Any mum who has homeschooled multiple subjects for multiple ages knows what an overwhelming task it can be. Trying to meet the needs of any diverse group requires a lot of planning and often a lot of organizing too. Having a houseful of little ones or an assortment of children aged all over the grade spectrum, I've yet to meet a homeschool mum who would say that she has 'time on her hands'. There are many different ways of organizing a homeschool program, but something that we have always found to work for our family is subject grouping.
Subject grouping is something I tend to use for sciences and social studies in particular. All of the children work together on the assigned subject. The difference is that they are all working at their own level with age appropriate assignments.
A few years ago, we were studying medieval kings and queens. We were using the KONOS Character in a Box, Obedience program. KONOS is great for providing lots of alternatives for every activity. One of the projects was to host a medieval feast. In order to make that happen 'authentically', we needed costumes. Everyone had to research the costume of their character and then we went through the house and collected the supplies to create the costumes. Two of our older children engineered the drawbridge that extended from our front door. The castle wall, that was the entrance to the great banquet hall, was decorated and sported a table laden with culinary delights. All of the children created family crests that represented what they believed to be important testimonies and characteristics for their kingdoms. One child learned a poem for recitation. One child learned a Latin table blessing. One child played a musical piece. Two children (the little ones) sang a song. The children contributed to the preparation of the various parts of the meal. We had jellies, cheeses, pasta and a scrumptious boar's head (fashioned out of ground pork, complete with an apple in its mouth) - all served on bread trenchers (Italian Bread from Sobeys). To wash down our succulent feast we shared a tankard of ale... ginger ale that is. The older ones created a family tree of the English monarchy while the younger ones played king of the castle. To make it come alive, we also charted our own family tree. We did a lot more bits and pieces and we recorded the memories with many photographs. Our children still remember details that I am certain would not have stuck had we simply read the information from a book.
The year before we did the medieval feast, we used the Prairie Primer for our social studies. This program is based on the Little House on the Prairie series. One of the best activities in this study was focused on recreation. During the fall slaughter, the children all eagerly anticipated the fun of the day, while the grown ups did all of the hard work. Pa Ingalls treated the children by providing the pig's bladder as an inflatable ball. Guess what we did! Off to Sobeys and we got a pig's bladder. Once dried and tied, it was supposed to make a fantastic ball. Just a note: Organs not dried properly actually become quite gross and smelly and make wonderful science projects – especially if you have a good microscope so you can see why they have such an awful stink! Remember to use hot soapy water if this happens to you and make sure you get your hands really clean!
Two years ago, we were studying Canadian history and geography. I got a copy of the CBC series, Canada: A People's History. Together, we all watched the videos (it worked out to be about an hour a day four days a week for the school year). The little ones were excused to do some map work during a couple of the more intense episodes. The older ones were able to write essays at their grade levels. Middle children produced lap books and the oldest one rewrote the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in modern vernacular in order to demonstrate his understanding of the contents. Playing RISK and collecting shoe boxes that we filled with bits and pieces from every Province and Territory aided in understanding the geography of our country and the places Canadians have gone to help others maintain the rights of humanity and freedom. Simple book reports to detailed literary analysis projects covered the scope of Canadian authors on our list.
This year, we delved into Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by Veritas Press. Again, we made costumes, staged battles, wrote reports, sang songs, created maps, traced the travels of the Israelites through the wilderness, built pyramids, excavated Egyptian ruins and even built Solomon's Temple to scale. Everyone was able to work on a different part of the whole and when we put it all together, we had a marvelous adventure story to excite us and inspire us to study more next year.
Science has worked much the same way. Projects on the kitchen table, extra fire extinguishers, dissection kits and science fairs all find their way into our week. One day in the fall, one of our kitties brought home a dead squirrel. There was no way to save it so one of our sons donned the gloves, got out the kit and dissected the squirrel. Untreated, non-formaldehyded cadavers contain a great deal more material (gucky inside stuff) than the pretreated kind we ordered on line. Our son also stretched the pelt and went through the process to dry it. Sadly, another creature made off with our pelt... we often wondered if it was one of the squirrels in the woods behind the house. They certainly were vocal during the surgical procedure!
Having older ones spend a bit of time each week helping a younger sibling with science is a fantastic opportunity. Our older son spent one hour a week for the year teaching his two littlest sisters about simple machines. This young man was in grade twelve and getting ready to go into engineering. The simplicity of the material was not a challenge to him but the skill involved in breaking the components of a machine into their finest parts so that a young child could understand was a very helpful exercise in problem solving.
Probably the biggest rewards of working together as a family for these subjects have been the bond and the memories that have been fostered and nourished. Our children will be able to look back on the special times we spent together HAVING FUN LEARNING. With a ten year spread, the time together has also been an opportunity for our little ones to really get to know their older siblings before they go away to university or what ever is next after their homeschool journey with us.