Homeschooling Multiple Grades: Best Tips

  • 2 Sides of homeschooling
  • Time management for multiple grades
  • Curriculum management for multiple grades
    • Choosing and managing curriculum for multiple grades
    • Muliti-age curriculum
    • When to ditch the packaged curriculum and plan your own
  • How to create your own curriculum
    • Huge Time Savers
    • 2-Step Curriculum Planning
    • Maximize your planning/ prep time
  • How to set up a homeschool (work) flow
  • What to do when lesson’s totally bomb & nobody wants to work

Managing multiple grade levels can be an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. Homeschooling is a life-changing decision that puts you in charge of your children’s education, EEEK! This thought alone is enough to scare most parents away from homeschooling. Don’t worry it’s really not hard it just takes patience and a little organization as you get your flow up and going.

Two sides to Homeschooling

For me there are 2 sides to homeschooling. There is the Font End or all the fun things kids get to do (activities, books, excursions, discussions, etc. ) and the back end. The back end of homeschooling is the formalities of homeschooling; writing your letter of intent to homeschool, finding or creating curriculum, managing behavior, managing multiple grade levels and or programs, clean up, finding a new balance with daily life as a homeschooled family, blah blah.

How I manage 3 Grade Levels

In real life I teach 3 grade levels and have 47 children I am responsible for. NO, that’s not a typo. I teach preschool at home except for the 6 days a month I am teaching second grade and third grade professionally. While the specifics of teaching in the classroom and homeschooling are very different managing multiple grade levels is the same.

Arctic Animals homeschool curriculum

The collage of photos above shows the system I use to keep myself organized and on top of all of the different curriculum & learning levels. This is preschool homeschool sample from our Arctic Animals unit. Without getting too nerdy on you I took what I wanted us to learn about for the year and broke it down month by month. Then I broke those skills and learning goals down with play-based learning activities to help with mastery of those skills (and put it into an activity calendar).

My curriculum map shows the month and year by subject/ learning goal and the monthly activity planner shows a month-at-a glance view of the daily activities we will do. With all the planning done for the year, all I have to do is prep each week. He sees all of the fun art and sensory play things that we’re doing and I know on the back end we are working on what he needs.

Homeschooling Multiple Grades

Let’s say you have 4 children, a child in middle school (6th grade), two in elementary school (2nd & Kindergarten) and one in preschool (4 years old). How do you manage it all!?! Organization, my friend, and patience and maybe a glass of wine once the kids are all tucked in bed.

Time Management for Homeschooling Multiple Grades

  • Plan
  • Organize
  • Do your best
  • Repeat

Pretty simple, right? It may sound too simple but those are the only things you really have control over when you are working with children. All you can do is plan, teach to the best of your ability and make adjustments as necessary. In real life it can be way more frustrating than that but what can you do, except move on. Kids are going to do what kids do best… be unpredictable, test your patience and simultaneously need something when you’ve just sat down. You can plan the curriculum around your needs to best maximize your time. Use multi-age lessons whenever you can

Know your Homeschool Style:

  • Charlotte Mason
  • Montessori
  • Waldorf
  • Eclectic
  • Unschooling
  • School-at-home
  • Online Homeschool

Before you plan or organize anything thing about who will be learning what think about how they will learn best by choosing a homeschool style. If you’ve chosen one and it isn’t working that doesn’t mean your homeschool has failed, it means you’re still learning about your homeschool style. School-at-home and Online homeschool can be far more challenging styles for families to manage and I know they would not work for my son and I. We are eclectic because that is what works best for us. I need more flexibility in our daily activities and incorporate a variety of methods to our learning. I will always favor a child-led philosophy.

Choosing & Managing Curriculum for Multiple Grades

Flexibility, Balance and ease of use is what I look for if I’m using an already prepared curriculum. In the interest of saving time for my (hypothetical) family with four children (preschool, Kinder, 2nd and 6th Grades) I’d opt for a blended curriculum. I’d purchase math programs for my second grader and 6th grader and create my own math program for the little ones until the were able to use the purchased 2nd grade material (which I may need to tailor to their instructional needs). Instead of following different a math curriculum for each child (which you’re certainly welcome to do- if this works for you).

Buyer Beware… a note about buying curriculum

DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Before purchasing the program I would ask for a program sample or demo kit (If they don’t offer those ask about their refund policy- some publishers will give you 60 days ). They will only give you one grade level sample at a time unless you can find different grade demos online. The program should be simple enough for children to have a quick lesson with you and work independently, most of the time. No program is perfect and if you’re teaching more than one child adjustments will need to be made to suit individual learning styles. Supplement programs with activities and games whenever possible, this is far more engaging and an easy way to regularly practice these skills!

Unschooling

There is an alternative to planning, for those of you who just can’t go there with schedules and curriculum maps and the whole thing, look into unschooling. The truth is you don’t have to plan and schedule and coordinate curriculum if you understand the reality how learning works. This is how I accidentally fell into homeschooling. We were just investigating one preschooler’s curiosity and indulging in his unending series of questions and one day at 3 years old he created and solved his own multiplication equation. Unschoolers ditch packaged curriculum all together and let the learning unfold in their daily life with minimal or no structured lesson plans. I was able to embraced unschooling and really wish it was for me. I need my plan, man. It certainly works well for others though.

Managing Multi-age Curriculum

I work best with planners and outlines but I don’t follow them to-a-T. If you’re not a planner I understand, it’s not for everyone you can try planning to help you get a better understanding or just try unschooling. If you are a planner like me I promise planning in-depth with bring out learning in-depth for your children- which translates to less work for you and more benefit to your children (long term). You don’t have to follow the plan that you’ve made either, at least not exactly. It’s like using a new recipe. I always follow it exactly the first time I make it but after that I put my own spin on it. Teaching a child is like trying to hit multiple moving targets all at once. When I plan out the grade level maps I know where all of my bulls-eyes are.

Planning at-a-glance

Planning out the year’s objectives by grade level and creating your own lesson plans helps you easily prepare lessons and support your kids. My favorite is an “at-a-glance” format so I can just open my grade level binder the night before and know what to prep. I can pivot to each child’s specific curriculum and make quick notes (weekly or when something big happens) so I can keep on top of who still needs work on what. I can see where concepts overlap and simplify our lessons when they do. Then I can re-use the grade level binders when the next child is ready for it.

When to ditch the packaged curriculum & just plan your own lessons

EVERY packaged curriculum has areas that need supplementing and there is no perfect program for every child. This means you will need to tweak lessons or entire units from time to time. Differentiating with individual lessons to meet their unique instructional needs. I have group time, independent work & 1:1 sessions with mom. Before I do any of this I use a 2 step curriculum planning method to get myself SUPER organized. Part of this plan is knowing I don’t always follow the outlines I’ve made to a T because I am child-led and what I’ve planned may not be what they need. (Which is also true for work books and pre-packaged curriculum.)

Differentiating Concepts

  • Purchase a packaged curriculum
  • Create your own
  • Blend packaged curriculum and your own lessons
  • or you can create your own lessons

Blending curriculum (pre-packaged and your own) is NOT supposed to give you a headache either. As you get more organized and experienced you’ll begin to realize that all of your children will be learning about certain subjects and you have the option to teach it at the same time. For example Number Sense and Geometry. All of your children will be learning about number sense and geometry at some point during the year and sometimes you can save time by teaching the same concept at different levels.

Sample Multi-Grade Geometry Lessons

Let’s say you want to plan a geometry unit for the kids at the same time. You can manage this however you need to for balance in your family. My first choice (for multiple grades, learning styles) is always a blend of packaged curriculum and my own lessons. Canned curriclum will need suplementation at some point.

homeschooling multiple grades

How to create your own curriculum

Creating your own curriculum is time well spent. Its hard making sense of it all when you’re just starting out. I’m sharing my best time saving tips to help you get started which with my templates shouldn’t take you more than 7 days to create the curriculum for the entire year!

HUGE Time Savers

  • Know your Homeschool Style (knowing who you are as homeschoolers saves time on trying things out)
  • Plan in advance (I spend 1-2 days planning out the Yearly curriculum and 1 day/quarter planning out the lessons) 6-7 days total
  • Integrate subjects when you can using the yearly map see where math and science, art and math, social studies and Language arts or whatever work well together
  • Rotate Groups
    • Rotate whole group, independent and 1:1 (working with mom) groups during learning times.
    • Use whole group time for science, social studies, art, integrate these subjects with math or language arts, this saves valuable time!
  • Use 1:1 time for areas where kids need the most practice/help
    • Plan independent work activities (things YOU KNOW kids can do independently
    • Also plan to teach them how to work independently (at least 3 weeks

2-Step Curriculum Planning

Planning your own curriculum shouldn’t take you more than a week to plan for the entire year. Using a 2-step process I plan out broad subjects by year/ month and then I plan quarterly (one day per quarter- towards the end of the quarter to prepare for the next quarter). I reflect weekly and make notes about the lessons as needed to keep myself as up-to-date with their learning as possible.

curriculum map

Curriculum Map STEP 1 Month/Year

I map out my curriculum for the year (per grade level). This takes 1-2 days to plan this out but maybe a bit longer your first time. The photo sample (left) is for second grade and all of the subjects are taught with paid programs. If I wasn’t using a formal program (like I do for my son) I put the concept we are learning about so for math this month I’d just put shapes or Geometry in the preschool & K curriculum maps. For the formal programs I look at the scope and sequence (in the teacher’s manual) and write the unit number/concept (if it fits) that I will be working on for that month.

lesson plan outline

Lesson Plan STEP 2 Week/Day

This format outlines each week and day at a glance. I have a blank template that I type up with our schedule and I hand write (or type) up what we will be doing Monday- Friday. I plan this out quarterly so it’s more accurate to their current levels & it also helps me keep track if I ever need to go back.

Sample Muliti-age Geometry Lesson:

  • Preschool (sort & identify 2D shape names)
  • Kindergarten (sort and identify 2D Shape names, attributes of shapes- round, # sides, etc.)
  • Second Grade (sort and identify 2D & 3D Shape names, attributes of shapes)
  • Sixth Grade (find area, perimeter and volume of shapes)

How to set up a Homeschool (work) Flow

  • Whole Group (what you can all do together?)
  • Independent work (what can each child do on their own?)
  • 1:1 (what skills/concepts need more time to develop or what can you introduce so that tomorrows lesson goes smoother?)

Now that you’re organized and planed out for the year it’s time to set up your homeschool flow. This is largely dependent on the family’s needs, homeschool style & lifestyle. Take a minute to assess all individual personalities, learning styles, academic needs and life style. If your family has a special situation or lifestyle needs like traveling a lot how will you make time to work with each child? (hint: Google road schooling)

Getting started with your homeschool (work) flow

  • Teach one thing at a time (spend days or even weeks where everyone learns about working in a group, working alone and working with mommy or daddy)

Setting up a work flow should be your first month of homeschooling. Take time (3 weeks or more) to teach your flow, routine or schedule. Above is the sample multi-age lesson outline, this is the work you will do 1:1 with the children. Establishing a work flow means that you’re FIRST teaching them how to work alone (make their own snack, pour water, color, write, draw, read/book-browse, etc.) & how to work with you. Start with the child who needs the most help and get them settled. In this case I’d start with my preschooler & Kindergartener, together to save time (except).

Making your schedule and finding your flow

This is all up to you and is a process of trial and error for everyone.

I like rotations, even if it’s just for one child. You can keep working on the same subject for an extended period of time without it being painful. Here are some ideas on what a work flow could look like for the example family with 4 kids. On my week/day schedule I have 1 hour set aside for math.

Your 1:1 rotations for 4 children (preschool – 6th grade)

  • 4 groups, 20 minutes, 20 minutes and two 10 minute groups
  • or 3, 20 minute groups ( preschool & K, 2nd Grade & 6th grade)

Rotations for one child (Preschool/ Kindergarten)

  • Lesson Introduction (Geometry)
  • Choice; Foam shapes or wooden geometric puzzles
  • Shape monster book

This could even be part of your introduction to geometry, at least for the younger kids. I try to keep it short and simple. My attention span rule is you have as many minutes of undivided attention from a child as they are years old. So for my four year old, instructions are short, sweet and to the point- just like him!

Quick Sensory Bin Idea

  1. Grab a bin, storage container or large shoe box and some filler material (beans, rice, sand)
  2. Re-purpose some of the wooden puzzle shapes
  3. Add small geometric shaped household items
  4. A spoon to sift them out with
  5. Make pictorial shape cards (copy paper with the shape drawn on it- they will sort the shapes as they find them).

The rotations give you flexibility so you can make adjustments as needed. Plan to meet with one child each day while your are ironing out the flow of the rotations. This set up gives flexibility that I need to meet everyone’s needs and not feel too overwhelmed.

Pro Tip:

I put time frames in my schedule as an example. In reality work with kids until their attention and focus is done and then move on. When kids have a hard time focusing I recommending a sensory activity to help them focus, before or as a part of your lesson. For the geometry lesson I’d create a sensory bin with shapes in it.

In reality learning sessions should be as long as your child’s natural attention span. When they’re done move on. If you are moving on from a difficult lesson or head butting session regroup by moving on to something you both enjoy like art or preparing a snack and eating it outside.

How to Create your own Curriculum

  • Consider your child’s interests and Abilities FIRST
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel (what do others in your homeschool style do?)
  • Use what you have, buy what you need
  • SIMPLIFY

Multi-age Geometry Lessons for a family with 4 kids

geometric shapes

Prepare PreK & K Materials:

  • Foam Shapes
  • Wooden Shapes Puzzle (Melissa & Doug)
  • 3 Dimensional Shapes (cone, cube, cylinder, rectangular prism, sphere, etc.)Optional: project extensions (the prep work is worth it, I promise!)
  • Shape Monster Book
    • Construction paper
    • multi colored shape cut outs (rectangle, square, circle, triangle, oval, rhombus/ diamond)
  • 3D process art
    • use left over shapes to make art projects with

Optional: formal math Curriculum

Formal curriculum is an option that can save time in a multi-grade home school for some families. It is not best for all families. It can get expensive (buying 4 different sets of curriculum) and it’s tough to choose one program that suits all of your children’s needs or manage several different types of curriculum at once (different pacing and learning styles) . I have never bought curriculum so I can only recommend resources for getting reviews from other families who have used programs. I am looking into future curriculum for my son. Right now he is 4 and his math skills are at a first grade level and his reading is beginning of the year Kindergarten. I plan to purchase curriculum for him once he is learning at a second grade level.

Choosing a Formal Curriculum

Preschool & Kindergarten students do not need a formal curriculum as long as you make sure their counting practice is thorough. For the geometry sample lesson work with foam or wooden shapes, independent & partner. They complete work they can easily do by themselves like shape puzzles (you have already practiced together) or designing a new shapes or creations with foam shape blocks. One great reading and math activity for Preschool or Kindergarten kids is to read & complete the Shape Monster book.

Curriculum Reiviews

Thehomeschoolmom.com has an impressive curriculum review in an open forum format which invites her readers that use those programs to write a review about it. I started looking into programs for my son (and what I would do if I was teaching the 4 children in my example)

Programs

Again I have not purchased any curriculum programs however Red Bird Mathematics  is one worth mentioning, because you cannot beat the price. I have had my eye on this program since it was in it’s development stage. It was based on a GATE home school/ independent study program developed by Stanford grad students. It is an online format and therefore better suited for older kids GR 3 & up who already have hands on experience with manipulatives, counting and sorting objects or who have basic mental math skills. They teach math the same way I do and it is an excellent & affordable digital supplemental program.

A one year subscription is less than $10 per child & includes online manipulatives). I may start this earlier than 3rd grade and just make my own manipulatives, I have not decided yet. I am just to not ready to put him in front of a computer yet so in the meantime we are using hands-on math manipulatives.

geometric shapes kindergarten book

Prepare 2nd & 6th Grade Materials

  • Wooden 3D shapes (2nd grade)
  • Construction paper, multi colored
  • Graph paper (for designing and constructing 3 dimensional shapes)
  • Pencils, markers and or crayons
  • Math Workbooks


2nd & 6th graders work with 3 dimensional shapes. Do your kids work well together? If yes have them do partner work. If not teach them how to work with partners you may not agree with or avoid the headache and give them separate activities. 2nd & 6th each have their own workbooks or can begin math worksheets (if you use worksheets in your homeschool). I use worksheets sparingly but this is no-prepactivity for you and should be at their independent work level. It’s also great handwriting practice.

Enrich Learning

  • Geometry (shapes) Hunt (at a local park or playground or around the house)
  • Open-ended Geometry STEM or Project Based Learning (PBL)
  • Experiences like a local museum or children’s discovery museum may have a Geometry Exhibit

Supplemental projects are a great way to get kids engaged in their learning. Second graders can make 3d shapes process art project or contribute 3 dimensional shape building for the 6th Grader’s work. Teach Beside Me has an amazing blog and one of their integrated math projects is area and perimeter city. Her stuff is amazing and I want to be her friend in real life!

2nd & 6th each have their own independent work & supplemental projects (second grader can make 3d shapes process art project or contribute 3 dimensional shaped buildings for the 6th Grader’s area and perimeter city from Teach Beside Me- her stuff is amazing and I want to be her friend in real life!

Technology tip


It takes time for children to be self-disciplined and on task. One simple motivator (that helps kids let go of their amazing creations- clean up is SO much harder when it’s a masterpiece)! If your household uses technology have them take a picture of their work using and old camera or iPad. There is one APP I highly recommend as an online learning journal and that is SeeSaw. It is fantastic, easy to use and FREE! If they aren’t old enough or your household is screen free. It may be beneficial to have an older sibling check out the younger’s finished project while you work individually with another child.

This is why I recommend planning out your curriculum a year in advance. When you map out your curriculum for the year, you will begin to notice patterns like this where you can save time and prep by teaching one concept at several different levels.

Supplement or Create your own Multi-age Curriculum

Using our hypothetical family of 4 home schooled children I would divide and conquer. I would pay for some of my curriculum and supplement the rest with my own created curriculum to balance out our homeschool flow. If you find affordable options to use a program that you like for all of your children I say go for it! Using multi-age materials helps support your curriculum (purchased or created) and can be reused (with modification) on younger children as they grow.

What do do when lessons bomb & nobody’s cooperating

  • Know your parenting style and stick to it (Positive Parenting works in our household)
  • Have a Plan B (I have a rainy day activities kit, sensory bins, and art supplies on stand-by at all times. We use these when it’s raining or when Plan A fails)
  • Take a break and try again (sometimes I just need a grown up time out and sometimes the kids need a minute to reset- whoever needs it should take it)
  • Schedule fun (I know that seems like an oxymoron but when kids have a regular play day or time of day to just play and have fun it really helps. We have about a hour of focused work time/ day and the rest of our learning is integrated into our day and built around our life style of getting chores done and doing one fun thing like go for a hike, go to an indoor play place or sign up for sports like gymnastics or soccer.)Playdates (meet up with other homeschooling families)

These are the not so glamours days of homeschooling. The days when the house is a mess, the meat didn’t defrost all the way in time for you to make dinner, no one got all of their work done and at least half of the kids are having full blown melts downs at your feet! We all have these days sometimes these things happen one-by-one and sometimes they happen all at the same time.

Wherever you’re at in your homeschool journey, don’t worry mama, you’ve got this! Use my templates and get your planning is done for the year in about a week!

I want to hear from you

Questions? Comments? Did I leave anything out, let me know!

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