For the second time in our homeschooling career (13 years), we are faced with the prospect of putting 2 children who are close in age in the same grade level in certain subjects.
The “little boys” of our family are now 2, 4, & 6. The 4 year old will soon be 5, and is ready to start a more formal education. The 6 year old is beginning to read, but has trouble retaining anything mathematical. He just finished all his Rod & Staff books, and the 4 year old will be finished with his in a few weeks. So, as you can see, the two boys are neck and neck, and a decision about the upcoming school year needs to be made as soon as possible.
The reason I titled this post “Is it OK…” is because I hear from a lot of parents who are worried that putting their children in the same grade level will come back to bite them in the way of creating a competition that hinders rather than helps the children. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain how we manage this situation.
Some Subjects Shouldn’t Be Combined
I want to start by saying there are certain subjects that don’t work well with two children in the same level at the same time. Here are the ones I would never choose to put two children in at the same time:
1. Reading/Phonics – I am a firm believer that teaching a child to read is a very personal thing. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of one-on-one. It should be a no-pressure environment. Putting two children in the same reading level automatically creates pressure. You will more than likely end up with one child reading very well and one child afraid to try. You will also find that one child will answer all the questions and say all the sounds before the other child, leaving the second child with a very inadequate knowledge of letter sounds and reading mechanics. I purposely only teach one child to read at a time. (Here is a review of the program we use.)
2. Speech Therapy – Even if you have 2 children needing speech therapy, it is likely their difficulties lie in two different aspects of speech pathology. You will not be saving time and energy trying to correct both speech issues at the same time, and you WILL frustrate both of the children, and quite possibly make them feel completely inept which tends to be counter-productive, leading them to not even try to form the sounds correctly. I tried putting two children in the same at-home speech therapy program. It was a horrible experience. Learn from my mistake.
3. Anything that is considered “remedial” or “treatment” related – What I mean by this can be seen in my comments about Speech Therapy. If you have a child who needs help in a subject, putting another child who is likely to surpass them or “do better” in some aspect of the program not a good idea. Respect the individuality of your children and let them learn at their own pace.
Some Subjects Work Very Well for Learning Together
There are some subjects that naturally work well for combining varying ages. This is not an exhaustive list, but a couple that I see as very easy to combine.
1. History – As I mentioned in my post about Tapestry of Grace, we are easily able to span the ages, and simply present the material at their level. History does not need to be separated into grade levels and does not need to be taught chronologically until upper grades.
2. Lower-level Science – Science can easily be taught together in the lower grades. There is no need for tests at this age, and you can enjoy nature studies, experiments, and readings from science together without anyone feeling they are “behind.”
How to Teach 2 Children at the Same Level
Avoid using the term “Grade Level” – Government schools put children in grades as a way to make the masses more manageable. You do not need to do this at home (except maybe on paper when reporting to the state or some other such entity).
Government school grade levels contain a lot of “crossover” in what they teach, especially in the younger grades. Typically, the first 30 some lessons in any workbook-type subject (i.e. math, handwriting, grammar) will be a “refresher” of the previous year’s lessons. There will also be repetition throughout the school year because the more you review a subject, the better you get to know it. So, something learned in 2nd grade will be reiterated in 3rd grade, and so on. Grade levels aren’t magical things that will wreck you if not done properly. Be wise about it and you’ll be fine.
I know many homeschool books still use grade levels to separate each workbook (although quite a few have caught on to the fact that this isn’t necessary), but that doesn’t mean you have to call attention to the grade levels. In fact, feel free to be candid with your children about why schools use grade levels and why your school does not need them.
Teach to the Individual – If within the class there are questions to be answered, workbooks to be written in, and tests to be taken, be sure to give equal amounts of time and energy to each child. When I taught Grammar together a few years ago, I gave one child all the even questions and the other all the odd questions. I separated them to different areas when they took tests, and I did not grade their work (or return their work) in front of each other. I wanted each child to master the subject without relying on their sibling to do the work for them.
Make it a “Matter of Fact” – We spend entirely too much time analyzing the psychological consequences of everything (remember my post on sibling rivalry?) We say things out loud that end up hurting rather than helping. If we address putting 2 children in the same grade level, it doesn’t need to be a big to-do. Just make it matter of fact. This year, Johnny and Jimmy are going to be doing Math together!
Make it fun! – Your attitude is going to be 9/10 of how your children see this combining of grades. Theoretically, you are gaining time and energy by putting the kids together – show that enthusiasm and use it to share a snack, a special time together, or plan a themed party!
Give everyone their own materials – If at all possible, make sure each child has his or her own materials for the class so you don’t have to worry about sharing. In the case of a shared text with corresponding workbooks, just make sure they have their own workbook and enough manipulatives or accessories to not have to wait on the other child to get their work done.
Do individualized subjects first, then do combined – Combined subjects often take longer than the individual ones. Because of this, it will probably be better if you let them do their single subjects, and then move to the combined ones. This isn’t a rule, but it is what we’ve found to work best.
Be flexible – Your children are not cookie-cutters, and not everything works out perfectly. You may find combining your children simply does not work. Give it a couple of week, or even a month, but if you find it is a disaster, rethink the plan. You may need to hold off teaching one of the children until the next year, or teach the same subject to each of the children at a different time of day, or even change curriculum to make it work better. Don’t make homeschooling a bunch of “have-to” rules – everyone will be miserable. Enjoy the journey and enjoy your children!
Have you combined children into one grade level? Tell us about it!