Homeschooling With Different Ages and a Toddler

a sassy lookAbout a year ago, every single day–I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the toddler screaming from atop the piano while the oldest was glaring at me for help with math factoring while my third was wistfully saying, “Read to me, Mommy. Will you read to me?” while I was running to turn the timer off from the second’s timed test — there was this point I would reach where I’d say, “I can’t do this!”

Ha! Why did I say this? Who I was talking to? I mean, I couldn’t tell you what I thought my option was. Seriously, there’s never been a Plan B in sight. I’ll wake up tomorrow, next month, next year, next ten years—and I’ll still be homeschooling! (But thank you, Sweet Jesus–not in 20 years! Wee-haw!)

At this time, I homeschooled with four kids in the house, a sixth grader (12), a fourth grader (10), a first grader (7), and an 18 month-old toddler, Little Tank, who liked to stick her finger in the electric pencil sharpener when I wasn’t looking. (Pointer fingers fit nicely.) Our homeschool days felt like a free-for-all, holy mess! Chaos is not my chosen style, but I swear Little Tank, who stops at nothing and fires at will, invited Curly and Mo over to wreck my orderly home and homeschool every day.  Tank disrupted school worse than a fire drill.  I could have locked her in the basement, and she would still have found a way to disrupt school!

The Family Makes the Homeschool

I really felt like I needed some moral support for homeschooling with diverse ages–yet with the oldest children not yet being old enough to teach themselves. So I turned to some experienced homeschoolers’ blogs.  Others have traveled this path before me! Here’s the gist of the encouraging words I found on most blogs (well, it seemed like most blogs):

“Don’t worry about it.  You’re building family relationships and teaching housekeeping skills.”

Grrrr-eat! But unless every one of my girls aspired to be a housekeeper or nanny, I had to get my act together, because, unfortunately, those didn’t seem to be my kids’ answers when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”! The intended encouraging words didn’t help cheer me up, so I kept “looking for love in all the wrong places” and searching the internet for some cheerleading.

Next words up: The quality of a homeschool education depends almost entirely on the parent…

Uh.  Oh.  That’s me.  Parent. I am TOAST. I guess since I like a good spank every now and then, I kept reading:

…Homeschooling is a large responsibility and may overwhelm a homeschool parent, even though they have the best intentions, because things like illness and the demands of a large family may arise.  Hmm.  That could be me too, if four kids equates with large.  (Somehow going from three kids to four felt like three kids plus A HUNDRED.)

My reading finished with the discussion: Older kids may have to put their education on the back burner as they are called to help with housework, childcare, or educating siblings.

Hello, no!  THAT is NOT what I had in mind for my daughters’ education.  No.  No.  No. And no. Back burner?

Dang.  If I needed hope and encouragement, it looked like I was going to have to turn to my inner-coach. Grand.  Get out the bun-huggers and pom-poms.

Tomorrow I Will Loosen Up

Each day was frustrating.  No matter that I went to bed feeding my subconscious positive affirmations:  “I am loose.  I laugh at chaos.  Tomorrow I will entertain the toddler so she doesn’t keep the older kids from doing Spanish and long division.  Tomorrow will be a new, shiny, bright day!”  The sad truth was, even if I had gotten that positivity-schmivity stuff down and smiled like Cinderella every day, that still didn’t mean that our school days would go any better.

Couldn’t I acquire both a positive attitude AND a decent day’s worth of homeschooling?

Well, I tried a lot of things. I don’t give up till I find the path that fits. We have finally found that path, and our school days and home life are wonderful again. What we finally arranged will not work or even be feasible for everyone. But for us, it’s just the ticket. I want to share with you all the things I can remember that we tried and the thoughts I thought, so maybe you can find your way too. Or at least know someone has the same concerns you do.

Tips for Homeschooling With Many Kids of Diverse Ages

Get help.  Any help will help!  When I could find someone to come babysit in the mornings, I seized them. (They often told me to let go of their neck so they could breathe.)  Then, the older girls and I could at least get some good, solid math instruction in.  Even if this was only a couple of mornings a week, it helped immensely.  My older girls appreciated it so much when I helped them “like a teacher” with school!  (And that’s why I homeschooled!)

Abe Lincoln would not have had math every day.  Abe had hunting and log splitting to do before reading and math. His education would have come in spurts.  I’ve got the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-most idea of school in my head, and sometimes I just need to spit it out.  Learning doesn’t make it school.  And school does not make it learning. Learning is learning, and it is everywhere! Remember a lot of brilliant men and women throughout history didn’t have the privilege of sitting in school for eight hours a day. (Probably a good thing, too!)

To be continued…


17 thoughts on “Homeschooling With Different Ages and a Toddler

  1. MEH

    The days my kids were getting along well, we did not do any school work. Their relationship was so much more important. Early days, we homeschooled a few days a week for just a couple of hours and actually got all of our work done. We were in a satellite program so had to do what they said. (I wised up later!) My kids, and I, made it through ALL K-12 years. They went on to good universities and are doing well. Back in the 1980’s there use to be a homeschool magazine that showed a picture of a very nicely groomed, dressed, smiling family at a breakfast table laden with nice dishes, milk in a glass pitcher…you get the idea! Did not buy into the idea that it portrayed the average/normal? school day. Some days, we did not make it out of our PJ’s until noon! Teaching was life; the subjects often worked themselves in. Keep up the good fight, Terri. It is so worth it! MEH

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, MEH! Good day to you! You mentioned that sometimes you could homeschool a few days a week and get things done. I have found this to be true too. But you feel odd and guilty when you do that, since that’s not how the school system that most people are linked to do things. We take a month off in winter, and I think that is hard for people to comprehend. But as we are with our kids the whole time, and they ask lots of questions and we enjoy just explaining things to them and talking to them, the learning is rich!

      So glad to hear your kids are doing great. I like to hear that, as I don’t know of many “old” homeschooled kids! And, uh, NO! the homeschool magazine with that picture should be ashamed! People often come to our house and I’m still in PJs. I chuckle inside as they avert their eyes. 🙂 I do try to have a robe on.


  2. mommytrainingwheels

    Hehe, “Little Tank”? We call our daughter Little Tornado. I think they would both get along splendidly. I always like to read about various homeschooling experiences because 1. it’s something that’s practically unheard of around here and 2. I love to see which strategies homeschooling parents use because your situation resembles mine in that I teach in special education classes which means that I typically have about 15 students ranging over about 4 school levels. Though none of them have tried to stick their fingers in power outlets yet, in my first year I did have a student who would stand up and recites passages from Winnie the Pooh at any given time (let me remind you that I work at the high school level).

    I suppose that homeschooling is very much like parenting. It doesn’t get any easier, the challenges just change.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Oh, yes! They would get along splendidly, Little Tank and Little Tornado! One could speak French, and the other could speak Spanish too! Ha!

      So homeschooling in Canada is not prominent? Or not in your area? Or both?

      I can see where it is somewhat similar, your classes and a larger homeschooling family. Although your job much tougher with 15 across 4 levels. At least you don’t have stoves, pianos, toilet bowl cleaners, and fingernail polish in the classroom, yes! (Just at home when you get home with your three…) The imagery of Winnie the Pooh recitation was interesting to picture. (I did have an acquaintance in college who did that, though.) I think that teaching special education would be hard. How far to push the kids, how to do it, each one would be so unique, I’d imagine, in their needs to learn.

      Homeschooling is just like parenting. Challenges change. If you don’t change, you lose them.

      1. mommytrainingwheels

        I just read (summarily an article by the Fraser institute 2015), it would appear that homeschooling accounts for about 3-4% of education in the US and only about 0.5% in Canada.

        I was wondering, how supervised are you with regards to what you teach your children? In Canada, education is the responsibility of each province. In Quebec, parents are required to submit a portfolio of their child’s work for evaluation at the end of each school year (I’ve evaluated two homeschooling portfolios since becoming a teacher). The work must follow the required competency teachings that appear in the educational program. Quebec is one of the strictest provinces in that regard, I know that other provinces give more power to the parents.

        Yes, teaching special ed is a challenge, definitely. Full of adjustments (and sometimes fights and flying chairs haha!). But I live to see the lightbulb moment in my students’ eyes. So it definitely has its rewards!

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Cool stat! Thanks! Each state in the USA has its own homeschooling rules. Some states are very stringent, and other states, like mine, are not so stringent. When I lived in South Carolina (gee-we have a thing for “south”), we had to submit each year what we were doing for our curriculum, submit semester grades, and we had an organization to be a part of and submit paperwork to. It still wasn’t too bad at all.

        In South Dakota, the kids have to take standardized tests periodically (grades 2, 4, 8, and 11). We are required to teach language arts and math and the kids need to attend the equivalent days of instruction of the SD schools. Parents should keep records so that if they’re audited, they have documentation to support their work. I like the hands-off approach of South Dakota. I move things around in my curriculum, and I may start something, and feel like I want to switch it up for a few months and come back to it the next school year.

        Well, my kids are waiting for me, so I’d better get off this black machine. 🙂

        I hope nobody throws chairs in my house, the neighbors might report us! Hahaha! I love the lightbulb moment. In my spare time, I’ve taken to tutoring a friend’s daughter in algebra. It’s a blast. 🙂

  3. calle


    We used KONOS, it is for all ages, character based, all in one book, unit studies.
    I as a parent learned so much.

    And low cost, we added a math program, and used the library all the time.
    Out side activities, 4H science, the learning center and a local community college.

    It made it so much easier.


    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Calle, Hello! How are you? I’m glad you liked KONOS. I haven’t heard of them, but I’m always happy to hear what people liked! I agree with you on the math program, library, outside activities, 4-H, college, local learning center, etc! Although on those darn diverse ages, the baby’s nap time interferes with some of the activities available too!

  4. Katie

    I can definitely relate to all of this! Thank you for sharing. As a recent trauma surgeon turned homeschooling mom, I’ve really appreciated learning through your own journey.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Thanks, Katie! Best wishes! Homeschooling with different ages reminds me of when I used to carry the hospitalist pager, my own pager, my own cell phone, and listen for code blues over the loudspeaker, too. 🙂 I was accessible and demanded on every front.

      Maybe you’ll appreciate this: When my husband, an ortho guy, comes home, I often tell him, “This house is my OR. It needs to run this particular way.” He gets what I’m saying, then. Otherwise, he just thinks its me being OCD to be OCD when I tell him to do things a certain way.

      Good luck to you!

      1. Katie

        I can 100% relate! Homeschooling has been a big wake up call regarding my own compulsiveness. Many of the traits that made me a good surgeon do *not* translate well to a home with young kids!

  5. Pingback: Homeschooling With Kids of Diverse Ages, Part 2 | The HSD

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