Thursday, May 7, 2009

How do I homeschool with a large family?

My brother-in-law asked me at Easter time how I homeschool all my kids.  I tried answering around meal preparations and kids talking, but I've been wanting to blog about that ever since. 

I know I'm not the only one homeschooling 4 children at once, with little ones waiting in the wings.  In the Fall, I'll actually have 5 official students, and a preschooler to teach.  I have several strategies that we use here.

I combine students into one curriculum as much as possible.  When we used Five In A Row, I taught 2-3 students the same lessons at once.  They were lumped into the same unit study, until the older girls were ready to move up into Beyond FIAR, and then I had two in one level and two in the other level.    Now, we use Tapestry of Grace, and they are all using the same curriculum, but reading age appropriate books.

I teach them to work independently as much as possible.  I do not stand and teach each math lesson to each child before they work.  As soon as they are reading well, I expect them to read the lessons themselves and ask for help if they need it.  I focus my time and energy on helping the non-readers.  This is also why we moved to Tapestry of Grace away from FIAR.  I love FIAR, but it required me to lead two different levels of unit studies with the kids each day, and that was ignoring the preschooler.  Tapestry lets the older ones work independently most of the time, so I can read to the younger ones.

I try to eliminate excess work and combine subjects as much as possible.  If my child just spent time writing about sparrows for science, I don't make them do handwriting as well that day.  If I can teach science at the same time as history and language arts via a unit study, then I don't buy an extra curriculum for science (in elementary school).

I take a "better late than early" relaxed schooling approach with some subjects.  While I do teach my kids about nouns, verbs, periods and commas ... we do not use a grammar curriculum until they are in upper elementary school.  Likewise with science.  I have used this approach with spelling, but may be changing that.

I write out a lesson plan for each student early in the week and give it to them.  They can see their daily lesson requirements and mark them off as they go ... if they are reading well.  They aren't waiting for me to tell them what to do next.

I give each child a place for their schoolbooks so they can easily find everything.  My kids each have a plastic dishpan for their schoolwork.  We call them their boxes.  They sit "oh so decoratively" on a built-in buffet in my dining room.  It's not stylish but it works!  Yesterday my 5 yo was asking where he would put his books.  I told him I needed to get him a box, too.  I'll probably need to empty out the box that was supposed to hold paper for art projects, and give it to him instead.

I lessen the expense of homeschooling a group by buying reusable products as much as possible.  We don't buy individual spelling workbooks, we bought Spelling Power which combines it all.  I switch them over to textbooks that don't require workbooks as soon as I can.

I use literature to teach as much as possible.  If I can combine reading practice and exposure to good literature, with teaching history or science ... so much the better!  If I can buy the books used, or borrow them from our local library ... that's the best!

I don't teach a subject at a certain age just because I'm supposed to.  For instance, why teach spelling to a child who isn't yet reading well?  That has always been my practice ... waiting until the child was reading chapter books before beginning spelling with them.  (Although, All About Spelling has me questioning that approach.)

Focus on the three R's first.  In the early grades, we focus on reading, arithmetic and handwriting.  We don't use a structured writing curriculum, but do try to get them comfortable with writing out what they're thinking.  Anything else they learn is just icing on the cake.  These 3 areas are the foundation for all they will learn in the future, so it is our main emphasis.  We do learn history, language arts and science through living books and life experiences, but we don't use textbooks for them in elementary school.

Everyone sits to do their bookwork first, and I help each one as they ask for help.  I try to remain available to them as much as possible, although the baby can make that hard at times.  Then we used to do the unit studies after the bookwork, hopefully while the baby napped.  Now, this is the time in the afternoons or late mornings when the older girls go off to read their Tapestry of Grace assignments, and I listen to the younger ones read or read to them. 

We are flexible.  We haven't ever made a school schedule we followed very long.  Each school day looks different.  It helps us to have a weekly schedule instead of a daily schedule.  If  we look at what is learned in the whole week instead of each individual day, it helps us keep a better perspective.  Yes, this day we only accomplished half our lessons, but on this other day we learned so much more than we had planned.  They balance out.

Those are just some of the ways we teach our larger family.  I'm sure I'll think of things later that I didn't share, and I'll have to add a part 2.

Trusting in Him,


  1. Hi April,

    I have looked into using Tapestry of Grace but have thought that it would be too overwhelming with a big family. But it seems to work for you. Do you have other posts about how you use it. Or maybe you could answer it at a later time?



  2. My family is not as large as yours, but I do many of the same things as you like combining subjects, teaching children to work independently, and seat work first.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I like your flooble sidebar thingys. I tried doing that awhile ago and could not figure it out for the life of me. Holly

  4. OH this is good stuff! *THANK YOU!* for a timely post~I'm sure it was written JUST fer ME! LOL! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  5. Brenda@http://www.thetiethatbindsus.blogspot.comOctober 13, 2009 at 1:54 AM

    I am also homeschooling 4 of our children currently, with a toddler growing faster by the minute. It's challenging. We also do a lot of the same things you do. We LOVE TOG! But, I had to modify it some. My older one does most of his work on his own, with a few "meetings" with me through the week. I plan to put our schedule up soon in a blog post. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure others will learn a few tricks. : )


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