Conquering the Chaos…How to Teach Lots of Children at Many Grade Levels

”So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

~Psalm 90:1

Conquering your “to do” list can seem like an impossible dream. Especially if your children run the gamut from newborn or toddler to teenager.

But in the early days of traditional schooling in the U.S., children of all ages learned together in the same classroom. It was considered normal, till the progressives came along and said otherwise.

Certainly, some time management tips are in order. They can help you manage teaching multiple age groups and maintaining your home, while juggling all the other responsibilities that come with life.

There are many ideas on how to make the most of your day. But some aren’t even remotely rooted in reality, especially for homeschool moms who are trying to juggle a thousand balls.


Eliminate the 2 biggest time wasters…

If you allow it, these time-wasters will eat you alive. And it’ll take pigheaded discipline to control them. But control them – and you’ll accomplish more and feel better about your day.

It won’t work all the time in a homeschool… after all, you may be dealing with a toddler who has no sense of your schedule or priorities!

1. Social media and the Internet. This one is completely up to you to monitor and control.

It’s incredibly easy to blow an hour or two. You may have covered several sites. But was that your priority for the day?

2. Interruptions. Tougher to enforce, but managing interruptions gets easier as you implement standards and require your children to live by them. I was more relaxed about it when my children were younger than when they were in high school or beyond.

This includes unscheduled phone calls, one child interrupting when you’re teaching another child, whining, complaining, etc.

The more organized and proactive you are, the better your day will typically be. I’m not saying you should never be spontaneous. But if you’re always spontaneous, you’ll forever feel overwhelmed, as if your days are escaping from you with nothing to show for them.


Juggle fewer balls…

Ever tried juggling balls or scarves?

The more you have in the air, the more likely you are to drop one (or more).

One answer to that dilemma is to combine some “balls” by grouping them together. Teach as many subjects as possible to everyone at the same time.

You probably can’t do that for math and reading. But for science, history, art, PE, and certain other areas, you can. Even for math, group all the day’s math lessons during the same hour, and you’ll get more mileage out of your time than stringing it out.

Why teach five different science topics on the same day, when you can teach one topic and tailor what you ask each child to do, based on his skill level?

Teach one historical time period or one science topic to everyone, and have each child complete projects and/or reading assignments appropriate to his age. (Otherwise known as unit studies.)

That’ll save you loads of prep time and energy, and it might save your sanity too.

Extend those benefits even more by having an older child supervise a younger child’s project. Or have the older child make up a quiz for the younger child. There’s no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else…

Play CDs of historical novels during lunch, to synch with the historical time period you’re studying.

You get the idea…


Create “impact areas”

One of my business mentors once told me that his schedule was chaotically out of control and he was working insane hours. People interrupted him all day long with “got-a-minute” questions that became 15-minute sessions. He finally scheduled specific times of the day for “got-a-minute” meetings, and found that his staff was often able to solve the problem without his input before the meeting.

It took pigheaded discipline to get his staff to save their questions for later.

He was ultimately able to break the company into “impact areas” and schedule a one-hour meeting weekly for each area.

To adapt this idea to homeschooling, consider each child as one “impact area.”

If you have a large family, maybe you can only set aside 30 minutes a week for each of them. Do what you can…

Based on his meeting with each “impact area,” my mentor and his staff created and assigned follow-up tasks.

And here’s the thing…

Spending one-on-one time with each child could reduce the interruptions you have to deal with while you’re trying to teach another child. Better yet, it cements your relationship with them.


Use these 6 principles of time management…

You won’t believe how much more you and your children will accomplish.


1. Touch it only once.

It’s shockingly easy to handle a piece of mail two or three times before actually dealing with it. Or to think you’ll go back and respond to an email later, when you have time.

If you spend a mere 15 minutes a day rereading and revisiting emails or documents, you’ll waste 97 hours per year. Alarming, isn’t it? Yet all too familiar…

The touch-it-once rule works for physical mail, email, purchases, laundry, grading school papers…

ONLY check your email when you have time to answer any messages right away.

If you lose concentration every time an email comes in or the phone rings, your time will be gone without much to show for it – like water flowing out of a bucket with holes in it.


2. Make Lists.

Lists help you stay focused on the highest priorities, and will instantly double your productivity… whether at work, around the house, or in your homeschool. If you don’t make lists, you’re probably being reactive, not proactive.

But here’s the caveat…

Do NOT put twenty things on your list for one day. Just the six most important ones that you WILL get done, by hook or by crook.


3. Plan and allocate time for each task.

Don’t think about when you’ll complete each task yet. Just how much time you need for each.

Plan in topical clusters. For example, if you need to teach math at six different grade levels, plan 1.5 hours for “Math Instruction” – 15 minutes per child or class level. Do it all back-to-back.


4. Plan your day.

Once you know how much time is needed for each task, plan when you’re going to do each item.

Plan a time for everything – especially your six most critical tasks. One of them should be your “impact child” for that day. But also include time to check email, open mail, fold laundry, and grade/review your child’s papers.

Don’t take phone calls or check emails during the school day. It’ll be the death of your day’s schedule.


5. Prioritize.

Always schedule your most important tasks early in the day. Most people put off the hardest things until the end of the day. Don’t. Get your high-priority activities done early.

For most families, that means math gets tackled first thing in the morning.


6. Ask Yourself, “Will it hurt to throw this away?”

Studies show that 80 percent of all stored information is never referenced again. If you can throw it away, you’ll reduce clutter and streamline your life.


The bottom line…

There aren’t 4,000 steps to time management, as some might have you believe. And there’s no need to track your time for three months to find out where the gaps are.

We all have gaps, and we often instinctively know where they are. We just need the determination to “number our days” and make them count.

Master these six steps, and help your children master them too. Their future spouse and boss will thank you!

And one last thing…

You shouldn’t be the one picking up after six or eight other people who aren’t pulling their share of the load. You’ll get overwhelmed incredibly fast.

Even a three-year-old can help put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, and a five-year-old can help fold hand towels and washcloths. And they NEED the discipline it produces.

Delegate freely. You’ll do yourself (and them) a favor. Just remember… they’ll only respect what you inspect. But that’s a small investment to make for the time you’ll save and the character you’ll be building in your kids, both now and in the future.

Let Your Voice Be Heard!