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Homeschooling Multiple Grade Levels In Elementary

This year we’ll be starting our 5th year homeschooling with a 1st grader, 3rd grader, and 4th grader. Someday soon I’ll be schooling 4 kids, which if I’m honest is a bit intimidating! I thought homeschooling multiple grade levels would look like all of us sitting at a table doing worksheets at the same time while I alternated helping each kid with their stack of subjects. In reality, we don’t have many worksheets (except for math) and do most of our school subjects family style with some oral narrations.

For reference, I consider our homeschool style to more eclectic…pulling from many styles. However we are more learning closer to a Charlotte Mason approach as the years go on.

I’ve had to let go of what works for other people and embrace what works for us. Let me share some ideas on how we get our school done most days.

Here’s our school rhythm, what subjects we combine, and how we structure the day. So much of what your day might look like homeschooling multiple kids depends on how many kids you have, their ages, and the homeschool curriculum and style you use.

A chalkboard with words that say "tips for homeschooling more than 1 kid"

Curriculum we’ve used as we’ve transitioned from homeschooling 1-3 kids

When I had just a child in kindergarten and one in preschool, things were so simple. It was easy to find 20 minutes to add a few learning activities for my preschooler using this play based preschool curriculum. 45 minutes of kindergarten, and the rest the day to play…boom the day was done.

But now, balancing 3 kids doing school, it feels messier. And takes longer. We have to be home more to get it all done. I aim to start at 9 and finish around lunch, but sometimes we have to finish someone’s math when my toddler naps or in the afternoon. Often afternoons involve reading out loud, a show, or some kind of hands on project.

You can check out our curriculum changes over the years in these posts:

2020-2021 kindergarten & 1st grade curriculum picks

2021-2022 1st & 2nd grade curriculum picks

2022-2023 2nd & 3rd grade curriculum picks

Independent work

My two oldest (age 8 & 9) can read now, which means two awesome things for our homeschool.

  1. They can follow directions on a worksheet (for us that’s math & Handwriting Without Tears workbook)
  2. They can read books that interest them which is a HUGE win! I do my best to get a variety of books at their reading level from historical fiction to comic style science books, to just-for-fun stories. My oldest devours books and doesn’t really need me for his vast amount of knowledge, lol. But my 8 year old reader still barely reads for fun, so most of her “facty” information comes from read alouds and learning shows.

I also:

  • Print out a homeschool routine they can follow to know what has to be done each day (some of it with me, some of it on their own). Here’s my video on how we set up each child’s daily school work/routine.
  • Utilize a weekly binder for each kid with Monday-Friday tabs so they know where to find that day’s math worksheet, blank paper, handwriting book, etc. It’s all stored in their binder.

Perhaps when they are in upper elementary or middle school, their school work will be more independent. Hopefully because I’ll be doing a lot of reading for my younger 2 at that point. But for now, I’m actually doing most the reading for my oldest 2 (history, nature study, literature, and random library books).

Which brings me to…

Read out loud to everyone, often

A seasoned homeschool mama with high school graduates gave her advice on things she regretted and things she wished she did more of throughout the years. Guess what that was?

Less worrying about daily checkboxes. More reading books out loud as a family. I’ve taken that to heart to decrease the pressure I feel some days.

If all I can get to in a school day is reading out loud, then it’s not a wasted school day. It exposes them to new ideas, and we’ve had family time.

As I write, my living room floor has several piles of library books on it as well as an overly stuffed basket of books we are slowly but surely reading through together.

I don’t require my newly turned 6 year old to listen to anything but our bible story. It would be torture for him. However, I’m noticing as he gets older, even the past few months, he’s been hanging around and sometimes even joining us when I read!

My 8 & 9 year old are required to be in the room where I read, but they can play and wiggle while I read.

The bonus of homeschooling multiple grade levels

One of my favorite things about homeschooling more than one kid is that while I teach one kid (or family style for some things), the others are hearing and soaking in new ideas.

Even if they don’t mean to! It’s a learning environment to some degree all day.

Say I’m quizzing math facts with my 1st grader from his math curriculum. My kindergartener might be listening in while she plays Calico Critters…and if so she IS absorbing something extra.

Or, when I’m working with my kindergartener on telling time to the hour, my 1st grader might be playing Legos looking to see if he knows the right answer.

It’s like they get unofficial double doses of review just because they are in earshot.

Decide what subjects you want each homeschooler to cover

As always, check your state requirements first for this.

I knew with multiple young kids, I’d have to combine them with subject matter to save me time. I couldn’t do boxed curriculum where they each had completely different books for all subjects for their “year” if it required me to hold their hand through most of it x 3 kids.

Combining my kids for subjects they can learn about together has been a key factor in homeschooling multiple kids without taking all day.

Combine as many homeschool subjects as possible

Except for math and our spelling program, we combine everything for the 2 oldest. This saves me time and everyone can soak up something at their own level of understanding.

Combined subjects in our home:

I use a loop schedule for things that I want to rotate regularly but not assign to a day. For us that’s nature study, picture study, poetry, and eventually we’ll try adding in composer study. These are “beauty” subjects taken from a Charlotte Mason homeschool approach. One of these a day for 5 minutes is not hard, so don’t be overwhelmed! We expand nature study into our science time, so it gets extra attention.

I read out loud for our history and science and alternate which of these we are reading. I don’t do both on the same day or it’s too much for us.

Even though I teach up to challenge the oldest, everyone has to be quiet enough to listen and therefor will soak up something while their hands are busy playing.

I ask the kids to narrate back to me what they remember at the end. Sometimes I’ll ask a few questions to go deeper. It’s a great way to test their comprehension without a written test.

Science and history and our nature study will get repeated in cycles many times over the years so I am not at all worried they “get it” all now.

Narration as a way to test their comprehension and develop future writing skills

We are beginning the habit of oral narration with them as I lean into more Charlotte Mason style homeschooling. She recommends only oral narration for grades 1-3 and not before age 6. That means no need to write down their thoughts yet. They are simply telling me what they remember from a passage, orally. This works on so many skills! Listening well, ordering their thoughts, telling, and it is the beginning stage of writing on paper.

Every few paragraphs of say, history or nature study or our bible story time I’ll pause and alternate asking one of them to tell me back what they remember.

It can be detailed, or not. I don’t discuss it or ask their feelings on it if I ask for a narration…the goal is for them to recall whatever they remember and order it into words that make sense.

Eventually, around 4th grade, Charlotte Mason recommends asking for short written narrations maybe once a week while continuing with oral narrations.

If you want to know the why & how of narration in your homeschool, read Know And Tell by Karen Glass. It’s really reaffirmed why I’ve been drawn to curriculums like Brave Writer that don’t have any worksheets. Totally not how we learned in school, but a very effective way to learn grammar through literature.

I can’t wait to update you on the changes I’ll be making using this awesome skill!

How we combine language arts when they are on different levels

I used to think we would just have one on one workbook time for language arts x2 kids. We loved the simplicity of our Masterbooks Language Lessons For A Living Education, but I discovered a completely different way of doing language arts with Brave Writer that I’m LOVING.

I started when the kids were in 1st and 2nd grade, then 2nd & 3rd, and next year we’ll continue to combine them using literature guides for 3rd & 4th. My kinder will be mainly focusing on careful copywork and learning to read.

Subjects that need one on one time

  • math
  • spelling (we didn’t start till 3rd grade, Charlotte Mason recommends starting at age 10 around 4th grade)
  • learning to read

The most time consuming part of my days are the pockets of one on one time for math and teaching my boy to read. 15-20 minutes of math x 3 kids each day is an hour of my time. Thankfully, the kids don’t feel that stretch because they are free to play if independent work is done.

I tried having them both work on math at the same time for a few weeks. It was hard for me to concentrate, and the kids were constantly waiting for me while I went back and forth teaching different levels. It didn’t work.

I’ve tried again several times, and it does seem to work out IF a lesson seems to be review for one child. So kind of hit or miss for doing math in the same time slot with different levels.

Change homeschool curriculum or try a new style of learning

If you find homeschooling multiple grade levels together leaves everyone tired and dragging their feet, don’t be afraid to change curriculum mid year. Lots of people do! I’ve done it several times now.

Or, perhaps there’s a different style that you should give a go. Like doing more interest led learning via a unit study. When I’m feeling homeschool burnout in the winter…we pause some of the regular subjects to make room to add in something like art or hands on stuff that I often don’t make time for.

At the least, try cutting out anything you can. Go back to just the basics like math and language arts and slowly add in extras as you can handle.

Add games to your homeschool day (gameschooling) that the big kids can play

One of my favorite homeschool discoveries has been gameschooling!

We are beginning to intentionally add learning games into our homeschool day. If there’s a subject you want more practice with, there is a game for it! Here’s a list of awesome math games. Did I say I’m a fan of math games? 😉

I’m also learning that homeschooling doesn’t happen in our house from 10-12. Or just in the morning.

Ever since I began to record our homeschool activities after we do them, I’ve been seeing how much learning happens ALL DAY. Sure, we use curriculum for a few subjects in our home at this point. But it doesn’t end there.

Playing games together improves our relationship, teaches them strategy, and how to be a good loser or a kind winner. We are “playing” math games and they want more! We are learning geography facts through games and they don’t see it as school.

Win win!

Focus your initial energy on creating readers

Now that we have one strong reader and another almost reading, I’ve seen the HUGE benefit of having all sorts of books around the house for all ages. Our homeschool has been transformed by this.

I didn’t love reading till 5th grade, when I was introduced to Harry Potter. Reading wasn’t on my radar outside of the required 10 minutes a day that my parents had to check off for the teachers.

I want my kids to want to read! Here’s how we’ve taught our 1st two kids to read.

Here’s how we are using the Dash into Learning books we’re using with my daughter after she finished her reading program.

What you really need to homeschool is a math curriculum and a library card

Once my oldest got better at reading and found books he liked, everything changed. He started learning things on his own!

He now sometimes reads a book a day on his own until he grows bored with what we have. I literally just pick a variety of topics and see what he’s drawn to. Our own little unschooling experiment you could say.

He won’t read everything, but if it’s in comic form he will! That’s when I discovered these science comics (over 18 of them!) and history comics. He now knows more about the immune system than I remember from college because he was interested in a comic book on plagues.

We do a library trip whenever we run out of books. I try to get a variety of books that will appeal to my 3, 5, and 7 year old. On average we go every 2 weeks and snag about 40-50 new books of all levels.

I can’t wait to see what my middle child is drawn to because I’m sure the book interests will be very different!

For the littler kids, I look for books that:

  • Have lots of pictures
  • Are books with characters they like
  • Rhyming books
  • Both fun books and also fact books from the level 1 & 2 readers

For my chapter book reader:

  • Fiction (just for fun) to encourage the love of books and imagination
  • Books with silly poems like Where The SideWalk Ends
  • Quick reads with lots of pictures (still a favorite)
  • Adventure series like Bear Grylls Adventures
  • Books on famous people in history like the “Who was” books
  • How things work books (like electricity, volcanos, or how trees make their own food, etc).

Here’s how we teach our kids to read.

Consider outsourcing some of the teaching

If a co-op interests you, that can be a way to take some teaching off your plate.

Many moms I know go to Classical Conversations once a week so that science, history, geography, and grammar are taken care of (even if they are not hard core Classical Conversations people). Plus, it’s a full morning of social interaction for everyone in a classroom setting.

I know moms who really like having math on the computer to save them time…because it teaches the math for you. Teaching Textbooks (3rd-12th grade) and Math U See (K-12th grade) are two I’m familiar with and know people who use them.

Just know you have options and don’t have to teach it all. Be sure to check out my big list of Homeschool Facebook groups where you can homeschool parents with similar aged kids and goals to bounce ideas off of.

Booklists worth having for multiple ages:

Sarah McKinsey’s Read Aloud Revival FREE lists

These are sorted by topic and age! She also has a premium membership available that I have heard is out of this world valuable! It includes interviews with authors and illustrators, book discussions, and lots more.

Beautiful Feet Books FREE History Book lists

This focuses on “living” history and geography books. Books that you can imagine what it’s like to be there or be that person.

We get the books at the library, so it’s free. Or Thrift Books for around half off.

Books are by grade level groups, spanning K-12. Then they group book lists on events throughout history, as well as a character focused book list for each age group.

Simply Charlotte Mason’s living book finder (AMAZING)

Ok, gold mine you guys. If you are hunting for living books, even if you’re not on the full Charlotte Mason style path…try this bookfinder out.

Either select a subject or a grade level and it populates so, so many living books. Now of course not all will be to your liking, but this is a great place to start! I just went to town searching “civil war” and found so many at my library/purchased at Thrift Books for the ones my library didn’t have.

Since anyone can add living books to the list, and I’m new to choosing living books, I decided to filter results by clicking the “SCM recommended” (Simply Charlotte Mason recommended). You’ll see SCM in blue by a book title.

This sorts books that have been vetted by Simply Charlotte Mason to actually be considered living books, since they can’t keep track of all book titles added to this resource.

Sonlight’s Living Book list by grade level

A Gentle Feast book list ($5)

A Gentle Feast is a Charlotte Mason curriculum, but you can just buy all her book list recommendations for $5. I did this and it saves SO much time! Other people have spent hours and hours putting this together to make it easy for us…score. She has 4 cycles, so I just bought cycle 1 list.

Find a homeschool rhythm that works for you

Some of you have babies to feed and toddlers that interrupt. Others of you have both babies and big kids. Or, some of you are out of the toddler stage and are simply trying to manage teaching several elementary kids at once.

All of our days will look different and that’s ok! You are finding a way to fit in what you have to do, while trying to feed your family and *maybe* clean your house sometimes.

3 kids doing a space puzzle together during a homeschool day

Should you have all the kids do schoolwork at the same time?

Some families do well with everyone working on their school subjects at the same time. Others don’t. I think some of it depends on your kids’ ages and also your ability to concentrate while bouncing around.

I personally prefer to do math one on one, at separate times. And that used to be the case for language arts too until I discovered Brave Writer. And then do our combined “multi-age” subjects on the couch, since a lot of it involves me reading.

A typical day involves me reading our family subjects from the couch, with a couple of 30 minute or so breaks in between. I always pick something to read in the afternoons that’s not an official “school book” too.

I save individual subjects that require one on one time for after family subjects. It just seems to flow better that way for me.

Why having math and language arts at the table with all grade levels wasn’t working for me

As a newbie homeschooler, I began “school time” with all 3 at the kitchen table. But it didn’t stay that way.

Only 1 could read at that time. So I had to pick who to start out teaching, and have a plan for what the others could work on while they waited for me.

I started math with my then 7 year old while giving my 5.5 year old some tracing or copywork she could do solo. She always finished before my oldest’s math was done (which took around 20 minutes). This led to her being bored and chatty…not a helpful combo.

Once my 1st grader got to his math worksheet (which he could usually do solo) I’d start teaching kindergarten math. My 1st grader would finish his worksheet (or need help with it) and be waiting for his language arts instruction for the day.

Once math was done I’d send my then kindergartener to play with my then 3 year old. She had to wait to do her reading book until I was done helping my son do his language arts.

He’d then get assigned some copywork and I’d go sit on the couch with my kindergartener for her reading lesson (we use How To Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons).

It worked OK, but I’d get flustered every day. So I stopped trying to “do school” all at the same time. Unless you have kids who can read their own instructions, and curriculum that lends itself to independent work, I’d break it up.

Fast forward one baby later…

I now have two kids who can read, and work independently on things like copywork or math worksheet. I work with one kid at a time (for math and spelling) while the other kids play with my toddler (#4). This makes it so much easier to concentrate for me and I get less overwhelmed by interruption.

Homeschooling with a toddler around

Homeschool with a toddler has been my #1 frustration with homeschooling. It was hard when my 3rd child was 2 and also hard now that my 4th child is 2. He throws small pieces from our math curriculum and scatters playing cards if he finds them. He gets loud to talk but doesn’t have words. He’s learning not to rip pages from books. You get it…

Tip #1: Assign a big kid to play with the toddler.

My best discovery yet has been to assign one of the kids to play with my 3 year old while I work with the other.

Tip #2: Get the toddler their own special “school book”

My 3 year old got his own “schoolbook” this year. I’ve purchased this preschool book for all 3 of my kids around age 3-5, which comes with lots of coloring and tracing, shapes and numbers.

I don’t care if it’s scribbled on right now, or whatever. It’s for him to open to any page and feel included.

Tip #3: Snacks

Tip #4: Try doing some school while the toddler naps

I was getting frustrated that my toddler kept…well being a toddler while I was homeschooling! He’d be trying to sit on my lap and talk to me, or need something just as I called one child over for math.

While I prefer to use nap time not talking to anyone, it is a great time to quickly do school without distraction.

How much time it takes us to homeschool each day

I’ve found that homeschooling multiple grade levels takes more time and organization than having just one kid doing school. Surprising, I know, LOL!

I’d say in a typical day, our “school time” with 3 kids takes around 2-3 hours.

I’m spending more time than any of my kids homeschooling because of the one on one subjects I have to make slots for (3 kids’ math plus one 10 min daily spelling with my oldest plus 15 minutes of a reading lesson with my 6 year old)

This includes math one one one, language arts done together, history read aloud/narration, plus I loop one of the beauty subjects daily (picture study 5 min, poetry 5 minutes, nature study 25-20 minutes).

In addition to that time, there’s unscheduled time where learning happens. Board games, crafting, Wild Kratts animal episodes, Legos, reading time (both me reading out loud and them reading to themselves).

I’d love to know if anything is working well for you or not in the comments!

And always, thanks for pinning this post so others can find my blog and so you can easily find this post again! Come subscribe to my new YouTube channel for homeschool videos too 🙂

Hannah Maxwell

Monday 1st of February 2021

Thanks Liz! As someone who will be homeschooling and has no experience, I've often wondered about some of the logistics of how it actually works. I find your posts so helpful and encouraging! It makes me legit excited to get to do it with me kids :)


Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

Thanks Hannah! I agree that sometimes it's just nice to sneak in and see behind the scenes details of what people's lives actually look like who homeschool. I wasn't homeschooled either (or Peter) so this is new to us too year by year. Hope you are doing well!