As I mentioned in How Do You Do That, I taught my children to be independent learners, even autodidacts. This was my key to teaching so many different ages at the same time.
You can start teaching your children to work independently at a very young age. Sometimes the work will really be play, but the children need to be able to focus on an activity independently or with a sibling.
Let's look at what this might have looked like for me for the 1998-99 school year. That year I was teaching 7th, 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades, plus Kindergarten, with a 2-year-old and a baby. How did I get through a day like that, much less a week, month, or year?
A typical day would have looked something like this:
All the children gathered in the living room. If our curriculum at the time had a reading plan, we followed that. We might possibly be reading through Proverbs or Psalms and discussing. The children who could read would take turns reading.
If we were doing a curriculum (for example Prairie Primer) that included reading, we would have read aloud time next.
My 7th grader was fairly independent already so she would usually go to her desk to work on her math, as would the 3rd grader.
The 5th grader would watch the baby and 2-year-old while I taught reading to the Kindergartener and 1st grader. I would give them phonics or penmanship assignments to work on while I helped the 5th grader with math.
By this time the baby was most likely napping, so the three younger boys could play Legos in their room or go outside to play.
Then I would give spelling words to the three older children followed by assignments for missed words.
History and Science were often read independently with projects done as a group.
I helped the younger boys with math while my oldest read to the 2-year-old.
Piano practice was scheduled at some time during the day. Fortunately, the baby seemed to sleep better during practice time!
Occasionally, the children would play a computer math game or spelling game, but that was limited to 30 minutes and a timer was set.
What if your children are not used to working on their own? What if homeschooling is new to them (and you) and they expect you to constantly be with them?
Here are some ways to gradually teach them to be independent learners:
Provide interesting learning toys that allow children to use their imaginations. Use them only during your 'school' time and rotate them frequently. Set a timer, if needed, and tell the child they are to play independently until the timer rings. They will soon learn to not disturb your teaching time for older siblings.
I posted quite a few of our favorite learning toys at What About Preschool (link). My children also enjoyed the BRIO toys and Fisher-Price Adventure Sets. They also spent a lot of time playing with the stuffed animal menagerie or paper dolls.
While teaching children to be independent, you are also fueling their imagination and creativity. It does not take much imagination or creativity to watch a movie or play a computer game, which is why those activities should be rare if you are trying to create independent learners.
Given the opportunity, your children might create something like this:
OLDER CHILDRENIf your older children have recently come home for their education or have not learned to work independently, start teaching them now.
If you have older students and younger students, I would suggest that you begin the day with the younger children playing independently while you teach a lesson (example: math) to your older child. Then have the older child work the problems for that lesson while you teach the younger children. Tell the older student to work all the problems that he can and skip the ones that give him trouble and then you will help after you are done with the younger children. This will teach your older student to work as much as he is able independently and not keep interrupting you when he has a problem.
Many textbooks are written to the student. A student should eventually be able to read the assigned lesson and do the problems without much help. This will come at different ages for different children. You should give assignments, provide guidance, and grade papers, but you will eventually have an independent learner and have a less active teaching role.
An autodidact is a self-taught person. While some of my children like to claim to be autodidacts, I don't know if anyone is a complete autodidact. I did teach my children to read and spell and do math; cook and clean and drive. But once they learned to read, that did open the whole world of learning to them.
Even if you only have two children, your teaching time will be easier if you teach your children to be independent learners. You will be glad you did!