Homeschooling 4 kids has often elicited the question, “How do you do it?” And I must admit that at times, I think to myself, I have no idea! But, there is some madness to the “science” of teaching more than one child. I don’t claim to have the best methods but I can share what has worked for our family. Hopefully, you can get some ideas on how to homeschool more than one child without going crazy!
The eldest child sets the example. Elijah, my 10 year old, is a sponge when it comes to learning. He loves to learn, primarily through reading literature, story books, encyclopedias, documents, articles, manuals…basically, anything with text. God has gifted him with a capacity to absorb and process information. And I’m saying this not to put him up on a pedestal or myself (he is waaaay smarter than I am). I’m sharing this because the time you spend with your eldest child, before any of the other munchkins come along, is very special. No other child will have as much attention. So maximize the years you have with him.
I would talk to Elijah all the time. He began conversing very early and was speaking whole sentences as a one year old. Edric and I made him attentive to the environment around him by pointing out shapes, numbers, letters, colors, objects, etc. I read to him every single day, several times a day. And I helped him to discover and pursue his interests – dinosaurs, airplanes, origami, and architecture. He was around adults so often, which greater enhanced his communication skills.
His interest in learning began early. And when you have an eldest child who is an eager learner it makes a big difference! He sets a positive and inspiring example for his younger siblings to follow.
Master the essentials. There are at least 10 different subjects that children have to cover in the Philippines. It’s just ridiculous. But only a few skills, in my opinion, are really important – reading, comprehension, the ability to communicate and express one’s thoughts and ideas clearly (writing and speaking falls under this), arithmetic, problem solving, and critical thinking. So, I spend the early years of my children’s education enhancing and developing these basic skills. These are foundational.
I don’t, for example, make penmanship an on-going source of conflict between my children and I. Three boys. They prefer not to do tons of writing work. Is that a big deal to me? Not really. I’m gentle about the whole penmanship issue. Titus is just learning how to write his letters and numbers and he is 5. He knows how to write his numbers better than his letters but he still struggles with writing. Does he know the sounds of the letters and what numbers represent? Yes. Those things are major to me. But being able to write his letters and numbers perfectly…he’ll get there.
I didn’t force Elijah and Edan to do pages and pages of handwriting practice, but they both wanted to do cursive early. Cursive? Boys? Sounds like an oxymoron. Surprisingly, Elijah wanted to try writing in cursive when he was 8. And Edan started practicing his cursive a few months ago. They developed the inclination to do so on their own.
The point is I don’t get hung up on subjects that are of minor importance. I spend more time mastering essential skills.
Add variety to routine. Some materials you may purchase for your child are workbook based and text-booky. That’s not even a word but you know what I mean. If you don’t, then what I mean is these materials can be BORING. Kids do the same thing everyday. There’s no spice.
When you homeschool, you have the liberty to incorporate more creativity, mix and match, add here, take away there, enrich, skim through…In other words, you don’t have to be bound by the curriculum. See it as a guide for what your child needs to cover but don’t make it your bible.
For example, if the book says, “Color the correct answer,” and I know that it is going to take my son 15 minutes to color one object, I will say, “Circle the correct answer.” Why? Because the objective is to find out if my child knows the right answer. I don’t care about the coloring. We can do coloring for art. If he can tell me the answer right away, then I prefer that.
Here’s another example: If your child has to do 30 math problems that pretty much cover the same concept, do they really have to do all 30 problems? I ask them to do 15 out of the 30. And if they can answer those 15 problems correctly, I don’t require them to do the next 15. But if they have a lot of errors, then I know they need more practice or I need to review the concept with them.
With language arts, I mix it up for the boys. Sometimes, I allow them to dictate the answers to their questions. Other times, I will take turns writing sentences with them. On other occasions, I will allow them to use the computer. Or, I will ask them to complete the writing assignment on their own but motivate them with an incentive for finishing. It really depends on the circumstance.
Encourage independent reading and research. I’ve often told my children that reading unlocks the door of knowledge. Once they learn how to read well (with comprehension), they can answer their what, why, and how questions without being dependent on me. If they know how to read, they can be taught how to research.
When Elijah wants to go in depth about a topic that he is curious about, I let him research on the Internet or we get more books. I don’t spoon-feed him by being the source all the time. And the truth is, sometimes I can’t answer his questions because I don’t know enough about the topic.
The other day, he wanted to learn about venomous snakes in the Philippines. I put the computer in front of him and said, “Here, research about snakes in the Philippines and we will print out your findings.” He showed me his findings after 30 minutes and was very pleased with himself. I was too. All I had to do was press print!
For a while, I required Edan to read a children’s encyclopedia because he needed to improve his vocabulary. I asked him to read a couple of pages everyday as part of his work. Since he was a reader but I didn’t have the time to do intensive vocabulary instruction, I handed him the book and he reinforced his vocabulary on his own.
Keep everyone preoccupied with productive activity when it is work time. I do the academics with my kids in the morning. But since they are all at different levels, I can’t have them all sitting at desks quietly doing work on their own. This would be ideal and magical but it doesn’t always happen that way. So I have to plan the day by having independent writing or reading work for one child, while I dialogue or teach another. And then we do a switcheroo.
I usually lay out Elijah’s work on a table, in a private area where the noise pollution is minimal. He is an auditory learner so sounds are a distraction. When he is finished reading his Bible, he will proceed to work independently because I mark all the pages he has to cover with tabs. If he has questions, I can come over to his side to answer them. But usually, he doesn’t need me too much for this part of his day.
While Elijah is busy, I will spend time with Titus. In a period of about 45 minutes, we cover math, writing, reading, Bible, and a bit of science. In the meantime, Edan will be assigned to teach Tiana in yet another room. Since Tiana, my two year old, wants to be included in our daily homeschooling routine, she always comes up to me and says, “Mom, can I do my work? Where’s my work?” The thing is, I need to prioritize the older kids. So, I ask Edan to help me out.
Edan is my teacher’s assistant, something that he is very good at. He will very patiently teach and explain to her basic concepts. While he does so, I handle my two other boys. And then Titus and Edan switch places. Titus will have break time with Tiana, playing, doing art, or using manipulatives, so I can give attention to Edan and Elijah.
If Elijah finishes quite a bit of work and needs a break, I let him do Kahn Academy online. He likes to do the math and computer programming. It keeps him very engaged. This frees me up to be with Edan. We do his math and language arts together and then I can give him sit down work with his science notebook or character journal. While he is doing sit-down work and doesn’t need me hovering around him, I discuss science and history with Elijah.
It’s a little bit of a juggling act but we finish by noon most of the time. After lunch, the younger kids nap, and I can continue working with Elijah and Edan if necessary. Or, they have quiet reading time in their room. This is when I get my own personal space to write or even take a nap myself!
By mid-afternoon when all major responsibilities are covered, the kids can play or practice their violin.
Make character instruction a priority. The kids cooperate with our routines because they have internalized obedience. It would be difficult to handle four children without going insane if they didn’t obey, listen, and respond to my instruction. I don’t have to force them to work because they are willing to learn. They are teachable. There are days when they don’t have the best attitudes but that is normal. They still need training.
Edric and I spend a lot of their earlier years (between 1 and 3) instilling obedience. And we introduce them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior early, too. So, by the time they are 4, 5, 6, 7, we can move on to other traits like responsibility, having the right attitude, attentiveness, hard-work, self-control, kindness, etc., because they have a reason to internalize these traits – to please God.
I don’t think it is possible to have peaceful homeschooling if parents neglect character. At the end of the day, this is the key to teaching several children effectively and enjoying them, too!
Proverbs 23:24-26 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who sires a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, And let her rejoice who gave birth to you. Give me your heart, my son, And let your eyes delight in my ways.