5 Tips for Homeschooling with an Age Gap

Story Time (comes right after hold ice on baby's head after toddler pushes him in to the edge of the couch time) #neveradullmoment

Do you find it hard to balance the homeschool needs of children at different ages?

The age difference between my boys is the biggest homeschooling challenge I have. My oldest is in 7th grade, and my little one is in 1st grade. Switching hats from one child to the next can be difficult. They have different learning styles, personalities, and needs. Although it’s a challenge, I’m up for the task! I rest in knowing that God will equip me. (Hebrews 13:21)

We do a few things here that help manage the age gap, and I hope they help you, too!

School in Shifts

When I began homeschooling, I had visions of the Duggar children sitting around their dining room table and schooling together with smiles on their faces. Um? notsomuch. My boys are so different that unless we’re doing a science experiment or something that they both really enjoy, sitting together and learning don’t really happen. My oldest is easily distracted, and my youngest is a busy bee. Not a great combo for either one of them. Or me. I have found that shifts work great!

I plan the day so my oldest does his independent work first. During this time, usually a good 3 hours, he doesn’t need me much. That frees me up for my youngest, whose needs are greater in the morning. In the second shift of the day, we switch, and I plan for teacher instructed lessons with my oldest. At which time, my youngest works independently. This way each child gets the one-on-one they need and deserve.

Plan Back-up

You will need it! With an active 7 year old, who is easily distracted, I need a plan B and C and D. Create a back-up-bin. Our bin is filled with lots of fun busy work like worksheets, manipulatives, Play-Doh, and all sorts of goodies. It’s my bag (or bin) of tricks. Put together file folders filled with reinforcement activities and use them as practice packs. This back up stuff is more for me and less for him, but it works. He doesn’t necessarily need the busy work, but I need to keep him busy!

Sometimes, my youngest is simply curious about what his big brother is learning. I hate to push him aside if he’s interested, but at the same time, it can be hard to occupy him at his age level. Try planning a simple craft for the younger child that correlates with the older lesson. As you instruct your older child, your little one can listen in and keep their hands and mind busy at the same time. You could also ask him to draw a picture of what he hears in the lesson or try having visual aids and picture books on hand that relate to the older lesson.

Combine Common Interests

Although we can’t do everything together, one group activity that’s sure to please is science! Because it’s something they both enjoy, I plan science experiments to be done together in the afternoons. Even though they may be studying different topics, they can still come together and learn from each other over an experiment. It gives both boys a chance to put what they’re learning about into their own words and allows for some great teamwork skills. What common interests do your kids have? Take advantage of them!

Be prepared

Preparation (or lack thereof) can either make you or break you. It’s imperative that you set aside time each week to gather supplies, lesson plan, and sit down with your calendar. Scrambling around during the school day and having periods of what I call “dead time” will cause your children to become restless, unfocused, and get off track. Commit to setting time aside each week to prepare for the upcoming week. Designate one day a week as your planning day. It could be the same day you plan your shopping and meals. That way you can grab any items you need for school while you’re out. Our preparation has everything to do with the mood of our day. If we’re not prepared, we’re stressed. If we’re stressed, then our children will be, too.

Stay organized

Everything needs a home. Supplies need to be kept in the same place at all times. This avoids children asking where to find the items they need all day long. Encourage the kids to help out with organization by keeping things put away. You would be surprised how much time is wasted simply looking for things you need during the day. Store items in clear bins, so contents are visible. Remember that labels go a long way! Most importantly, each child needs a space they can call their own, whether it’s designated bins, folders, or work spaces. Make sure each child is responsible for their own space. Mom shouldn’t have to do it all!

Guest Contributor

Adrienne is a homeschooling mother of two and blogger at The Mommy Mess, where she writes about the mess of motherhood, marriage, and all things mom! After a career in title insurance ended with the real estate crash, she landed the only job she’s ever really wanted-being a SAHM!

She stumbled upon blogging in 2010, and her love of writing was ignited. In 2012, The Mommy Mess was born, and she’s not stopping there! Her writing is always honest, sometimes sarcastic, and never perfect! You can also find her as @TheMommyMess on twitter and connect with her on Facebook. She’s currently living her happily-ever-after with her smokin’ hot husband and two handsome men near the east coast in sunny Florida.

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  1. says

    Oh I remember those days! We had an 7th grader, 1st grader, and preschooler too. Now my two youngest are 5th & 7th but we have the opposite problem: A lot of overlap. Our 7th grader is developmentally delayed, and operates between around 5th-7th grade, depending on the subject matter. Teaching them together sounds good *in theory* but when you’ve got a 12 year old questioning why he has to do the same spelling as his 10 year old brother, it can get dicey. We work in shifts too sometimes because it’s just easier.

    • says

      It’s definitely a juggling act. One of the reason I took them out of PS was because I did not expect them to learn “one” way. I try to remember that daily here in our home, too. Each child is different.

  2. says

    Great post! I find it challenging just with 7, 5 and 3 year old (and baby).

    “It’s amazing how much time you waste looking for things”

    Um, yep. My husband bought my a lockable tin to hide gluesticks, scissors, whiteboard markers and erasers. He told me insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. My kids would always find the whiteboard markers, the 3 year old would leave the lid off and usually forget to put glue/scissors back in the correct spot and I would be getting sooo frustrated that it was starting off our homeschool days with a sour tone…so now they are locked away to avoid the morning ‘hunt’.


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