Balancing Mixed Ages

Many of you have mentioned how difficult it is to balance different ages when you’re homeschooling, or even just doing activities with your kids at home after school or on weekends. I certainly don’t have this mastered, but I’ll share about what I do.

Up until last year (fall of ’05), I had only been working with my son in the afternoons, using preschool 3-6 materials, when my daughter napped. But once she was 1 1/2, it seemed like we could add her to our worktime.

I’ll never forget that first morning when the three of us worked together. I had carefully prepared lots of new work for both kids, but my daughter had such a hard time if I tried to help my son with anything. He was still young enough that he found some of the practical life things interesting, and I made the mistake of letting him try a work of hers after she had finished with it.

This particular work was an ice cube tray that held different colored pompoms, which you scooped out and put in a bowl, and then put them back again. When he tried to take it off the shelf, my daughter screamed, grabbed it out of his hand, and threw it in the air. I’ll never forget watching the tray go up in the air with the pompoms flying in different directions. And we had only been working together for 20 minutes!

I was pretty sure that it just wasn’t going to work, but we kept at it and after about a month, things did get better. It can be really humbling when you realize that managing a class of 20 6-9 year olds is much, much easier than one toddler and one kindergartener. That surprised me, as I thought that two kids would be much easier than a full class.

A few things that you can do:

1. Make sure there is always something new every week for both kids (since we don’t have room for a full classroom of work, I rotate stuff often)

2. Save the messy/advanced work for the afternoon when the younger children are napping

3. Make sure they each have their own well-defined workspace (their own rug or table to work at)

4. Have the older ones take turns watching/playing with the younger ones

5. Find some things that can be done together. Many activities span age groups, including nature walks, art lessons/projects, music time (singing, instruments), and silent reading or you reading out loud to all of them. The level of the work may differ – the younger child might be looking for pretty leaves while the older child figures out the species of trees – but at least the activities can be done together