Homeschool Series: Taming the Chaos When Homeschooling Multiple Kids

By Skye Bowman, Macaroni Kid Guest Writer and Homeschool Veteran August 26, 2020

One of the most stressful aspects of home education is structure. After making the decision to homeschool, wading through the curriculum research, and planning out all the fun extracurricular activities — jumping in to your new life as a part-time or full-time teacher is exciting. Finally, time to get this learning thing underway!

Yeah, I can’t think of a time when the “first day of school” ever went as planned. Or any of the days afterward. Suffice to say, every day is an adventure (that’s actually my motto, by the way).

Structure is a challenging concept to define in homeschool life. It’s not completely unattainable, but it’s something that looks different to each individual family — especially those with multiple children. Each and every student in a classroom has their own set of needs to be met.

While catering to individuality is a huge bonus of at-home learning, the chaos of sorting through the needs, abilities, and expectations of multiple children is enough to make any parent wish they had superhuman capabilities.

Whether you’ve recently taken on homeschooling or are just looking for tips to enhance your new adventure in virtual schooling, read on for some helpful advice.

Starting the day together:

Depending on needs, some families try to start the day together with a common activity. In my house this can vary day to day, but it often looks like reading together or stepping outside for a cup of tea and an almost never-ending game of I-Spy (my toddler’s favorite pastime).  

This model won’t always fit with age gaps or time constraints. Occasionally it helps to have my oldest get up earlier so that he can have his own time before beginning the day. But at some point in our morning we attempt to gather together and discuss the day ahead. It helps the day feel more cohesive if I lay out the expectations of our school time. 

Older students may require less of a play-by-by and more of a chance to cultivate their own schedules. The quickest way to learn time-management is to actually have to manage time effectively. 

Routine over schedule:

Scheduling every single minute of your day is an excellent way to watch things fall apart very quickly. A different approach would be to establish a routine and form helpful habits based on the way your kids operate. Some children will be up in the morning and ready to engage. Others might need some time to wake up before focusing on productivity. 

Sometimes it takes trial and error to find the routine that works. Even after securing a successful routine, not every day will look the same. Flexibility and grace are really the best tools to keep in your arsenal for at-home learning. 

Blocks of time:

There are various formats that you can employ to lay out your day, but if one child needs more attention than another, it can start to feel like a juggling act. Even in a traditional classroom, some students thrive working independently while others require more one-on-one assistance.

Setting aside blocks of time to delve deeper into a problem area can be beneficial. You can further this approach by setting blocks to focus on each child and their individual schoolwork. Start the others on independent or busy work and sit down with one student at a time. This keeps you from jumping between multiple subjects and feeling overwhelmed or unproductive. 

As a side note, block scheduling can be useful for your calendar planning as well. Instead of trying to cover every subject everyday, you can assign time blocks to a lesson or subject (e.g, English and math on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; Science and History on Tuesdays and Thursdays). 

This is extreme beneficial for a schedule packed with extracurricular activities. However, if Block Scheduling feels too constrictive or fast-paced, you can also look into Loop Scheduling, where each child works from a list of subject assignments, moving on to the next subject whenever the first one is completed.

Learning together:

Sitting down together with a common focus is a great way to make everyone feel included while meeting educational needs. Consider adding group activities, such as reading, science experiments, history trivia games, or art projects to your daily schedule.

Reading together is a good bookend — either a productive way to get your day started or as a way to gather everyone together before bed. Reading topics are endless and easily adaptable for various age groups. Even for experienced educators, there are difficult days that descend into chaos. Regrouping with a stack of books and active listening helps re-center the mind and bring the focus back to learning.

Furthering this thought, unit studies cater to grouping multiple ages together for one lesson. Older children will have more in-depth assignments while younger students will just scratch the surface. Unit studies hearken back to the days of one-room school houses and multiple students across all age groups.

Instead of jumping between lessons and curriculum for more than one kid, everyone is studying the same thing. The school day is less chaotic and once the main lesson is out of the way, students can independently focus on the extra details. Time can still be set aside for deeper learning or practice. 

Unit studies are especially useful in subjects like science, nature studies, history, geography, and art. Adapting lessons for various ages isn’t difficult, and having everyone focused on a common lesson means less work for the educator.

Keeping busy:

The biggest distraction in my home is my toddler. Like all toddlers, she demands undivided attention, inclusion, and a certain amount of chaos to thrive. Accomplishing anything else, such as schooling older siblings, completing housework, or working from home is usually a fairly impossible feat.

Busy boxes tend to be the best motivation to redirect wayward behavior. We keep small totes full of special toys to bring out when we need to distract her. Puzzles and tangrams. Play-doh and letter mats. Letter and number magnets. Sensory boxes full of sand or rice in which to dig for treasures. Coloring pages and tracing sheets so she can feel like she’s learning too. Whatever offers ten or so minutes of distraction without taking my attention away from other endeavors. 

Another possible learning experience is having an older child help a younger child. At times, my second grader will engage with the toddler by “teaching” her something that he has already learned. This helps to reinforce his own lesson as well as occupy his little sister.

At the very least, this can give a frazzled parent a few minutes to have a cup of coffee and refresh their brain. At its best, I call it cooperative play and consider it a good exercise in interpersonal communication. 

Keep it imperfect:

Education isn’t a race that is meant to begin and end at the quickest pace possible. It is a marathon, where the end goal is a life-long love of learning and a conditioning for the students to push themselves a little further each time. 

Keeping that in mind, remember that some days will be beautifully orchestrated and go off without a hitch while other days will call your sanity into question. And that’s okay. Trying to press your homeschooling experience into the same mold as a traditional school setting is just pointless. It’s meant to be different, imperfect, and above all else, a learning process.