Struggling to squeeze all of your children’s math lessons into your homeschool day? Here’s 6 ways to streamline your math teaching so that you can fit multiple grade levels into your schedule!
I recently received an email from Tiffany, who was debating whether to continue using Singapore Math. Along with some other issues, she wrote: “I’m finding it difficult to fit 3 separate Singapore math lessons in each day.”
Whether you use Singapore Math or not, and whether you have two, three, or five kids (or more!), I bet you’re nodding your head in agreement. Math eats up a lot of time in homeschool schedules. That’s because:
- It’s hard to combine children of different ages, since they’re typically at different levels.
- It needs to be taught daily for children to make steady progress and not forget what they’ve learned.
- Elementary-age children learn math best with conversational, hands-on teaching. You can send them off with a book or computer program for a while. But before long, you’ll probably find that they’ve just been mimicking the procedures in the book and not really understanding what they’re doing—and then you have to go back and reteach everything anyway.
So, how do you teach multiple grade levels in math each day and still stay sane?
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1. Eliminate decision fatigue.
Psychologists have found that the more decisions we have to make, the worse our judgment becomes. And, the more choices we have, the more likely we are to become paralyzed and not choose anything at all. They call this decision fatigue—the exhaustion that sets in when you’ve had to make too many decisions in a day.
Homeschooling is basically one big case study of decision fatigue. Being in charge of everything all day is completely exhausting: What should we have for breakfast? Should we do history now or after lunch? What on earth am I going to do with the child who’s sneaking off to play Legos for the third time today?
To make it easier to teach multiple homeschool math lessons each day, make sure that math time is as decision-free as possible.
- Pick a time each day for math lessons, and stick to it.
- Use an open-and-go curriculum, so that you can just turn the page and do the next thing.
- Create a simple daily math teaching routine so you can jump right into teaching without wasting any energy on deciding what to do next. It can be fun to break the routine and do a fun project or game when you have the energy and time. But for daily lessons, you’ll be most successful if you don’t have to wear yourself out deciding what to do.
2. Keep your one-on-one teaching time for each grade level short.
Teaching multiple lessons per day is a lot more do-able when you keep each individual session short. Don’t feel like you have to spend 45 minutes with each child to have a quality lesson! Just 10 to 15 minutes of direct instruction for each child can be plenty, especially when you have a good curriculum guiding you and you keep the lesson moving. Then, once you’ve taught your child the new concept, send him or her off to work on the rest of the assignment independently while you work with another child.
3. Encourage as much independence as possible.
As your children get older, encourage them to work independently more and more. Fourth- and fifth-graders are often ready to learn how to read their math textbooks on their own and work independently on their assignments. They’ll still need daily check-ins with you to make sure they’re understanding what they’re doing, but you’ll gradually become less needed for teaching the main content of the lesson.
4. Have your child do mental math and math fact practice independently.
Many homeschool math programs include daily oral math facts review and mental math practice. These parts of the lessons are essential, but they can be time-consuming to do together each day. To save time, photocopy or quickly write out these problems so that your child can work on them independently. Or, use a separate book for math fact practice. That way, your child still gets the practice without you having to prep the pages.
5. Make it convenient to teach math.
If you have to spend time every day finding the teddy bear counters, pattern blocks, or protractor, your math lessons will take longer than necessary. Having all your math supplies in one place will save you time and prevent frustration. At the beginning of the year, make sure you have all the manipulatives that your curriculum requires. Put them in one place so that they’re easy to reach when you need them. You don’t need a ton of stuff to teach math well, but a basket of simple, hands-on materials will help your kids understand math better and your lessons more fun–and save you time, too.
6. Simplify your schedule.
Finally, the biggest obstacle to squeezing in all the math lessons has nothing to do with math.
The obstacle: All the other subjects.
Math is not the most glamorous homeschool subject. There are no beautiful paper mache sculptures, exploding baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes, or cozy family discussions on the couch. It’s pretty rare to see Instagram pictures of children doing math worksheets.
And so, it can be tempting to crowd out math time with other subjects.
Now, I love history and science, literature and poetry. I’m definitely not saying not to do these subjects! But don’t do them at the expense of your children’s math lessons. Math skills build incrementally, and they require consistent, daily practice. If you’re having trouble getting to math every day with every child, you may need to take a hard look at your schedule and see if some of the other subjects need to be scaled back a bit.
As Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise say in The Well-Trained Mind,
“In the elementary grades, we suggest that you prioritize reading, writing, grammar, and math. History and science are important. But if you don’t do much biology in first grade, it doesn’t matter.”
Children who master elementary math will be able to tackle middle school and high school math classes with confidence and enthusiasm. They’ll grow into adults who are able to use math in their daily lives, and their career options will be wide open. Without math, kids’ options are much more limited as to what they’ll do down the road.
So, don’t be afraid to cut back on some of the other subjects in the elementary years. With a simplified schedule, short lessons, organized manipulatives, and as little decision fatigue as possible, you’ll be able to squeeze in all those multiple grade levels and know that you’re doing a great job raising kids who are capable and confident at math.