How to Handle One Science Experiment with Multiple Children

one girl looks through a microscope while another girl stands nearby, waiting

I’m currently homeschooling a middle schooler, an upper elementary student, an emergent reader, and a preschooler. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my seven years of homeschooling, it’s that they all love hands-on activities, especially experiments.  

While I appreciate their zeal, it can be daunting to juggle their enthusiasm and mixed abilities. Figuring out how to keep everyone on track and participating has taken some practice. Here are five ways we’ve managed to keep the peace and learning flowing when doing BookShark science activities.

#1 Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Looking through the Instructor’s Guide ahead of time, I figure out whether each child will do an activity independently or as a team. For example, everyone might gather leaves on their own for a small project on comparing the characteristics and purposes of various leaves. But we’ll work together on a longer-term project growing beans and corn.

The BookShark science program requires little prep work for me as a teacher, so I don’t begrudge spending a little extra time looking over activities to classify them as solo or group. Ultimately it’s worth it for how much smoother our lessons go.

#2 Assign Roles Ahead of Time

For our group work, I try to make sure everyone gets to do something. Our younger two children end up with some of the more fun roles, such as scooping soil or wetting paper towels, while our older girls get tasked with cutting up milk cartons and labeling everything.

It’s easy to pencil in their names right on the plans for each step. That way I’m sure each child has a job, and no energy is spent jockeying for roles. There’s no need to argue; it’s already been decided!

How to Handle One Science Experiment with 4 Levels

#3 “You Get What You Get... don’t throw a fit.” The grass always looks greener with assigned jobs, especially when you’re the bend-the-paperclip kid and want to be the add-water-to-the-jar kid.

By choosing a curriculum with many, many hands-on activities (as opposed to others we’ve used with few-to-no experiments), there’s always the threat of having to sit out the next round. And who knows what that might mean missing! Usually that’s enough to keep everyone participating without a lot of complaining.

How to Handle One Science Experiment with Four Levels#4 Allow Variable Participation

The curriculum we’re working through this year as a family, BookShark’s Science D, has an age guideline of 8-11. That means some of the activities are beyond the capabilities of my 6 and 4 year olds.

No matter how hard she tries, my preschooler won’t be able to label the cotyledons or the hypocotyl in her plant journal, because she’s still learning letters. And that's fine! She's still absorbing science at her own level as she participates with her siblings.

I give each of my children the opportunity to participate fully, but they also are able to skip actions that are too challenging. My goal with science is two-fold:

  • to learn
  • to approach science with excitement and wonder

Forcing everyone to copy vocabulary words probably won’t help us achieve either goal. Occasionally I do invent a role for our preschooler. She doesn’t have a problem with decorating whatever it is that we’re working on, for example.

#5 Let Everyone Try

Whether it’s measuring, weighing, or making observations, all experiments involve data collection. There’s no reason why everyone can’t take a turn, even if the repetition takes a little longer. After watching the big kids each model the process, our preschooler gets to feel successful when she measures plant growth, too.

A Final Note

Our transition from a no-experiments-ever family to a we-have-to-remember-to-water-the-beans family has been enjoyable. For anyone that might be nervous about the work and planning that goes into a more hands-on learning environment, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. BookShark makes the process of modifying for individual needs easy.  My four jumping beans might all be at different levels, but they are all excited when it’s time for science!
See BookShark's hands-on and literature-based Science programs.

About the Author

AliciaAlicia Schonhardt lives in Iowa with her husband and five homeschooled kids. She loves reading aloud with all the right voices and pretending to be crafty. She is not-so-great at planning and organization but dabbles in minimalism, so it isn’t quite so tricky.

With two medically needy kids, Alicia strives to choose happiness even when things are hard. She blogs at Sweeping Up Joy about finding beauty and humor in life right now—even when it’s hidden behind piles of laundry and chewed up books.