The Challenges of Homeschooling Multiples
Homeschooling in itself is a challenging task. You have to figure out your state's laws, find a support group, create opportunities for socialization, choose a method and then follow through on it daily. But is homeschooling multiples double the trouble?
In a sense it is. As a homeschooling family, you are already a minority. As a homeschooling family with multiples, you are a minority within a minority. And that can be a very lonely place.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between homeschooling twins and homeschooling singletons is the fact that multiples compare themselves to one another more often than do different-age siblings. One of the reasons many parents choose to homeschool in the first place is to give their children individualized attention. When you have multiples, however, this becomes more of a challenge.
Jennifer Castle of Portland, Ore., is homeschooling 9-year-old twins and has found that her dream of homeschooling is much different from reality. "I had this image in my head of the kids and I sitting at a big table and having all these wonderful discussions about literature and science," says Castle. "Because they are twins, we would all be able to work on projects at the same level all the time. Burst! Out goes the bubble."
Their different learning styles challenged Castle to change her thinking about homeschooling her twins. "Jon loves to read and is a visual learner like me," she says. "Mandy hates to read and is an auditory learner. This creates so much more work for me."
Another surprise Castle wasn't expecting was her children's tendency to help each other so they can finish the work more quickly. "They are on a close enough level that they will help each other, so they can get done faster," says Castle. "So I changed the rules – we keep working for a certain amount of time, not pages. They work together to get around that one too! I have an awful time keeping one step ahead of the two of them working together. There is, after all, only one of me!"
Terri Camp, homeschooling author and mother, believes there is a way to individualize the instruction of multiples. As the primary teacher of her eight children, she has learned how to teach each child as an individual even though it would be far more convenient to give the same lessons.
"The only reason I can actually see to set multiples in the same mold would be for ease of the parent in teaching two children as one," says Camp. "In most cases, parental ease should not be a motive for what we teach our children."
Camp, whose first book, Ignite the Fire, has helped parents all across the United States individualize their child's homeschooling, believes that even though multiples have much in common, they were each created with unique gifts and talents. Being a multiple comes with some stigma already, as the parents tend to dress them alike, introduce them as one (i.e. "My twins John and James") and treat them as a group. "If we don't allow twins to have individualized programming, they may not fully develop the talents they have within them," says Camp.
"Purposing to individualize the multiples can only bring about a greater sense of worth in each of the multiples," she says. She believes that learning is often squelched when the student doesn't see the purpose in what they are learning or if their individuality isn't considered.
Sandy Foreman* of Scappoose, Ore., however, who is homeschooling three children, two of whom are twins, has had no problems tailoring instruction to each of her children's needs. "They have different learning styles and different abilities," says Foreman. "I am not homeschooling a singleton and twins. I am homeschooling three individuals, two of which happen to be the same age."
It can be tiring, though, she says, as she and her husband work different shifts. "The parent-to-child ratio is constantly one on three, and we are usually exhausted when it is our 'shift,'" says Foreman.
So how can you be sure each of your multiples is getting individualized attention? "Many subjects can be taught at the same time, in the same manner, but still with individuality," says Camp. "For example, the parent can read the same book out loud to both children. She can do unit studies on the same topic. However, the output of the children, such as the questions they ask, the papers they write and the notebooks they keep will reflect their individuality."
Unit studies are an excellent way to individualize instruction. Parents may choose a topic, such as the Revolutionary War, and give your multiples the choice of what sort of report they want to write within that framework. One might choose to write on a battle, while the other might choose George Washington.
Another idea is to separate them while they are working on schoolwork and discuss the results with each child privately. This way, each child can go at his own pace without comparing himself to the others.
Camp suggests in her books that you look at what interests each of your children. What makes them come alive? Use those interests as a part of their individual educational program. Most of the time their interest will be as unique as they are. If one child enjoys science, you can incorporate it into many subjects, such as having them write reports with a scientific slant or read biographies on famous scientists. This hones their reading and English skills while keeping their homeschool program tailored. More than likely each multiple will have his own "spark."
Homeschooling multiples can certainly be a handful, but it is both challenging and rewarding. "They make an amazing team," says Castle. "I feel like I have a 'class,' not two individuals sometimes!"
As for her best advice to others giving it a go: "Keeping an open mind and knowing as much as possible about twin behaviors is the best advice I could give. They are not one child .. they are twins!"
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.