It’s a concern common to home schoolers.
You’ll hear Moms of Many discussing it in the back of a convention hall and Moms just beginning the journey with one five year old and two toddlers worrying in advance about it. The question goes something like this:
“How can I be everything to everyone? How can I teach letter sounds and square roots at the same time? How do I manage all of the lesson plans for several children and minimize the prep time required? I’m spending hours each week preparing eight to ten sets of lessons per child, for two or three or four children… how do I keep all of the balls in the air?”
You’ve heard it before, maybe you’ve asked it, most of us who’ve home schooled for a while have worried over it on some level. As with most questions related to home schooling, there are multiple answers, the one presented here has grown out of a careful study of educational history, our family’s multi-generational legacy and a good dose of common sense.
Although much can be said of the origins of our current educational system, and its roots, traced through Germany and influenced by the Hindu approach to mass schooling to support the caste system, I will, for the sake of space and sanity, discuss only the American system of mass schooling; which began to fall into place in the latter half of the 1800’s.
Up until the advent of institutional schooling in America, “education” took on one of three forms:
Often, in the course of a childhood, more than one method would be employed in the schooling of a young person. It was out of this system (or non-system) of education that such great minds as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were born.
My grandmother, and her mother before her, taught in several one room schools. I have seen the pictures.
She taught clear through the depression, without pay part of the time. Some of her students lived in abandoned box cars and came to school hungry, so she set up a local food program to feed as well as educate the kids when they got to school. Her schools lacked funding, books and basic necessities. And yet the children learned.
She had more than fifty students at Starkey School in Michigan, between the ages of five and eighteen, all by herself, when she was only a year or two older than the oldest pupil. And yet, the children learned.
My grandmother did not have eight sets of eight lesson plans per day, one for each grade level. She did not work eight times harder than a teacher today who teaches only one, or at most two grades at a time.
So, how did she do it? How can you do it, with your two or six instead of fifty?
My grandmother had an advantage that we do not have today. She wasn’t steeped in the public school mentality. She herself had attended one room schools, it did not seem odd to her to have twelve year olds sitting beside five year olds and sixteen year olds helping eight year olds.
One of the biggest obstacles to home education today can be our preconceived notions of what “school” should look like.
I know, as a trained teacher, it was for me. I had to consciously let go of all I had “learned” about education and ask anew, “What does it mean to be educated.”
If I intended to teach my children at home because I didn’t want a public school education for them, then why would I seek to replicate that which I was trying to avoid in my living room?
I had to set aside John Dewey’s ideas about age segregated classrooms, which find their roots in misapplied evolutionary theory and secular humanism and begin to think of education in the same light as any other sort of growth: not segmented into little boxes, artificial levels, or grades, but rather as a fluid, ever changing organism in continual motion, along with the development of the child.
Before we consider the practical aspects of teaching several children at different levels all together, let me ask you this?
The answer? Public school curriculum developers, who try to set national standards which are adhered to by all districts, and most private schools as well.
This herd mentality to education guarantees a somewhat homogenous outcome and the ability for a student to finish fourth grade in California and begin fifth grade in Delaware with a minimum of disruption or overlap in curriculum.
The real question is this: If you are not in the public, or private, system, why should you care?
Step outside the box you were raised in.
So, you have two kids, or six. You’ve been buying an expensive curriculum for each kid and losing your mind trying to teach and keep track of it all. Your heart knows there has to be a better way, but you can’t for the life of you see what it is.
Here it is: return to the one room school house mentality.
The building blocks of education can be divided into two groups: the three Rs… Reading, Writing & ‘Rithmatic… and everything else.
The three Rs are skill based and progressive.
The “everything else” includes, history, geography, literature, science, art, religious studies, music, foreign language, physical education, memorization, and life skills.
There is no need to compartmentalize these subjects into a specific grade level, or to fragment what you are teaching within a given subject to three different children.
For example, there is no need to be teaching:
In a one room school model:
The principal is simple: Teach to the oldest and let the learning trickle down (a different take on Regan’s economic policy!)
Our family is studying “North America” this year:
Hannah, 13, is making a North America Notebook.
Gabriel, 11, is also keeping a notebook.
Elisha, 9, keeps a notebook too.
Ezra is 7. Last time we studied North America he was 1 and his big project was learning to ride in the car with a happy heart and see the world from the backpack, high atop Daddy’s shoulders.
Look at your home the way my grandmother looked at her one room school. Look at education as just an extension of the other growth your children are experiencing and nurture it in much the same way.
What you will likely find if you let go of age segregated learning in favor of this more homogenous, natural style of teaching and learning, is that your children will rise to the occasion.
Instead of some students being higher, or lower, or ahead, or behind, or smarter, or average, all are learning together and growing together.
Quietly, beneath the subject matter, the mess of projects, the joy of story hour, the questions asked and answers searched out together, another type of learning is occurring. Children in a learning environment with people of various ages are learning something else that other children are often missing out on.
They are learning to relate socially in a real world setting.
When in life do you ever spend 8-10 hrs. a day with 20 others exactly your own age and demographic, except in school? Schools present an artificial social environment, and yet they are held up as being necessary for proper socialization.
If you are struggling with the many demands of multiple children at different grade levels and you are overwhelmed with the cost, the planning and the hours required, consider making a change. Simplify your life, and maximize educational experience by learning and growing together.
**An excellent book on the origins and experience of Public Schooling in the USA is The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto