Kris’s Biggest Homeschool Mistake: Teaching in Subject Blocks

Written by contributor Kris of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

I‘ve been homeschooling my three kids, ages 16, 11, and 10, since 2002. Well, technically, I was only officially homeschooling the oldest way back in 2002. That year was not without its mistakes – the biggest of which was thinking that I had to model our homeschool day after a public school day, complete with the Pledge of Allegiance and recess.

Okay, so the Pledge wasn’t so bad, since I wanted my kids to know it, and my daughter definitely enjoyed her midday half hour outside when the weather was nice, but some of the structure was a little over the top for our rather relaxed family.

However, my biggest mistake didn’t occur until I officially added in the youngest two. See, I had this great idea that we were going to have this whole one-room-schoolhouse thing going on. We’d start with Bible time, then we’d have spelling time, followed by math time, and so on throughout the day.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So neat, orderly and organized.

Yeah, until you’ve got three different kids doing three different math problems, all needing one-on-one help, and you realize that there’s only one you.

How did Miss Beadle do it?

I know how I did it! I very quickly nixed the everybody-on-the-same-subject-block teaching idea. We still start out the day doing Bible together and we all did science and history together until my oldest started working independently in high school three years ago.

The other subjects, though, got staggered pretty quickly. I started having one or two kids work on something they could do independently, while I worked one-on-one (or two) with the others.

For example, when we first started staggering subjects, my oldest could do her grammar fairly independently, so I’d work with the younger two on their math while she was doing grammar.

Because the Explode the Code books are very consistent in structure, my younger two could work on them with a fair amount of independence even from a young age. I could start one on their ETC, while the other read to me, then, we’d switch out.

I found things like handwriting practice and copy work to be useful, practical forms of “busy work” to keep each of the kids quietly occupied while I spent some one-on-one time with a sibling.

While scheduled subject blocks sounded like a great idea, they just weren’t practical for my family during those younger years. The truth is, that’s probably a lot like Miss Beadle really did it, too!

What methods have you found work best for teaching the multiple ages and abilities within your family?

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About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.


  1. I’ve just started homeschooling, but I’ve discovered this same thing! I’ll send one to read or start making lunch or doing her daily chore while I work with the other one. Then they’ll switch. It works out great!
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  2. Deanna K. says:

    Thank you for this post.. Thank you. Did I say “Thank You!”?

    This is our first year homeschooling.

    I have no idea what we’re doing.

    My husband and I took a “Homeschooling Certification Class” (required in our state), which was awesome.. taught by a longtime homeschooling mom. But I missed the “pulling it all together” class, and so I thank you for your post. We have two girls with completely different learning styles, and trying to figure out how to get something educational done during the day with each of them has been quite the hurdle. I will have to review some of our work and see how we can stagger independent and one-on-one time.


  3. Absolutely cannot have everyone doing math or reading or anything at exactly the same time… I slightly stagger my kids start time every day, so they all have the same schedule but they start with fifteen to thirty minutes of each other… my older kids work almost independently, they really just need someone to check the work is done and to be told what to do next!!! My younger kids I shift through the day: do the reading for one, while the other is doing workbooks and I just start with a different kid each day – it is VERY important that everyone gets a turn to be first!!! My trouble is everyone wants listen to everyones read a loads and that takes the biggest chunk of the day – everyone listening in!!! Not a problem at all really because what they miss the first time around they certainly get a little more the next time round and around and around!!!
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    • Posted on December 8, 2012 at 9:24 amMagnificent site. A lot of helpful information here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks in your sweat!

  4. We manage to have science and history time together, and everything else I have to separate — the difference between my children is 4 years, and in some areas they learn alike and in some they are very different.

    During math time I sit at the table with them and am available for help as they each need it, which works well. My youngest gives my oldest her spelling tests and my oldest sometimes does read alouds with my youngest.

    I think they would miss learning together if they ever went back to a traditional school, that’s for sure!

    Don’t know how Ms. Beadle did it… but I’m pretty sure not all of those kids in Walnut Grove got a comprehensive education like you are offering in your home!
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  5. One-room school-marms didn’t help everyone all the time, as you suspect–they frequently had an older student teach a younger student. And by “older” I mean like having an eight-year-old help a five-year-old with reading in a corner while the teachers were hearing the eighth grader’s recitation. It’s not a bad system, really–learning to be a teacher is something most people don’t get as part of their education, and it breeds patience if it’s done right. 🙂

    Or, as my mother put it, “Help your brother.”

    Now if only I can imitate her for my own kiddos…

  6. Great post. I totally agree with you. Love the shirts!!!! Where did you find them?

  7. Before I started homeschooling my boys about 4 years ago, I was an autism teacher. The nature of that game is 1:1 teaching a lot of the time, so we got very used to juggling independent work for the students vs. direct teaching time with students in order to accomplish the most and keep the room peaceful and teach the students to work at something independently.. That has worked pretty well with my boys at home too. Independent reading (or just looking at books), which we call D.E.A.R (Drop Everything And Read) fills in nicely, but my 8 & 6 year old are also good about just going and doing something constructive (drawing, creating) for 10 minutes until I can get to their instruction.

  8. we stagger times/classes here too, other than the ones that we do together {Bible and science for now}. Makes for much happier kids and especially the mom! 🙂
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  9. LOVE IT! we started last year we started the day with the pledge, the saint of the week , and then subject blocks. I cant believe we are still here. this year we started the school year with mom working full time so we have been forced to relax, sometimes i think too much , but we are making it work.

  10. Every family, every child and every parent is so different. When I start planning school I pray a lot. I have received many personal revelations.

    We have homeschool for five years now. I divide school into two parts–one-on-one time and group time.

    During our one-on-one studies in the morning I do math, reading, Spanish and other subjects. The children that I am not schooling at that time they are either doing their chores, doing their school work or playing with my toddler. For group time in the afternoon we do our fun subjects: astronomy, manners, history, science experiments, etc. Our group time is short so I have several fun things to keep them all engaged. So far it’s working. But every year is so different.

    The key to success is to remind myself that my work is to be a mother and a teacher. If I don’t do more than that well I will have more time later. But I make sure my children do their chores. Then I have time for my own chores and time for them.

  11. This was really helpful!

    I read another article today… not related to this one… but something that I really wanted to share on the Simple Homeschool blog, because it’s one of the best homeschooling articles I’ve ever read. Here it is:
    Jamie’s latest post: a few good posts

  12. Crafty Mama says:

    I second wanting to know where the shirts are from. 🙂

    Great post!! I am only homeschooling one of three for now, so it’ll be interesting to try to handle three at a time someday!

  13. Integration of different content in one subject perhaps? Say, for math, While one grade level learns decimals, an older child can learn percent. You can actually teach it to both at the same time, and even start with a trip to a store that has something on sale for so-much-percent off. This worked when I taught math to a third, fourth, and fifth grader simultaneously. Then their independent exercises was made according to their skill level or level of understanding. The fourth grader surprised us all with asking to do the fifth grader’s math exercises as well.

    And I see I am not the first person to ask, but where did you get those wonderful t-shirts? 🙂

  14. Oh my, Kris. You’re comforting me, big time. I read about the subject block idea and thought it sounded pretty ingenious, so I typed out a lovely schedule in Google spreadsheets. It did work perfectly. For two days. 🙂
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  15. I’m lucky my 2 are only 1 grade apart. We do everything together, except reading and Math. They either take a break while I’m helping the other, or practice the keyboard.
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  16. We do something similiar though we stagger more with chores than with independent lessons. For phonics & math one will work with me while one does a chore like fold laundry, or put away dishes. If the one doing chores get done early than they will hop on mobymax and practice their math facts.

  17. Where did you get those shirts? I think my boys need these.

  18. This year I pulled all four of our kids and started homeschooling. People mostly think I’ve gone mad. I’ve got a middle school, three elementary levels, one of which has spent the last 4 year’s of his school life stuck in a special ed room, functioning on a grade level several years behind him. This subject block thing is a real daily struggle. They want to all do the same things together at the same time. Which can be both good and bad for me. I’ve figured out ways to do math for all, And science is ok for now, but I’m afraid I’m holding my oldest way back since he wants to do what they’re doing as part of the group. The others are a mix of third and fourth grade levels, so they’re close enough to smoosh together. But my seventh grader wants to be involved in what their doing. So now what?

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