Managing multiple grade levels can be an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be!
Homeschooling is a big decision that puts you at the heart of your children’s education! This is an amazing place to be although for first time homeschoolers the thought alone is enough to scare most parents away from homeschooling.
Don’t worry it just takes patience and a little organization as you get to know the heart of your homeschool. Bookmark this post or save it to your favorites. It’s a long, but useful one!
- 2 Sides of homeschooling
- How I manage 3 grade levels
- Sample Preschool Curriculum
- The Back Bone of your Curriculum
- Organizing Multi-Grade Curriculum
- Sample multi-grade spreadsheet
- Making a Yearly Plan
- Preschool Sample Curriculum
- kids activities
- Planning at-a-glance
- Yearly and Monthly Curricular Calendars
- A Note about modifying curriculum
- When to ditch the packaged curriculum & create your own
- Meeting the needs of diverse learners
- Free Planning Templates
- How to set up a homeschool flow
- Making time for school
- Huge Time Savers
- What to do when lesson’s totally bomb & nobody is cooperating
Two sides to Homeschooling
For me there are 2 sides to homeschooling:
- There is the Font End or the child’s experience with homeschooling. I like to think of this as all the fun things kids get to do (activities, books, excursions, discussions, etc. ) & the challenges that lead to values like learning responsibility, perseverance, respect, gratitude, etc.
- The back end of homeschooling is the formalities of homeschooling. This is the parent or homechooler’s experience. Writing your letter of intent, finding, choosing read alouds, organizing or creating curriculum, managing behavior (like when no one wants to work or daily chores aren’t getting done), managing multiple grade level curriculum and clean up, finding a new balance as a homeschooling family, etc.
How I manage 3 Grade Levels
Organize, organize, organize!
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.
What are we learning, when are we learning about it and how much time will we spend on it?
The Backbone of your Curriculum
The backbone of your curriculum consists of:
- Daily Lessons (even 5 minute mini-lessons)
- Routine/ Schedule
- Choosing high quality read alouds
- Engaging math activities
- Hands on projects
Organizing Multi- Grade Curriculum
For the 2nd & 3rd Grade curriculum I use a packaged program.
These are easier in some ways for planning because most of the planning has already been done. I just go through the ___________ (fill in the subject here) and map out pacing. So I’ll look at our math curriculum & see how many lessons there are and how much time the program is suggesting. Publishers ALWAYS add more curriculum than necessary and I cut or supplement the crappy lessons.
It is more challenging in other ways. I actually take the time to read through the lessons for the month, and it does take some time. EVERY program needs supplementation because no one program is perfect for every child. If there are too many poorly written lessons I will keep what has been working (if any) & make my own curriculum. If it’s a math program, for example, I will still use the manipulatives with my own curriculum.
Sometimes a good quality program will have a scope and sequence.
START HERE! This will breakdown what each unit will cover and how long it will take. I do not read the program until I have taken the info from the S&S & map it with the calendar days I plan on schooling (cutting lessons that are unnecessary). They aren’t always easy to read but it’s still faster than reading through the whole program.
How I Make a Yearly Plan
Once a year I sit down and plan for the year. It takes me about 2-3 days per grade level. (It takes more time if it’s a grade I haven’t taught before.) I make goals and look at what I want the kids to learn for the year, mapped out by month & choose activities, books and make a pacing schedule.
For preschool I plan my lessons and units from scratch (this takes WAY more time but is well worth the effort in the long run since I spend way less time modifying curriculum because I already spent the time making a custom tailored program for my son).
For my other grades I pick a subject & open up my teacher’s manual and writeout each months theme (with one goal for the month). For this I have a 2-step planning method. First I map out the year by month. Then I break down the month by week. When I’m finished I have a yearly curriculum plan that I can look at yearly, monthly or weekly in seconds.
I’m going to show you how I put each grade level at-a-glance calendars together using preschool from scratch as an example.
Preschool Sample Curriculum
This was my first preschool homeschool pacing guide. It is based off of the CA Preschool Learning Foundations (volume 1). It’s a 205 page SUPER dry document that even bored me and I LOVE curriculum. It covers social emotional learning, reading writing, developing language & math.
I reformatted it to 5 pages with my pacing guide. I have never formally taught preschool before so I wanted to make sure I got it right, the first time. You don’t have to use this to do a great job of homeschooling preschool, just keep it play based, child-led & at you child’s level.
This is one tool I use to help me in planning. I scroll down the month column (see photo highlighted in blue) and know what we would be learning for that month. I also consider topics I know my son will enjoy that is related to what we will be learning that month & rely on that to be our play based learning theme.
I typed up the pacing guide basically verbatim & use only the information from the pacing guide I need & ignore the other verbiage. It’s way too much.
- If the social/emotional development talks about friendship & find picture books about friendship.
- If the reading standard talks about rhyming I find friendship books that rhyme.
- If math was counting I would additionally select counting books that rhyme. We do about 30 minutes of school (preschool) a day but spend the bulk of the day learning & exploring. For the month we will look for counting opportunities that naturally fold into our day.
- Additionally when we’re waiting in line we’ll sign songs or play rhyming games & we will play date (we do every week anyway).
Our homeschool is eclectic & our lessons & learning is child-led. I strew the books we will read for the week and prepare the activities to set on our Montessori inspired shelves. He can pick what he wants to do & when from our monthly theme. If he selects an activity he doesn’t like, we have a quick discussion about it (was it too hard, is he just not interested, is something broken, etc.–this helps me plan later) and then we move on.
The photos below show the Thematic Units we use to help make connections with our learning. Below is a sample of an Arctic & Antarctic unit we did.
Part of my 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 he needs in that moment. (Which is also true for work books and pre-packaged curriculum.)
We supplement all of our curricular learning with play! Front End learning is the fun stuff. All of the arts & crafts we do, the books we read, etc. The collage of photos below is a sample from our Arctic Animals unit.
Yearly & Monthly Curriculum Calendars
Planning these at-a-glance calendars is my favorite part. When I’m done I get the same feels, like I’ve spring cleaned my entire house and am all caught up with laundry. See below for free editable templates.
I pick a grade level & subject then map out the year’s objectives by month filling in one rectangle at a time. The reason this is my favorite way to plan is because at anytime in the year I can just open my grade level binder the night before and know what to prep or make a quick change, that I will remember.
In the same place I can write notes that I can refer to later and I can pivot to each child’s specific curriculum and make quick notes whenever so I can keep on top of things. I can also see where concepts overlap (within one grade or within several grades) and simplify our lessons. Re-using the grade level binders you’ve created is helpful too with a few modifications as needed so it’s ready for the next child.
A Note About Modifying Curriculum
Do your best to keep things simple.
- Look at your big picture goals/ skills you want your child(ren) to learn
- What level are they at? (confidence, academic, independence, interest)
- Where does this skill or goal occur naturally in real life? (example: fractions= pizza)
- What real life activities interest your child?
- What read aloud books illustrate this well?
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.
Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners
- Do a Learning style inventory (if you don’t already know)
- When purchasing a packaged curriculum look for programs that address those learning styles
- Blend packaged curriculum and your own lessons
- or Create your own curriculum
Free Planning Templates
Editable PreK- GR 6 Curriculum Map
Editable Weekly Lesson Plans
How to set up a Homeschool Flow
Your homeschool flow is the rhythm of your homeschool. Your flow is is largely dependent on the family’s needs, homeschool style & lifestyle. Take a minute to think about individual personalities, learning styles, academic needs, values and your 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)
We work on a routine rather than a schedule Our flow has 2 different time segments (because whole group for us is the same as 1:1 time with mommy) & have an open format the rest of the week. If I had another child we would use all 3 segments below a few days per week.
- Whole Group (what learning can you 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?)
- 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 your flow should be your first month or so of homeschooling (for some kids this needs to happen yearly). Take time (3 weeks or more) to teach your flow, routine or schedule. Establishing a flow means that you’re learning how to work together, how to work alone & when these skills are expected (make their own snack, pour water, color, write, draw, read/book-browse, etc.) & when they get mommy & me time.
Making time for school in your Schedule/ Routine
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 (Preschool, Kindergarten, Second Grade & 6th Grade) . On my week/day schedule I have 1 hour set aside for math (for all kids).
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!
HUGE Time Savers
- Know your Homeschool Style (knowing who you are as homeschoolers saves time on trying things out which is a hard but necessary process. If you’re still looking for your style, dont’ give up. It’s frustrating but totally worth it.)
- 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
I put time frames in my schedule as an example. In reality work with kids until their attention and focus is done (or signs it’s about to be 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 example 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.
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)
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.
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 under your feet! We all have these days sometimes these things happen one-by-one and sometimes they happen all at the same time.
Just because I create some of my own curriculum doesn’t mean that my lessons never fail. In fact one of my favorite success stories is how much my son hated writing & coloring. He would tell me he wasn’t good at it and just do something else instead. If I were to ask or verbally invite him to color, draw or do any direct pre-wrting activity it would end in a tantrum or outright refusal. When this happened I modeled finishing my coloring or drawing project and offer him a choice between two activities that I know he enjoys. Finally, I learned to pick up the crayons and markers & just start drawing & coloring (making sure there was plenty of space for him) and not say a word. He would either jump in and join me or ask if he could “play” too. I introduced regular monthly practice with plenty of space in between & he is just now beginning phonetic spelling (asking how to spell things & we sound them out together). He at 5 years old now enjoys writing. It too us about 2 years.
Wherever you’re at in your homeschool journey, don’t worry mama, you’ve got this! Use my templates to fill in your planning & its done for the year!
Now that you have your plan, put it it all together in a binder. Check out my free planner for templates & how I stay organized throughout the year!
I know from experience homeschooled children make leaps and bounds in a fraction of the time it takes in traditional schools! There are many reasons for this lower ratio of children to teacher, customized learning experiences, fostering life long learning, etc.
I want to hear from you
Questions? Comments? Did I leave anything out, let me know!