4 Challenges of Homeschooling a Big Family

Homeschooling a big family can be a lot of fun, and it definitely has advantages. When parents with one or two kids ask how I make a big family work, I wonder how they make their small family work!

My older kids naturally help out with the younger ones, reading books to them and teaching them. Also, play is not my forte. Once you hit four kids, they can play pretty much anything with just each other. I can't tell you how wonderfully freeing it is to no longer need to be the queen, driver, or teacher in their latest imaginary world.

Instead, I can stick to the things I love: sharing books and board games with them.

As much as I love having a big family, homeschooling has unique challenges because of our family size. Overcoming those challenges requires creative thinking. It also requires a willingness to try many different solutions until you find one that works for your family.

Here are four common challenges big families face in their homeschools, along with ideas to help you overcome them.

1.Juggling Too Many Grade Levels at One Time

We’ll start with the obvious: too many grade levels for one parent to juggle.

Depending on the spacing of your children (and gender mix), grouping kids into the same levels might seem like an impossibility. A homeschool parent can easily become overwhelmed trying to figure out which subjects to combine, separate, or let go altogether.

If you have siblings relatively close in age (no more than 2-3 years apart), try grouping them together as much as possible. Then you can teach to the top. Subjects like history and science are fairly easy to teach to multiple ages. However, with practice, you can do the same with language arts and math.

The key is supplementing exercises, activities, and bonus materials for your older children. Then, you can build on a lesson you have already done with everyone. The younger kids can go play together, giving you time to work one-on-one with older children who need additional work.

2. Feeling Like Older Siblings Are Being Held Back by the Younger Ones

Even though she is only the oldest by two years, my daughter is far ahead of her younger brothers in certain areas. Her attention span is much longer than the boys, especially for read-alouds.

At the end of a "Story of the World" chapter, for instance, the boys are more than ready to be done. My daughter, on the other hand, begs for more.

I feel torn because I want to feed her desire for more, but I also know that a chapter a day is all the boys can handle. I also have no desire to do two history readings a day (one for my daughter and one for them).

Potential Solution:

Don’t feel pressured to jump ahead in your curriculum just because your oldest wants more. It’s easy to feel guilty as a homeschool parent for not being able to give every child exactly what they seem to want or need at any given moment.

As the leader of your homeschool, however, you need to learn how to balance the needs of individual children with the needs of the whole family, including yourself. As I mentioned earlier, you can easily prepare additional reading, activities, and worksheets for your eager beaver oldest without jumping ahead in yourmain curriculum.

4 Challenges of Homeschooling a Big FamilyPotential Solution:

3. Too Much Togetherness

One of the joys of having a big family is building a strong family culture. Unfortunately, sometimes there is just too much togetherness.

Siblings don't always get the chance to experience life outside their birth order—the default role they slip into as the second, the third, or the oldest child. They sometimes want and need space to grow into their own persons, to figure out who they are apart from their siblings.

Finding that space with a big family can be tricky.

Potential Solution:

Extracurriculars can be a great place for siblings to spread their wings and figure out what they love to do apart from the rest of the family. However, when you have a big family, it’s pretty much impossible for everyone to participate in a different extracurricular activity at the same time (at least, if you want to stay sane).

Consider enrolling kids in alternating seasons. One child may do gymnastics in the fall, while another participates in a drama production during the winter.

Another option is arranging separate playdates. Perhaps one friend could take your boys to the park with her kids of similar ages so that you can host a girls-only playdate for your daughter.

4. Sickness Can Derail Your Homeschool for Weeks

We are currently in the middle of passing sickness around and around in our family. A major drawback of having a big family is that the same sickness can last a month or more.

First, you get sick. Then one week later, one child gets it; a few days later, the next. Then dad gets sick, and so on, and so on.

Before you know it, you've lost a whole month, either because you, the teacher, were out of commission, or every other kid was sick. Your whole routine was thrown off every other day, and you didn't feel like you could stick to your core curriculum hardly at all because someone was always missing out.

Potential Solution:

When you are homeschooling a big family, it’s so important to have backup work ready to go, work that doesn't require a lot of parental involvement or oversight. Think beyond your core curriculum and consider other forms of learning. You need things like:

  • a playlist of educational youtube channels
  • a stockpile of educational board games
  • educational apps on an iPad or tablet
  • workbooks in various subjects and grade levels

The Key to Homeschooling a Big Family

More than anything else, homeschooling a big family requires flexibility and perseverance. Cling too hard to one homeschool style or schedule, and you can easily become frustrated.

Don't let the challenges discourage you from homeschooling the big family you love so much. Every challenge has a solution. You just have to persist long enough to find it.

About the Author

june doranJune loves deep discussions about homeschooling, parenting, and minimalism. When she’s not homeschooling, decluttering, or blogging at This Simple Balance, she loves to enjoy perfect silence while sipping a hot cup of coffee and thinking uninterrupted thoughts—which, of course, with four kids ages eight and under doesn’t happen very often!

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