How to Teach Multiple Grade Levels in Math Without Losing Your Mind

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?

multiple grade levels in homeschool math

Want to listen to this post instead of reading it?

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.

14 thoughts on “How to Teach Multiple Grade Levels in Math Without Losing Your Mind”

  1. Some programmes work better than others with more than one child. I tried to use MEP (Maths Enhancement Programme) with two children plus a third also being home educated. Whilst I loved MEP, I couldn’t make it work as my children needed about 45 minutes of individualised teaching per day. At that point they both also needed phonics instruction and I completely failed to make the programme work with children who are only two school years apart.
    We have changed to a different programme which I like a little less conceptually but I can make it work!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Oof, 45 minutes per day is an awful lot to try to get in! Glad you’ve found a different program that works better for your family. 🙂

    Happy Math!

  3. Hi Kate,
    This is “Tiffany”. Thanks so much for writing that article. This school year has started off better as I have been trying to implement shorter lesson times. I decided to stick with Singapore so as not to make another curriculum change right now. I have found that my children have a great conceptual skills are lacking in math facts. I think that your article is easy to implement. Would you be able to address memorization of math facts and how this can best be accomplished for different age groups? Do we just stick with the bemoaned flashcards? I think that if we could get some help with memorization of math facts the lessons they’re doing would go a lot faster. I have a fourth grader, a third grader, and a first grader that are being homeschooled right now. I am using your math facts that stick for my first grader. Thanks again for taking the time to write your article!

  4. Hi Tiffany,

    Glad that the school year has been going better with the shorter lesson times! Thanks for letting me know what you decided to do.

    So many concepts in math go more smoothly once kids know the math facts! It’s definitely well worth the time to get them solid. In general, kids learn the math facts best when learn strategies for finding each fact, then practice to increase speed and automaticity. No matter how old kids are, I think the same approach typically makes sense. Even big kids benefit from games that give them lots of practice, but they need a good strategy first.

    Here’s a few articles on teaching the math facts:

    How to Drill the Math Facts

    Everything You Need to Know to Teach Your Child the Addition Facts

    Your Complete Guide to Teaching Your Child the Subtraction Facts

    You might also like to watch the webinar videos embedded in the last two links.

    Happy Math! Hope the school year continues well!

  5. Love this article, thanks for redirecting us to it! I am definitely aware that 4th and 5thg readers can walk for with a math book they can read themselves, but that is a poor choice. I found out the hard way, even with checking in. Somewhere at the end of sixth grade, my DD hit a roadblock and if I’d been more hands on with her, I believe I could have caught it before it became a problem.

    Really liked your tips and podcast and am looking forward to implementing the strategies going forward.

  6. Love this article, thanks for redirecting us to it! I am definitely aware that 4th and 5thg readers can walk for with a math book they can read themselves, but that is a poor choice. I found out the hard way, even with checking in. Somewhere at the end of sixth grade, my DD hit a roadblock and if I’d been more hands on with her, I believe I could have caught it before it became a problem.

    Really liked your tips and podcast and am looking forward to implementing the strategies going forward.

  7. I have found that CLE math is wonderful for a child to work independently who also needs a very incremental approach with a lot of review. It is laid out very well, with the first part of every lesson introducing some tiny new concept – usually takes me about 15 minutes to go over it with my kids, then they finish the lesson off on their own – it’s all review after that. I stagger them so two are completing independent parts while I work with their sibling and it’s been really wonderful. I don’t have to make any decisions, its all so the next thing.

  8. Hi Robyn,

    The Mennonite programs are well-suited for homeschooling, since they’re designed for multi-age classes. (I’m a fan of Rod and Staff for the same reason.) Glad that CLE is working well for you!

    Happy Math!

  9. hi kate thanks a lot I am a grade 5 student but I used to teach my siblings they are 7
    one is in 1st grade, KG-2, nursery, and grade 3 I love to be a teacher

  10. So what is a math program where the parent teaching is only 10-15 minutes? Saxon and Horizons has soooo much prep time and teaching time that I am overwhelmed teaching 2 younger kids with a toddler running around. I have 5 kids total and just let the older ones go on their own unless they have a problem because the younger kids take so much time. I have pretty much given up and hired a tutor twice a week but then they don’t do math the other days. Help! I need lessons that actually are open and go and easy to teach without a ton of prep.

    • Hi Amy,

      That’s a lot of lessons to manage! It definitely depends a ton on the kid, the grade level, and the skill being taught. (And how much the sweet toddler interrupts!) Three programs that aim for shorter teaching times are my Math with Confidence, Math Mammoth, and the new Good the Beautiful program, so you might take a look at those if you need a more efficient math program.

      Happy Math!


Leave a Comment