From Our House to Yours
To combine, or not to combine; that is the question!
To combine, or not to combine; that is the question we so often ask! Well, you can easily combine with Heart of Dakota, just like you can with other curricula. However, combining is not always what’s best for children or for moms. As a young mom new to homeschooling nearly 20 years ago, I was repeatedly told I would need to combine my children for homeschooling to work. Why? They said it was “easier,” and otherwise I’d “burn out.” Well, as a veteran homeschooling mom, I have a different message for you today! The truth is combining works very well in some situations! But, not combining works very well in some other situations! Much like “one size fits all” clothes don’t fit everyone, combining does not fit everyone either. So, how do you know when to combine and when not to?
It is best not to combine when children are further apart in ability and maturity.
When children are further apart in ability and maturity, it just makes good sense not to combine. They have totally different needs from each other. Let’s say for instance that a younger child is not reading and writing well. But, an older child is reading chapter books and writing paragraphs. Charlotte Mason would say you should move that older child toward reading his/her own material in all subject areas (roughly around age 9), as this promotes better retention and narration skills. If you pair a 9 year-old child ready for this type of independence with a younger sibling not yet close to reading, you must then read everything out loud to both of them so they can be combined. This results in combining actually taking longer than teaching separate programs. Likewise, it prevents the older child from moving on to skills more appropriate for his/her age.
Likewise, it is best not to combine when children are further apart in writing skills.
If an older child is writing well and ready for written narration instruction (Charlotte Mason said roughly around the age 10), but is paired with a younger sibling not writing, the parent is forced to find something else for the younger child not yet writing to do (often something that is a skill far below this skill that is independent, such as coloring, as they cannot read or write yet). There is nothing wrong with coloring, but then at what point does the younger child receive that excellent guided written narration instruction that the older child received? Often they don’t, as the older child is always on to the next harder skill, while the younger child is still just doing something to “tread water” while the older child finishes.
As the gap widens, it often becomes apparent not combining would be better.
Often the gap widens. Then, you as a parent are forced to continue to read everything aloud as the younger child cannot read independently yet. Or, because the older child has continued to move up in guides, you find that even by the time the younger child can read, the reading is so incredibly difficult, that younger child still cannot read the material – which means either you are still reading aloud to the duo (again the older student missing vital independent skills), or you see how important it is you separate the two at this point, more than likely because you are hoarse from reading pages aloud that were never meant to be read aloud by you.
Combining children who are far apart in abilities can set a precedence of continually teaching to the older child’s needs.
Combining in this type of situation can set up a precedence to be teaching to the older child’s needs instead of the younger child’s needs, and over time the younger child will just need something different. You can see how, because the older child never did get to read the material on his/her own, the parent never did have time freed up to work with the younger child, who really probably needed more instruction earlier on.
It works well to combine children who are fairly close in ability.
Now imagine two children who are quite close in ability. The younger is doing phonics and writing individual letters, while the older is just starting to read 3 letter words and is just beginning to write 3 letter words. Combining these children together makes much sense! They will both require the parent to read the learning materials aloud, and they will both require time to grow into reading and writing independently. There is no reason they cannot both do the same history, science, poetry, Bible reading, etc., and while they may need separate reading and math instruction, this is fairly easy to accomplish.
It works well to combine children who are both reading and writing fairly well.
Likewise, imagine older children, who are both reading and writing fairly well; one is reading chapter books, and one is reading longer chapter books. Heart of Dakota makes it easy to combine these children, as the younger child can do the program as is, and the older child can do the extensions. If the older child is writing pages, and the younger child is writing paragraphs, both can easily receive instruction on written narration practice, with one completing more than the other. Combining is a winning situation here, as long as the younger child is not being asked to listen to material that is too mature for his/her ears.
When considering combining, it is important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier.
When combining, it’s important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier because it is one program to teach vs. several programs to teach. Sometimes just finishing the 4-year-old’s school in 30 minutes, and finishing the 6-year-old’s school in 2 1/2 hours because that’s where they place best, is super easy compared to trying to slow things down so the 4-year-old can catch up to the 6-year-old, or trying to rush along the 4-year-old to catch up to the 6-year-old.
Combining can be the perfect answer for children who are close in abilities, who work well together, and who place in similar guides anyway.
Other times, combining is the perfect answer for children are close in abilities, work well together, and place in similar guides anyway. I will say either way, the single biggest factor in making homeschooling multiple children easier is when children reach the age of being able to read materials on their own – both directions in guides and materials in living books – they do so. The next biggest factor would be when they are writing fairly well on their own, they do so. It is necessary for children to move toward this independence in their learning as along with it comes age appropriate skills. I hope this helps as you consider what’s best for your children – whether it is combining, or not combining!
P.S. Outside circumstances also can play a part in whether or not to consider combining (i.e. working outside the home many hours, children with health concerns with many doctor’s appointments, being in poor health yourself, and having a very large family and being stretched thin, etc). Thinking back to the wonderful ladies I’ve met at book fairs, on the phone, and online, these are also important things to consider when choosing whether to combine or not.