Last week I mentioned we were thinking about bringing Bug home next year for homeschooling. As my husband and I have discussed this decision, we’ve been revisiting the reasons we put him in school in the first place. One big reason is that I had a hard time balancing his grade school needs with the needs of my high schooler and my toddler. Bug can be a high maintenance homeschool student.
Before we bring him back home for school, I need to have a plan in place to deal with his needs, or we’ll be right back where we started two years ago, when I was at the end of my homeschooling rope.
How do you balance the needs of a teen, a very social tween, and a toddler in a home school?
Assess Your Children’s Strengths
Begin with the positive. It’s easier to face a problem when you feel like you have things working in your favor, and in almost any situation there are positives to be found.
In my case, my teen is very self sufficient. She likes to be given a list of things she needs to do, and then she disappears into her room all day while she gets those things done.
My tween, Bug, is very motivated by things he likes to do. When he wants to, he can buckle down and work quickly. He also picks up on new concepts easily.
My toddler likes to do what the rest of the family is doing. She loves to help with laundry, do “school,” and “read” when we’re reading.
As you think about your children’s strengths, write them down, so you don’t forget them.
Know Your Children’s Weaknesses
Just as important as knowing the strengths of your children is knowing their weaknesses. It’s their weaknesses that will frequently make you feel as if your homeschool is falling apart. The best thing you can do is to anticipate the problems and head them off before they become big issues.
Back to my children as examples. My teen would rather speed through her schoolwork than stop to ask questions when she doesn’t understand something. This sometimes results in poorly done work.
My tween likes to take breaks. Lots of them. He also likes to “negotiate” any instruction he’s given. Even though he’s capable of working quickly, sometimes getting him started is a problem. He’s also very social and needs a lot of social interaction to keep him happy.
My toddler is also very social and hates being ignored. She needs a lot of personal attention and interaction, or she will fall apart quickly.
Make sure you also write down the weaknesses of your children in a separate column from their strengths.
Put Together a Plan
With your list of strengths and weaknesses in front of you, start thinking through a plan that will best address all of your children’s needs.
In my case, my plan includes the following:
- Spend lots of time with the toddler in the morning to fill her need for attention. Give her jobs to do, so she feels important. Give her “schoolwork,” even if it’s just a notebook and pens. When she feels included, she’s happy.
- Check the teen’s work at least once daily to make sure she understands important concepts.
- Make sure the tween has the opportunity to take outside classes, where he can interact with other kids closer to his age.
- Tailor the tween’s schooling to meet his strengths. For instance, he loves making videos, so have him demonstrate knowledge of a subject by making a video. Doing something he loves keeps him motivated.
- Be prepared with swift consequences for when the tween tries to negotiate assignments. Obedience is a character issue, and he needs some training.
- Do any intense instruction during the toddler’s nap time.
Of course your strategy will vary, based on the ages and personalities of your kids, but laying everything out on paper will help you come up with a plan that suits your situation.
Other Helpful Tips to Help Manage Multi Aged Students
Schedule time for older children to entertain younger children, while you work with middle children. This teaches older children responsibility and helps develop a strong bond between kids who, due to age differences, wouldn’t otherwise spend a lot of time playing together. Make sure you don’t abuse the help of your older children, though. They have their own work to do.
Choose curriculum that fits your family’s needs. Sometimes it’s easy to become enamored with a curricula that everyone’s raving about, but if you’re strapped for time, for instance, choosing a teacher intensive curricula for one student might not work. Perhaps choosing something that works well across large age ranges would be better.
Prepare a basket of “school supplies” for toddlers. Things to include in the basket could be markers, pipe cleaners, blocks, lacing cards, or anything of the like. Only use this basket during school time, so your toddler won’t get bored with it. Having something new and exciting available for toddlers will keep them occupied (as well as toddler can be occupied) during school time.
Take time to figure out your children’s learning styles and try to work with those styles. The easier you can make learning for your children, the easier it will be to run your homeschool.
No matter how much you plan, kids will be kids (and lets face it, we moms aren’t perfect either). Some days just won’t go as planned. A child will be stubborn, a toddler won’t nap, or your internet will go down and your high schooler won’t be able to complete her lessons. You can’t plan for every circumstance, and there will be times it feels like your homeschool is falling apart. That’s OK. No school is perfect.
However, having a plan for managing your children’s strengths and weaknesses will help most days go smoothly. Just be ready to adjust the plan as your children grow and change. And make sure to enjoy your children as they grow and change. The homeschooling years are a precious time and a time that flies by too quickly. Don’t let the hard days get in the way of marveling at the little people God has put in your care.
How do you manage multi aged students in your homeschool?