Some parents aren’t sure how to begin combining their children into one curriculum, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to do. If you were raised in public school then the idea seems so new, but back in the days before public school as we know it (which was only around a hundred years ago or less), children often learned this way.
I choose a topic and combine my children across grade levels. This means that each week all of my children are studying the same overarching theme (or unit, or topic, whatever you’d like to call it).
Some curricula lends itself to doing this, and some doesn’t. I combine my children by using literature-based curricula.
The past couple of weeks we’ve been studying World War I. I followed reading assignments from Sonlight Core E and My Father’s World 1850 to Modern Times.
I use a spreadsheet system to keep track of what I plan for my children to study through the years – it shows who I will combine and what they will be using. My plan isn’t fixed – I can change it whenever I want to, and I certainly have changed it through the years. By planning ahead, I’ve been happy each year with what I’ve finally ended up using.
Here’s a snip showing a bit of my curriculum spreadsheet:
To keep a general, unifying topic among as many children as possible each year, I color-code the spreadsheet. Orange is for World History. Blue is for US History. Purple is for cultural-study-focuses or geography-focused years. When the children get into high school, they are mostly independent. On the chart, it looks like my middle child will end up with fewer World History years, but in reality she’ll get extra world history in 6th and 7th because My Father’s World includes World History mixed into their US History years, AND I’ll be adding Sonlight’s Core 100, which also includes World History. She’ll get plenty of World History studies.
So far, it shows my middle child doing Sonlight Language Arts 3rd grade twice. She won’t do it twice, but I haven’t decided what I want to use in that space yet, so I’ve left it as-is for now. It’s two years away…I think it’s ok to take my time figuring out what language arts I’d like to use during that year. Who knows what her needs will be like in two years, right?
I look at the topics I’m teaching for the week/month/year, and I figure out ways to make it comprehensible for all of my children.
For history, my 2nd and 5th graders worked together to read a 2-page summary of WW1, do a few worksheets, listen to Story of the World about WW1, and my read aloud for all before bed is the Sergeant York book. I read the other read alouds on WW1 only with my 5th grader, and we talked about them together. My 5th and 2nd graders watched Extra Credits History (on YouTube) on WW1. Only my 5th grader will watch a long movie on Military Chaplains of WW1. It’s way too advanced for my 2nd grader.
We all watched A Little Princess because it shows some trench warfare and it was fun for my younger children. We went to a local museum that has a pretend WW1 trench and other war stuff. This all involves my K’er and also teaches the older kids.
My 5th grader is randomly reading Up From Slavery because he wanted to, even though it doesn’t fit with the WW1 theme. My 2nd grader is reading Samantha’s World from the American Girl Doll books.
As another example, part of what we’re doing this year involves memorizing all the states and their capitals. My children all listen to the states and capitals songs and look at the map together. All the children get the same worksheet that tells about a one state that we might be learning about that day.
I expect different things from each child once they get that worksheet. My ten-year-old copies the information about the state. My 7-year-old carefully colors and labels the state and chooses one topic to copy. My 5-year-old colors the state. This way, everyone is busy and involved with what they’re all learning about as a group.
We work things similarly for other history and science topics.
Once a week we do a craft, field trip, or cooking thing. My kids have curricula that often schedule something like this so I don’t have to come up with ideas on my own if I don’t want to. I just pick one from each type of activity for the week. I expect my oldest child to get more out of it, to do more, to do better, and retain more of these types of things.
They don’t do everything together, of course. A 5-year-old and a 10-year-old can’t always do the same work. The children have separate work on their level for language arts, math, and other things I want them to learn. My kindergarten child is still learning to read, so it’s really important that she gets a lot of attention of from me in that area. She needs me to read a lot of picture books to her, and I help her while she reads easier books to herself.
My 2nd grader is very social and enjoys doing her work together with me, so she usually sits with either me or her older brother while she works. She likes to talk about what she’s doing.
My 5th grader is very independent and prefers to work mostly on his own. He sometimes needs help or has a question, and I’m there to help him.
I don’t leave my children alone to work except for very short periods where I might have to quickly attend to something around the house. I personally feel like children need an adult and example working along with them.
This all sounds like a lot of stuff but really, it’s this basic rhythm of:
1) do Kindergarten work first thing (older kids work independently on language arts and math);
2) Do some history read aloud work (together);
3) clean up a little and maybe throw something in the crock pot (kids have a snack);
4) check on people’s work and help (all kids work on language arts, math, science);
5) read some science stuff with my 2nd and K’er (5th grader does science independently);
6) eat lunch together;
7) foreign language worksheets for 10 minutes, then probably Chinese or French tv for 30 minutes.
8) I work while the kids do stuff without screens until it’s time for karate or ballet or swimming or horses.
9) eat dinner.
10) I do the hardest fiction read aloud before bed.
11) I work some more
That’s it. It’s pretty much the same basic routine each week, I just plug different stuff in. Once you think of categories and units rather than page numbers and grade levels, it becomes easier to combine.
Unschooling can be a great way to combine students across grade levels. There’s great advice out there for how to plan unschooling units.