Thoughts on Time Management
My first piece of advice is to get your oldest student(s) to a level of independence that allows you to spend more of your morning time with your younger students. I think we can all agree that students, especially younger students, are freshest and most eager in the morning! So, my Year 6 student (my daughter) spends most of the morning independently working on copy work, reading, math, history, poetry, etc. If she gets "stuck" on any of her subjects, she makes a note to discuss with Mom and then moves on to the next subject. This allows me to spend most of my time in the morning with my Year 2 student (my middle son), who is still learning basic math concepts, how to improve his penmanship, how to spell using his phonetic toolkit, and how to read at a higher level. When my son has free time, I work with my daughter on those subjects where she needs help or on the subjects that are designated "together" subjects, such as Plutarch or Shakespeare. When little brother is asleep in the early afternoon, we do our "together" subjects that benefit from the added peace and quiet. Do not hesitate to institute a daily quiet time of up to 2 hours. We need it, and children do too!
Thoughts on the Capabilities and Responsibilities of Older Students
My second piece of advice is to utilize your older student(s) to teach your younger student(s) as soon as possible. This is a great opportunity to develop sibling relationships and a sense of responsibility and maturity in your older students. We often marvel at what Laura Ingalls (Wilder) was expected to do at the age of 10, and then we look at our children and wonder why they are less able. Well, they aren't! They are perfectly capable if we give them a standard to which to aspire! Why not allow your older student to practice math facts with your younger? How about an older student reading to or putting together a puzzle with a preschooler? Do you ask your older student to prepare the snack for everyone, or even lunch or dinner, so that you are able to spend more time with your younger students? Preparing snacks and meals is very much a part of home economics (i.e. school)!
Thoughts on Combining Multiple Ages for Certain Subject Areas
While it is easier to school multiple ages in the same text at the same time, it is not always the best thing for the child. Some books lend themselves to different reading levels. The Bible is a good example because regardless of a child's age, he/she is able to take away truths that are appropriate to their comprehension level. This is not necessarily so with a history or literature text. For example, my Y2 student has thoroughly enjoyed D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. My Y6 student is reading Bulfinch's Age of Fable (another book of Greek myths). However D'Aulaire's book is written at a more basic level, while Age of Fable has more complex situations, vocabulary, phrasing, etc. They are studying the same topic, even the same characters and stories, but my Y6 student should be reading independently - at a higher level - than my Y2 student.
Therefore, if you have children of multiple ages, I would recommend that you sit down with the reading list for each of them and determine which subjects are appropriate for a multiple-age class, and which need to be done separately. Subjects that I feel are good for combining of multiple ages are:
- Composer study
- Artist study
- Bible and scripture memory
- Map study
- Some science labs
- Nature study
- History (some texts that are written for multiple ages and have different sections depending on age)
- Foreign language
- Folk songs/hymn study
Subjects that are not ideal for the combining of multiple ages (and by that I mean 2 or more years separated, unless one is significantly ahead or behind the typical coursework for that age) are:
- History (narrative texts in particular, such as historical biographies)
- Dictation (includes spelling and some grammar)
- Copywork (including print and cursive)
- Plutarch (one option for citizenship)
- Science (particularly biographies and more advanced topics)
- Any biographical or narrative texts that are part of the above subjects and are written at a higher level for an older student
Please keep in mind that this is purely my opinion, and every home is different, so you should do what works for your students! You know your children best. The list above comes from my experience and my talking with many other families who utilize the CM method. The only reason I post it here is because I've been asked about it so many times that I thought I should just record my comments for posterity!
If you have additional thoughts on teaching multiple ages, please comment!