When you have several different children, finding ways to teach the same content to multiple children at the same time is a life saver. If you try to keep every subject separate for every child, you’ll find yourself drowning in planning and pulled in a thousand different ways during the day. Maybe some people can keep up with all of that but I’m not one of those people so we combine as many subjects as possible. Even though we do a lot of combining – reading strategy work, science, social studies, Bible – for our boys who range in age from five to twelve, the expectations vary because asking them to do the same work would not be profitable or equal. For our combined subjects, we make age appropriate adjustments so that each child can work at an appropriate level and only do rigorous work because work rigorous work is profitable work.

What does that look like practically? Let’s check it out.

Reading Strategy – Each week we focus on one of the ten reading strategies that good readers use. On Monday, we discuss what the strategy is and how to listen to your own thinking to catch yourself using the strategy. Each day, including Monday, I read a picture book aloud at the breakfast table and the boys share their thinking related to the strategy we are working on as I read. From the smallest of the boys, I expect him to share a simple version of the strategy. For example if we are talking about asking questions I expect him to say something like, “Why would they do that?” The next oldest may something like, “I wonder why he would chose to pick the bicycle that was less expensive when he could have chosen a more expensive one.” By the time you get to the oldest one the expectation rises substantially and I would expect him to say something along the lines of “I wonder what things in the character’s past caused him to be so concerned about his ability to care for the more expensive bike.”

Science – This subject is a bit simpler to diversify since we read the content out of the textbook all together. So the diversification comes in during the activities that go along with the content. The oldest writes a full lab report for the lab project at least every other week. He incudes background knowledge, materials, procedure, hypothesis, data analysis, conclusions, etc. into his report. We work on clarity of word choice, drawing accurate conclusions and connecting background knowledge with data. The other boys, while they participate in completing the lab projects, are more likely to focus on vocabulary and accurately following procedures than on the data analysis.

Social Studies – Creating rigor in social studies typically revolves around the difference between knowing the content and analyzing the content. Where I expect the younger boys to be able to retell key events and maybe recognize the area of the world in which it took place, the older boys deal with the grey areas the parts of the stories that are not black and white, the parts in which we all struggle for rarely is something all good or all bad.

12-9-7-5. You can combine content but you can’t hold the same expectations.

Keep it smart. Keep it simple.