibble tray’ for your toddler.
    • Even if your toddler likes the same snacks as your older kids, toddlers love having something just for them.
    • Fill an ice cube tray with different small snacks like Cheerios, halved grapes, banana chips, nuts, seeds, tiny pieces of favorite fruits and cheese.
  • Let their lunch break be a fun break!
    • If at all possible, let them play outside and run around. We spend our lunch break in the pool when it’s nice out but even hitting a nearby park for a quick picnic or just the backyard is great for them.
    • Resist the urge to quiz or drill them during their lunch break – it’s a break!
  • Have a backup folder of additional work for your school aged kids on hand.
    • If you’re in the middle of something with one child and another needs your assistance, turn to your backup folder for help!
    • You can include worksheets with additional practice of what they are working on so one is busy with that while you’re helping the other one.
    • If you’re not a fan of worksheets, you can include things like word searches, sudoku or crossword puzzles to give one of the kids a little break while you help the other.
  • Keep something messy and fun on hand for your toddler.
    • For those days when your toddler isn’t happy with beads or buttons or markers have something messy ready for them – you know they’ll love it.
    • Keep a cheapy dollar store tablecloth on hand with your messy ideas so you can lay that down under them and make clean up easier on yourself!
  • You hear this all the time, but be sure to mingle your children with all kinds of other children!
    • Having friends and being active in the community helps your children feel connected in a similar way to how kids in school connect with their classmates.
    • Karate, dance class, swimming lessons, boy / girl scouts, volunteering, mommy group, whatever, get out there!
    • Meet other homeschoolers, this is just as much for your own sanity as theirs.

This list is saving my sanity, especially the schedule! I see them looking at it and checking the time throughout the day and it absolutely stabilizes the mood. Kids of all ages like to know what their day looks like, don’t you?

So onto how we homeschool. 🙂

We homeschool through an independent study program within the Unified Los Angeles School District. We use the materials they provided and hand in assignments and check in with them once a week. I also have a closet full of both Canadian and American curriculum that I supplement with. I posted back in September a big list of books we planned on using but we ended up getting even more and we use these most. There are a lot of second grade books because of the flip carts and vocabulary cards and that kind of thing. The 7th grade books are huge and cover a lot of material in one book.

California Treasures
2nd Grade LA, Book 1

California Treasures
2nd Grade LA, Book 2

California Treasures
2nd Grade Grammer & Writing

California Treasures
2nd Grade Flip Chart

California Treasures
2nd Grade Phonics

California Treasures
2nd Grade Cursive

California Treasures
2nd Grade Oral Vocabulary Cards

Wonders California
2nd Grade Content Reader

California Treasures
2nd Grade Decodable Reader (5 books total)

California Mathematics
2nd Grade Math Teacher’s Guide

California Mathematics
2nd Grade Math

California Mathematics
2nd Grade Math Workbook

Houghton Mifflin
2nd Grade Social Studies Workbook

Houghton Mifflin
2nd Grade Social Studies

Houghton Mifflin
2nd Grade Social Studies Assessment Options

Harcourt Science
2nd Grade Science

Harcourt Science
2nd Grade Science Workbook

Harcourt Science
2nd Grade Science Assessment Options

California Mathematics
7th Grade

Prentice Hall Literature
Bronze Level (7th Grade)

Prentice Hall Literature
Bronze Level (7th Grade) Workbook

McDougall Littell World History
7th Grade Medieval and Early Modern Times

McDougall Littell World History
7th Grade Medieval & Early Modern Times Workbook

Holt California
7th Grade Science

Holt California
7th Grade Science Workbook

Math Makes Sense 7

This is the general schedule we follow for what I usually call ‘double days’ where we get twice as much done as the lesson plan calls for. Our standard school days are Monday – Wednesday and Friday & Saturday. Thursday is the day we check in at school and it’s also our ‘catch up day’. So whatever hasn’t been done from the previous Friday-Wedneday, we finish up. It’s never usually more than just an hour or so of work, but it’s so much better to get it done on Thursday afternoon when we get back from checking in than it is forcing it into whatever school day it spilled over from. If there is only a page left to do, or a few pages to read or something very quick at the end of the day, I give them the option to do it before dinner, but after they’ve had a break for a while and they almost always choose to do it that way, so it’s done. We work on many Saturdays to make up for the lost Thursday.

I have found that with all the one on one time the kids get from me to learn new concepts, we never need this much time. Some weeks we double up a day here and there so we’ll manage to get two days worth of language arts done in the morning, depending on what is assigned in the lesson plan. On days when we know for example that our friends from my local mommy group (hi ladies) are going to be at the indoor playspace down the street (or the beach or a park or whatever), we’ll plan ahead and do a double day the day before. Or if there is something happening at the aquarium in Long Beach or my husband wants to take us to Disneyland on a Wednesday or explore the tide pools (man those are cool), we make sure we are ahead a day so we can do that. Some other weeks we don’t do any double days and we’re done with the lesson plans by lunch, on those days if we are not meeting up with friends we’ll get crafty or I’ll help the kids bake or cook something from their cookbook. My oldest loves messy science experiments and board games that require a little mental math are pretty big around here too.

Wee One #1
Wee One #2
8:30am – 9:30am Language Arts Language Arts
9:30am – 10:15am Math Math
10:15am – 10:30am first break first break
10:30am – 11:15am History or Science Social Science or Science
11:15am – 12:00pm Nature Study or Nutrition Nature Study or Nutrition
12:00pm – 1:00pm lunch lunch
1:00pm – 1:45pm Art or Music Art or Music
1:45pm – 2:30pm Special Interest or French Special Interest or French
2:30pm – 2:45pm second break second break
2:45pm – 3:30pm PE PE

To clarify this table a bit better, we alternate between art and music, and between a special interest they have and French. So we go between doing each of them twice a week and three times a week (if we did art on Friday, we’ll do music on Monday). The special interest time slot was added to make sure we made time a few days a week to focus on something the kids want to learn about. Naturally, they continue working on their special interest activities in their downtime as well, but I wanted to make sure they had a time when they knew I’d be available to help them out no matter what. Right now, my 7th grader is working on video editing and my 2nd grader is big on rug hooking.

I just bought this Scholastic File Organizer Pocket Chart to organize all the folders their work is kept in and it’s visually right there for them to see how many more folders are left at any given time in the school day.

Because you asked, here are the workbooks we supplement with!

Spectrum Language Arts 2

Spectrum Math 2

Brain Quest 2

Bright & Brainy 2

Complete Canadian Curriculum 2

Complete Canadian Curriculum 7

Complete Math Smart 7

Spectrum Science 7

Harcourt Test Prep 7

I will dedicate specific blog posts to more detailed ideas, but all of this hyper-organization to save my sanity (and frankly my zest for homeschooling) brings up a newish issue for me. I mentioned in this post that I was a serious planner for years and years and years and California has chilled me out so much that I even stopped making lists!! I really loved the freedom that came from not making specific plans and doing whatever when the mood happened to strike. However, I noticed some not so fun behavior changes in my littles. Miss Wee One #2 was becoming sassier and a little ok, a lot harder to handle and that as responsible and amazing as Wee One #1 is and has always been, he has been a little lazier and less into following through with chores. The littlest of course learns from the other two and if they were slipping into a place I don’t even want to think about (cue bratty 7 year old stomping around the house) she’s the next in line.

So, the planner had to come back out. I will try not to be as crazy OCD about everything as I was before the move, but being so chill about everything has created issues I never thought I’d have to deal with.

I will post activities I find or come up with for my littlest to share!

*When I started this post, it turned out to be a crazy long novel that included all of this and a whole lot of info about the program we homeschool through. It’s only relevant to people living in Los Angeles County and people who are curious but a lot of people seem interested so I made it into a separate post I will polish up and share next week.

This is everyone’s favorite thing about being able to open up pretty much any afternoon while we are down here.

1 Comment

  1. Kelly  •  Jan 30, 2013 @2:43 pm

    You are amazing MT!

    Aww thank you so much!

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