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Combining Homeschool Grade Levels, Part 1

Homeschool family with multiple grade levels combinedEver since we began homeschooling, I’ve combined all the school-age children for as many subjects as possible. That decision has saved countless hours, both in planning and in teaching. I love to recommend that strategy everywhere we go.

At some recent seminars, several moms have had questions about how to combine the grade levels. So I want to take the next few posts to explain how we’ve done it. We’ll talk about which subjects work well for this strategy, what it actually looks like in practice, how to do narration in a combined group, and a few other tips along the way.

Which Subjects

Let’s talk about subjects first. You can’t combine the children for all the school subjects. Some subjects need to be taught one-on-one, going at the individual’s pace. So how do you know which subjects you can teach all together? The answer is in two little key words: “topic” and “skill.”

Some subjects are topical, you just pick a topic and learn about it. For example, you might want to study Spain or the Life of Christ or the Middle Ages. Topical subjects work well for combining the children. It doesn’t matter whether you study Spain when you are seven years old or seventeen years old; either works.

Other subjects are skill-dependent. These are the subjects that you have to teach in a certain order, making sure the child understands one concept before you move on to the next. For example, math is a skill-dependent subject. You need to know how to count before you learn to add. And you need to know how to add before you learn to multiply. Skill-based subjects need to be taught individually, in a certain order, working one-on-one at each child’s pace.

So to identify your Family subjects—the subjects that you can combine all your children for—look through the school subjects you are teaching and ask yourself, “Is this subject dependent on certain skills, or does it just cover topics that can be studied at any age?” The subjects that cover topics can be taught with all the grade levels combined.

Here are the subjects that we have done combined as a family over the years.

  • History
  • Geography
  • Bible
  • Poetry
  • Science (until the high school years, when it gets much more in-depth)
  • Shakespeare
  • Art and picture study
  • Music study
  • Nature study
  • Foreign Language (spoken)

What subjects did you come up with? Any different ones? Post a comment and share your ideas.

Next week we’ll describe what combining the grade levels actually looks like.

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9 Responses to “Combining Homeschool Grade Levels, Part 1”

  1. crazy4boys December 3, 2009 at 2:20 am #

    How about literature? As in books you read-aloud just for fun. My older boys love listening to picture books still and my younger boys love long chapter books. We alternate between different types of books, but always have some book we’re reading aloud just for fun. I also have my kids work on the same memorization piece. Sometimes the little ones (ages 5 and 3) don’t get it before we’re ready to move on, but I think of it more as a habit they’re forming than something they have to ‘do’.

  2. Betty December 3, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Hi Sonya,
    I’m so glad to hear others do this too. I have combined my 3 older children for most of the above subjects. In order to do this, I’ve done read alouds (especially for history). I use TQ history and we’re on the Middle Ages. The challenge that I’ve run into is when life gets crazy (like being in the middle of a move) or my health is not doing well, these subjects don’t get covered because they are dependent on me.

    What I love about combining children with subjects like Bible and history is the rich discussion that follows. We get to mull ideas over, go on rabbit trails, refine our Biblical worldview, etc… These discussions are the highlight of our school day and have shaped each one of us. I hate to miss this. Any insights? Is this question better for the forum?

    • Sonya December 3, 2009 at 7:41 pm #

      @Betty, great question. I’ll throw in my $0.02 worth here, but I would encourage you to post your question on the forum too. I’m sure many other moms will have helpful ideas there.

      The one thought that comes to mind is asking one of the older children to do the read-aloud if you’re not feeling well. You could lead the follow-up discussion, from your bed if you have to. It would still take some of your time and energy, but not as much as if you were doing the reading too.

  3. Angela D December 3, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    I have a 4th grader,2nd grader, and a kindergartner. In our homeschool we combine Science, history, Latin/Greek, Art, and music. I love my kids all learning together! My 4th grader will have to sometimes take things a little further by writing rather than narrating or extra reading on her own.

  4. (((((HUGS))))) sandi December 3, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    First, please know that while I don’t comment often I am always THRILLED to see your updates come in my e-mail! Second, *THANK YOU!* for this! It is timely encouragement, as it’s been on my heart, but I feel like I stink at it! I think I might now be able to make a little of this work a just a bit better…. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  5. Olivia December 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    I am so glad you’re writing on this! I have always had my kids in their own ‘years’, but this year with five kids ( 13y-19mo) I am completely overwhelmed! I must decide what to do and make some changes before the holidays are over! We are taking the whole month of December off so I can hopefully get my head on straight.

  6. Lisa Lomen December 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    My three 12,6, and 2 1/2 sit at the table at the beginning of our day and we do applicable devotion, “Keys for Kids”, verse memorization, hymn sing/study, and daily prayer. My 2 1/2 year old knows verses and hymns most 2 year olds don’t know and he likes it. I also do Life Skills and Science Notebook w/my two oldest while my little one naps.

  7. Denise Williams December 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

    I’am so excited I just got McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer from the library, I’am hoping my daughter will really enjoy hearing the stories from it, the book is pretty cool, I mean to see something that was used in the early years of 1800. I love to read to my daughter she is only in preschool, and won’t be 5 yr till March. Is it possible to get a list of books that would be good for me to read to her, that hopefully I can get from the library? My husband is laid off, it’s been almost a year now, so money is rather tight. Thanks for helping me find books.

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