Choosing Curricula for Multiple Students (2011 Curriculum Fair)

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom

Ages of my children: 13, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2
Educational Philosophies I Pull From: Classical, Charlotte Mason, Literature-Based

I don’t know if it’s my academic background, my penchant for planning and dreaming, or my love of learning, but exploring curriculum choices makes me happy. Like a kid in a candy store, I eagerly look forward to this time of year when our current books and resources fade in excitement and freshness, and I start thinking toward next year and all the wonderful, new things we’ll be studying.

I admit it; I am a planning geek.

Back in the early days of our homeschool when I “just” had three kids, I mapped out the rest of their school lives, calculating what grade each of my sons would be and what curriculum we’d be using. I wanted to be able to build our school library over time, as finances were tight, and I was, of course, dreaming big dreams.

Over the years our family has grown. Now as I approach “formally” schooling five children in grades K, 2, 4, 6, and 9, I find that my plans crafted many years ago have changed. Big surprise, eh?

Does each child need to study something different?

Ten years ago when I thought I was Wonder Woman, I planned three distinctly different tracts for my kids’ education. Ah the ignorance of youth! Since then, through trial and much error, I’ve found that it is not necessary or desirable to have an entirely different curriculum for each child. With many children, this is a sure ticket to insanity.

This may come as Earth-shattering news, but I gotta say it:

Children of different grades can study similar topics and subjects.

In traditional schooling, every grade is mapped out specifically so that kids don’t get the same information every year as they move from teacher to teacher or school to school. Assigning certain subjects to certain grade levels is done for continuity and insuring a breadth of knowledge.

Since you are your children’s teacher, you can insure that there isn’t repetition. You can design your own course of study that plans for a breadth of knowledge. As their mom, you can do this in such a way that you don’t go crazy trying to teach completely different topics for every grade. And it is possible to do it all the while meeting the needs of children who are at different stages of development.

Common curricula saves time, money, and sanity.

An added bonus is that learning is more likely to invade all of family life by studying common subjects. If all your kids are studying World War II, then a family field trip to the USS Midway will be meaningful to everyone. A dinner table question about dictators, posed by your fifth grader, will have widespread interest and participation since even the youngest in your set knows what you’re talking about.

Two Birds, One Stone

Over the years, I’ve searched for curricula to help me teach my children well without causing me to overextend myself. Teaching common topics has worked for us, meeting the needs of a range of students.

For instance, currently we’re studying the aftermath of World War II. We have several common spine texts that we read from. If my younger kids have a hard time, I read aloud to them. My older students tackle it on their own. My eighth grader reads literature from the time that matches his level of maturity, while the younger set gets exposure to similarly themed books that are more geared for their ages.

They are engaging with the same general subject matter in age-appropriate ways. Yet, my mind is steady in one time period–instead of trying to teach Ancient Egypt, the American Revolution, and the Holocaust all at one time.

As a busy mom, you really can’t be in more than one place at a time.

The following are resources I’ve found helpful in teaching multiple grades:

Science

This past year I discovered Apologia’s Young Explorer Series. It’s a K-6, creation-based science curriculum following the Charlotte Mason style. Topics cover Astronomy, Botany, Birds, Ocean Creatures, Land Animals, and Anatomy. I’ve found these “Exploring Creation” books and the accompanying notebook to be highly accessible to my range of students. I also purchased the experiment kit to save even more time and effort. My 3rd and 5th grade boys can easily do many of the experiments independently.

My 8th grader, however, has followed Apologia’s secondary program, working through Exploring Creation with Physical Science.

Composition

For the past few years I’ve used the Student Writing Intensive from Excellence in Writing, aka IEW. My boys have enjoyed Andrew Pudewa’s humor on the DVD and have all been able to follow the writing assignments at their own pace and level of writing skills.

History and Literature

Since The Well-Trained Mind was my basic primer for learning to be a homeschool teacher, I have always had the notion of combining literature and history, as well as teaching the same time period across all grades. The Story of the World volumes came out early in my homeschool career, so we’ve used those as well as the accompanying workbooks. Currently, we’re finishing Volume 4 in the Modern Age, completing two cycles of reading and learning through the study of world history. These books are ideal for grades 1 through 8.

Along the way, we discovered Tapestry of Grace, a similar approach to studying all the literature and history of the world. Tapestry provides a course of study for grades K – 12. We’ve bounced back and forth between the two programs over the last eight years. Next year we will delve back into Tapestry as I teach grades kindergarten through high school.

Math

Obviously, math is not a subject to span a large number of grades. But, I have found one curriculum to be particularly helpful to my busy homeschool schedule. Teaching Textbooks is computer-based and self-correcting for the elementary grades.

While I loved Saxon Math for the first seven years we used it, I became quickly overwhelmed when I needed to teach four different math lessons a day. Teaching Textbooks was an answer to that dilemma. It is not a perfect program. I’ve heard some criticisms of it, but its easy-to-use format has been a boon to our homeschool.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

There is no single curriculum that will answer all your homeschooling desires. Our children comprise different ages, abilities, interests, and developmental stages. That is as it should be.

However, there are ways of building our homeschool resources that can meet many needs at one time. Not only does choosing common curricula conserve time, money, and Mom’s brain cells, but it can contribute to a vibrant atmosphere of learning as children of varying ages and abilities interact and make learning overlap with life a little bit more.

How do you accommodate for a range of ages in your homeschool?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools her six children, covering preschool through 10th grade. When she's not changing diapers, washing mountains of laundry, or chasing down the wayward math student who's steathily playing video games in the closet, she shares parenting and homekeeping tips on Life as MOM as well as "delicious ways to act your wage" at Good Cheap Eats.

Comments

  1. Kristie A. says:

    I am planning on using Tapestry of Grace but we will be using it overseas. I won’t have access to a library. Do you think this material is possible to use even without a library?

    • Jessica says:

      Kristie, I think that depends on how many grades you are covering and what your budget is for books. The main part of TOG is the reading list for each grade, which is quite extensive. If you didn’t have the coin to buy the books and you didn’t have access to a library, I think it would be difficult.

      • Kristie A. says:

        Thanks Jessica! We have three little ones so far and I will Lord willing eventually be homeschooling them all. I am hoping to start buying some books ahead so that we could use TOG. I appreciate your help.

        • samanthakayee says:

          I would look into a Nook or a Kindle :)

          • Jessica says:

            Brilliant! That would be a good idea for all the books that are in public domain or offered free. The others are still pricey, but at least you’d save space.

  2. We have had a lot of transition this year that has kept me being as hands on in years past. I decided to try my boys (3rd & 5th grade) on Alpha Omega’s computer based Switched on Schoolhouse. For the most part it has been great for us. Their love of all things computer has made it enjoyable for them and I can oversee everything they are doing and provided extra help when needed.

    I started with just math and language on their specific grade level to see how well it would go. I have now decided to add history and science for one grade only and let them cover the same material at the same time. I install it separately on their own computer. It saves me money and gives them the benefit of working together and helping each other.
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    • Jessica says:

      Sounds like a great plan. I’ve been thinking about taking a look at that program. Do you feel it is rigorous enough?

  3. Rachel says:

    I’ve just started using TOG! I love it! It is really nice to have something all my kids can work on together.

    I’ve got two 7 year olds and a 6 year old. My big issue isn’t necessarily having something we can all work on together. It is helping them all on the things that we can’t all work together on (phonics, math, grammar). They seem to all need me at once. Any suggestions?

    • Jessica says:

      My ideal morning is when I have a meeting with each kid to talk over the stuff that they are going to do. And then I try to stagger their independent work with their “needs mom” work.

  4. Lisa K says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! We will be starting to homeschool after this school year and our children are 6, 9, and 11 years old. I have been asked several times (and sometimes worried about) how you do that with the 3 different grades. Your post reinforces the approach we were planning to implement and gives me more confidence that it will be just fine. Thank you again!

  5. Anne Marie says:

    Do you ever have a concern that your youngest will need to revisit topics? That would be my biggest concern, I think with this approach. The oldest will understand much more in a larger scale and the impact events like WWII had on the world, whereas, it wont be as meaningful to a 6 year old just hearing about it. How to you balance this? Revisit when they young ones are older? Love to hear your thoughts, or if I am over thinking as usual!

    • Jessica says:

      Well, I basically follow what’s laid out in The Well-Trained Mind. The address this in more detail. But, basically, since we rotate through history and literature of the world every four years, covering every time period, eventually all the kids get everything at least three times. My younger ones will have more exposure since they’ve been listening since they were babies. It’s amazing what the remember. But, yes, my 6yo will study WW2 again when he’s 10 and again when he’s 14.

  6. Thanks for the insight, I will be beginning homeschooling my four this next school year. My oldest will be in the 9th grade and the youngest in preschool so I’m going to need all the help I can get!

  7. I so appreciate this series. What a great idea.

    I have four, but only two are old enough to need serious curricula so far, so thanks, Jessica, for helping me see what lies down the road. Right now I can handle two students using the same program on different levels–but I don’t think I could, or would want to, do it for all of them!

    Story of the World is sitting on my shelf, but I just haven’t been able to work it in to our days yet. I am more motivated to fit it in after reading yet another recommendation! (Because, really, we should be able to fit it in!)
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    • Jessica says:

      Don’t feel like you “have to.” If you’re already doing a history program, you’ve got something in line. Our school has centered on history and literature because we love it. We still get in our math and lang arts, but there’s not quite the same passion.

      SOTW is a great spine to follow and easy reading.

    • Anne, to help fit Story of the World into my schedule, I bought the audiobooks on cd. We listen to history on our way to piano lessons, museums, grocery stores, etc. My dd resisted at first, being used to listening to her favorite music, so I started by enforcing a rule of listening to history on the way to something, letting dd choose for trip home. She quickly started choosing history all the time.

  8. We school as a group right now, but with a Kindergartener, Pre-K and a 20 month old, its been very easy to learn together. I know it will be more of a challenge as the kiddos get older it will be harder. Thank you for these curriculum suggestions so I can begin exploring them now (and maybe saving cash since we dont have a library!).
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  9. I’m only in my second year of homeschooling, teaching a 3, 7, and 10yo. Some days, it feels as if I am doing a plate spinning routine! My youngest has enjoyed having having her own supplies labeled “math” and “language arts” just like the older ones. Inside I tuck number or letter worksheets and let her work to her ability while I work with the others. I too follow TWTM and try to keep to the same time period in their studies. I think it really keeps cohesion to our studies. I’m curious, though, as to any tips you could offer in keeping the littlest ones busy/entertained/occupied.
    Jennifer’s latest post: How to Go to a Curriculum Fair and Survive!

  10. Thanks so much Jessical. I love peeking into everyone’s unique styles and getting ideas.

  11. Jennifer G. says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. I am currently homeschooling a second grader while my 14 and 16 year olds attended JR. and SR. high school. My 8th grader pleaded with me to home school her as well (so she can stand for her faith without fear of peer pressure). So I will have a 9th grader and a 3rd grader next year. I am more of a eclectic homeschooler with a Charlotte Mason (kind of) Philosophy. This year I have been doing a lot of deschooling – which has been working quite well. My little guy loves to learn again.

    My question is, are you currently using a spelling curricula? I am currently using Language Arts workbooks as my son enjoys workbooks. I have purchased Wordly Wise for both 3rd and 9th grade because I have heard great things about it. My children are already advanced so I don’t want to bore them. But I also think they should continue to learn. Any suggestions?

    Thanks! I wish I was going to a Home School Convention this year but it is just not possible.

  12. That was extremely helpful! Thank you! Pregnant with #2 right now and my first being only 2 years old, I was thinking or how I would be teaching different ages at the same time in the future. You just made my life easier :)
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  13. My older girls are only 11.5 months apart (!) so it’s been very easy for me to combine most of their studies; in fact, the older girl benefitted from a later start with academics and the younger could start a bit younger so they are really like twins in every area, even math. I also have a 4-year old, who did a somewhat independent program this year; however, next year I’m going to more consistently blend her in with as much of the Bible, history, and science as we can. I use My Father’s World, which is another excellent program for anyone considering family-integrated study.
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  14. Thanks for the ideas. We are planning to use Apologia’s Science series for elementary- do you think it’s best to wait until your child is a reader before starting this? My son will be doing kindergarten next year and I’m not sure whether to plan on this or not.

    • Jessica says:

      I often read it aloud to my three grade schoolers, but my first grader has been a drifter. It certainly depends on your son and how interested he is, but I think I would wait. In those very early years, we just got lots of children’s books about animals and plants and stuff and we had a blast.

  15. We are winding down our 3rd year of homeschooling. I have a 5th and 3rd grader and a Kindergartener. This year, my older 2 got laptops and did most of their work via Switched on Schoolhouse (Bible, Lang. Arts, Spanish, and History), Teaching Textbooks for Math, and we do science with 2 other families. We did Sonlight the year before. There are + and – to both years. Going to the bookfair on Friday and trying to come up with next year. My sweet Kindergartener has gotten the least attention this year…just try to keep him quiet so the girls can work. Want to find a balance for next year that has us all doing a World History together, grammar and writing (my least favorite to teach) that is tailored to one dyslexic, one daughter loves TT for math, the other wants to go back to Horizons…more readers that are around world history! Lots of shopping/decisions to do Friday.

  16. Joyfully @ home says:

    This post is making me want to look into TOG again. I really would love to teach all my kids the same stuff. I’ve shied away from it because there’s no daily lesson plan. I really love what Heart Of Dakota teaches. But I’m looking at teaching 4 programs in the future! If I could get HOD to span more levels, I’d be very happy.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m not familiar with HOD, so I can’t compare. TOG is very overwhelming to look at and quite expensive. I had the benefit of borrowing it the first few years, so I could test it without forking over so much money. I have mixed feelings about it. But, since we own it already, we’re revisiting it next year. I mainly use the booklist and write my own lessons each day.

  17. I really enjoyed this post! I have wondered about this ‘problem’ and it answered a lot of my questions!!
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  18. Great information here. I always feel bad for parents who buy curriculum for each subject for each child. There is a better way! Thanks for giving people something simple they can use to make their life a bit easier.
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Curriculum Reviews

    • Jessica says:

      Well, it still takes some fancy footwork, but I guess it is simpler than other ways. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

  19. Thank you for this! As a mom to a 7, 5, 3, and 11 mos old I will be dealing with this soon and have been thinking about switching to Apologia. I think I will now!
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  20. Beth Ann Bruno says:

    Thank you for this-God is faithful! I feel this is ‘right’ in my heart-to teach my 1st,5th & 6th graders this way for the new school year this June. We enjoy Apologia tremendously and have added their Anatomy for all 3, plus Who is God for all 3 also. I am looking into Illuminations Year 1, since we love The Mystery of History-but it can be tough for me to just go for it since I don’t know anyone who has used it or who even teaches in this old-time school house manner. Thank you for your encouragment-I really exactly that this morning.

  21. I was wondering if you think it would be wise to use TOG with another curriculum like WinterPromise Animals in our World. Thank you so much four you encouragement.

  22. Thank you for your insight Jessica! We’re at the beginning of our homeschool journey and I am trying to allow a good bit of curriculum overlap for my three kids so I won’t go crazy. We are 1/3 of the way through Story of the World 1 and I’d like to cycle through twice by the time my oldest (1st grade) makes it to 8th grade. My question for you is, how do you squeeze 42 SOW lessons into the 180 days of school/36 weeks?
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    • Jessica says:

      Some weeks we’ve doubled up chapters, just doing the basic reading, not the activities that go with.

  23. Jessica,
    Just wanted to thank you for this post. I’ve had it up on my computer on and off for weeks now as I formulated my plan for teaching my kids this summer. I’ve got a 2nd grader and Kindergartener and wanted to find stuff to interest both of them. I think we’re going to work on the science stuff you suggested and do the history/literature as you and The Well Trained Mind suggest. And thanks so much for the Teaching Textbooks link. While it’s too pricey for me right now, their placement tests were great and I even chatted with the “tutor” online about some stuff.
    Keep all this great information coming!

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