If you are going to homeschool several children, it makes life so much easier for you if you group your children for combined instruction where possible. As an added bonus, learning groups give your kids a classmate that they can talk with about what they are learning. So how can you create effective learning groups for your kids?
The main method I have seen for building homeschool learning groups is to divide your subjects into “couch subjects” and “table subjects”. Couch subjects, as the name implies, can be completed on the couch. These subjects include Literature, History, Geography, and faith building practices such as Bible reading or devotions. Table subjects often require a child to produce something written, so a hard surface is a benefit. These subjects include Math and Writing.
Reading is a unique subject in that it is best done on the couch, but for the sake of grouping is considered a “table subject.” This is because your couch subjects will group your children across several ages for the same lessons or stories, while table subjects will allow you to individualize your school time into more traditional levels.
Grouping is still an ongoing challenge in our schooling, to be honest. I suppose that is the downfall to finding curriculum we love while our family was still growing. I started each child’s schooling when I felt they were ready for it, and did not have grouping in place as I added more children. This year I officially stretched myself too thin when trying to do everything (separate couch subjects and separate table subjects) for four different levels of school. When my youngest suddenly demanded her own stack of school books, too, I knew I had to make a big change.
Just before I realized my methods were unsustainable, my 9- and 7-year-old girls started begging me to be in the same grade. Given the two year gap, I could not see how to make that switch make sense, so I avoided the subject. But once I acknowledged I was drowning, I was so thankful to find they had already thrown me a life preserver by wanting to be classmates. Suddenly, bringing the older down to the same couch subject level as the younger made perfect sense! As a reluctant reader in the shadow of her book loving older sister, my second oldest blossomed as the subject matter expert with her younger sister. Books she may not have understood before were suddenly enjoyable. Her depth of knowledge grew, even though she had already studied the topics before. And she didn’t have to give up her advanced math to gain a classmate!
This success in grouping has given me a heads up for how to prepare a group for my youngest two this fall. They are both December birthdays, and almost 4 and almost 6 is a pretty big developmental gap to bridge. But I am prepared to group them from the very beginning for couch subjects, and allow them to thrive at their own pace for table subjects, some of which the youngest won’t be ready for perhaps for a few years to come. As with so many things about homeschooling, I have come to trust the overall process, so I know it will be best for them (and me!) in the long run despite the extra work up front.
If all goes according to plan, I will have only three levels of subjects I read aloud until my children reach independence in all of their couch subjects. That frees up a lot more time for me to help them excel at their table subjects. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the year I finally have enough time and energy to include more art, music, and PE in our school week!