Teaching Multiple Ages, One Room Schoolhouse Style

One thing that initially drew me to homeschooling, and especially the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education was the idea that “school time” should not take all day. I love the idea of being done with our sit down work by noon, freeing up afternoons for “a scamper on the lawn”, nature walks, and handicrafts (translation: afternoons are mostly free time, with occasional input from me).  Learn more about Miss Mason’s Methods here.

But I have three kids. The Baby is very busy, and requires a lot of attention to keep her out of trouble. The middle girl is a struggling reader (we’re pursuing the possibility of dyslexia) and will need me to read everything except her reading practice to her. Finally my oldest is a voracious reader, holds her own in math and is a self-professed nerd. But she is also a video game addict who tends to think she already knows everything, so I have to watch her to make sure she isn’t rushing or skating.

If I were to work with each of the school aged girls separately while also attempting to juggle the toddler we’d be at it all day.

My solution is to combine as many subjects as possible and have my oldest read for the younger two as necessary.

In practice that means we combine everything except math and language arts (reading practice for the 7yo, spelling/vocab for the 9yo).

Since we follow a literature and narration based curriculum rather than a traditional textbook/fill in the blanks type curriculum found in most public schools it hasn’t been a problem starting them at the same level.  Levels in this system don’t necessarily correspond to traditional “grade level”, and students generally graduate somewhere between level 9 and 11, with a few outliers finishing up in level 8 and some moving onto level 12.  Parents who have used this program and sent kids on to college have reported that level 8 is approximately equivalent to grade 12.

We read great literature, live with art and music, and observe nature. Each student makes her own connections and takes from the material at her own level.  Again we are doing math and language arts separately, so they are getting skills practice at their appropriate “grade level”.  (As a side note I’m finding that my 7yo struggling reader is able to retain and narrate at a deeper level than my 9yo voracious reader.  Both comprehend well enough, but I suspect that the 9 year old is deeper ingrained in the fill-in-the-blanks mentality.  It is hard for me to resist asking pointed questions rather than let her struggle to retell the selection in her own words.)

How does it work out on the daily?

Monday – Thursday

Each kid has a spiral notebook with the day’s work laid out for them.  It’s really just a checklist. If they are up early enough to finish #1 before I’m coffeed up they may have some electronics time.

Next comes Bible and Breakfast. (Reading, Music and History, for the record)  While I’m making breakfast I play either hymns or Seeds.  We eat breakfast together and then my older girl reads the day’s bible story.  I’m not following the AO Bible rotation this year.  Instead we are reading together from The Story For Children.

Next is Morning chores. (This is Occupational Ed, for the record) They get dressed, make their beds and feed and water the animals.  We try to keep it to 20 minutes, but sometimes I have to crack the whip to get them back inside after they feed and water.

After Morning Chores comes math.  (You guessed it…this is math) We haven’t settled on our Math curriculum yet, so for the time being the younger one is practicing 2nd grade math using worksheets printed from the internet, and the older one is doing Khan Academy.  I try to keep Math to about 15 minutes.

Now it’s almost 9:00 and up next is Copy Work.  (penmanship, grammar, spelling) This looks different depending on the age of the child, youngest students start with letter formation, then move onto short words etc.  Right now both of my school girls are working on developing the habit of always making their best effort.  I require either five minutes of perfect effort,  or perfect execution, whichever comes first.  Right now they are using printed handwriting worksheets with short phrases, but will move on to copying selections from their reading freehand when they consistently produce nice work.

“A Child should Execute Perfectly. No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course…Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on to-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself–let everything he does be well done… Closely connected with this habit of ‘perfect work’ is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished.” – Charlotte Mason

After Copywork comes our daily “circle time”. (Music)  We stretch, wiggle, and listen to/sing a folk song (usually a new one each week) to break the tedium of seat work. I also give each kid a chance to share something.  I usually ask a leading question such as “what was your favorite part of…”? We finish up Circle Time with a poem.  This week we are working on memorizing “Foreign Lands” from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Up next we move onto our literature selections for the day. (The Literature selections cover History, Geography, Natural History/Science, Social Studies and of course Reading, but not necessarily all every day) We are following Ambleside Online Year One, with a few modifications for books we happen to have already read, or that I’ve chosen to substitute something else for. We are skipping Aesop, because we had already heard most of them, and Trial and Triumph because I didn’t manage to get it purchased and also because some other mothers on the AO forum thought it was boring and skippable. (how’s that for honest?) I’ve also added some independent reading for my older girl.  More about that later. The folks at Ambleside have been kind enough to lay the readings out in a 36 week schedule and allow each family to break the weekly readings up in whichever way works best for them.  I find that it works out to about two literature selections per day.   I try to pair a shorter reading such as one of Fifty Famous Stories Retold, with a slightly longer one such as a Parable from Nature, so that I don’t end up reading for ten minutes one day and 40 another.  This way it works out to about 30 minutes of reading and narrating each day.  Some readings have to be broken up over multiple days.  For short stories, I read the whole selection and then listen to narrations. For longer ones I’ll find a natural stopping point and have them narrate before reading more and having them narrate again.

Next is language arts.   I work directly with my middle girl on reading practice, while my oldest reads independently.  Reading practice with the middle girl is phonics flashcards, word building puzzles, and her reading aloud from beginning readers.  The older girl is reading from Lamb’s Shakespeare.  (Two Gentlemen of Verona, at present) Each day she narrates to me what has happened so far in the story and looks up the definition for one word that I have selected from the passage.

We finish up before lunch (around 11:00) and after lunch we have a mandatory Quiet Time/Reading Hour.  I put the baby down for a nap, put on some spa music, and the older two take books to upstairs for an hour.  I hope they read, but honestly as long as they don’t bother me, wake the baby, or burn the house down I don’t care if they doodle, daydream, gossip or sleep.  (Translation: Mama either gets to take a nap or get some writing done)

After quiet time they have free time – I strongly prefer and urge that they play outside in the mud, trees or water- (Nature Study) until 3:30 when we listen to classical music while doing afternoon chores. (More Music and Oc Ed) Afternoon chores typically include a quick clean up of any dishes, toys and books that are lying out, then sweeping and vacuuming while I tidy the kitchen (read: scrape off the top layer of mess) and start dinner.  At 4:00 they are given a snack to take outside so that Daddy doesn’t come home to a messy house full of loud children.  In September Gymnastics will start again, so whichever afternoon that ends up being on will also end up being our library/town/errand day, in which case we’ll head for town right after Quiet Hour.

Friday is reserved for making up anything we missed during the week (we haven’t had to do any catch up yet–there seems to be plenty of time M-TH), Nature walks/Nature Journaling, Art Study (Science, Art, and PE, for those keeping track of subjects), visiting friends, and planning for next week.  More about Friday later.

So far keeping the kids on the same AO year has worked well even given their different reading levels.  I love the simplicity of the approach, and the flexibility of being able to add, sub, or skip where needed.  Most of all I love being “done” by lunch and the structure that having a daily checklist has added to our home.

All that said, we’re a whole 4 weeks in here…give me some grace if I have to change things up later 😉

 

 

 

 

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