Multiple Children

Classical Schooling with Multiple Ages
(Suggestions, Recommendations, and a Useful (We Hope) Chart)

Although we discuss briefly in The Well-Trained Mind how to follow the program we recommend with several children of different ages and abilities, we still receive a great deal of mail asking how to do classical education with multiple children. So we want to devote this section of the newsletter to a more complete discussion of classical education with more than one child.

We’ll begin with a few basic principles, and then examine how they might be applied to a hypothetical family: the Apples, who have seven children aged twelve, eleven, eight, seven, five, four, and one. Finally, we’ve added to this article our recommendations to two parents who consulted us recently; the first has a seven-year-old, a five-year-old doing kindergarten work, and a four-year-old; the second has a seventh grader and a fourth grader and is just beginning classical education.

Basic principles

1) Whenever you begin classical education, start with the Ancients in history and work your way up to modern times in the four-year cycle we suggest. Even if you’ve just finished American history or the study of World War II, go back to the Ancients. Children of school age are capable of understanding, “Now we’re going to go back and study what happened before America was discovered!” And when you reach World War II, they’ll already be familiar with it.

2) If you have children who are not yet school aged, begin your oldest child with the Ancients and “fold in” the younger children as they come along. This might mean that a first-grader will do Late Renaissance / Early Modern (1600-1850) as her first year of history, because her older brother is now in third grade and has already done the Ancient and Medieval / Early Renaissance years in first and second grade. That’s perfectly all right. What’s important is that you’re moving through history in an orderly, chronological fashion. And don’t forget that when you’re home schooling, younger children are listening — even before they reach school age. That first-grader heard you doing Ancient History and Medieval / Early Renaissance readings with her brother, even if she was playing with Legos at the time.

3) Do the same subject in science with all children. Generally, choose the middle-grade science kits if you’re combining a middle-grade and elementary-grade science lesson. If you’re doing physics with a fifth and second grader, for example, choose the Science in a Nutshell kit and do the experiments with both children watching. Then you can do extra reading in very basic books with the younger child, either at another time or while the older child is writing up his science experiment. If you also have a ninth-grader, have him do the “Self-Teaching” physics (or another high school physics course) at the same time. The material won’t be exactly the same, of course, but you’ll all be using the same scientific language — and your high school student will find that his younger brother’s experiment helps reinforce the concepts he’s learning in his more complex and abstract course.

4) The order of the science subjects (biology, earth and sky science, chemistry, physics) meshes well with the history, but definitely isn’t set in stone. Do them in whatever order suits your situation.

5) Try to keep each child working on the appropriate grade level in the skill areas: math, writing, grammar, spelling. Children who are only one grade apart (fifth and sixth, say) can be combined if you’re particularly short on time.

6) Reading can be done with all children at the same time. If, for example, you’re doing the Medieval / Early Renaissance readings with a sixth grader, a third grader, and a kindergartner, you can read the picture-book Beowulf we recommend to the third grader and kindergartner while the older child reads Robert Nye’s retelling on his own. Then you can bring the children together to discuss the book. Afterwards, the kindergartner can draw a picture of the monster; the third-grader can write his own summary of the story; and the sixth-grader can write her more complex composition at the same time. Alternately, you can ask the sixth-grader to read Robert Nye’s book to the third-grader while you take your kindergarten-aged child for a walk.

7) Remember that the reading texts listed in the chapters on reading and writing (chapters 5, 17, and 26) are basically the same in level of difficulty for the entire four-year-period in which they appear. In other words, all grammar-stage books recommended in the reading chapter are at the difficulty level generally associated with Grades 2-4. Thus, a third-grader can read the books listed for Ancients (First Grade) or the books listed for Modern (Fourth Grade), depending on what year of history he is studying. A sixth grader can do the Medieval / Early Renaissance (Sixth Grade) or Late Renaissance / Early Modern (Seventh Grade) readings with equal ease.

8) Move your child into the logic stage when he reaches fifth grade (or thereabouts), no matter what year of history he’s studying; in other words, switch over to the Kingfisher history and start to require outlining of the passages, as described in the middle-grade history chapter of The Well-Trained Mind, around the fifth grade age.

The following chart covers how the Apples might organize their classical programs:

The Apple children (12, 11, 8, 7, 5, 4, and 1) are working at grade level, sometimes in pairs. The 12 and 11 year are doing sixth-grade grammar, mathematics, spelling, and writing together. The 8-year old is working alone on grammar, mathematics, spelling, and writing on a third-grade level. The 7 and 5 year old are both doing first-grade work; the seven year old, a boy, has been slow to read and write, and his five-year-old sister has a long attention span and good coordination. The four-year-old is only doing ten minutes of reading instruction per day. The baby creates havoc occasionally. The Apple parents are planning the next six years, working initially with three grades (6, 3, and 1) and eventually adding in the two younger children.

Year One: Ancients 12 and 11 (grade 6) Use Kingfisher history and construct and time line; also do two-level outlines (described on p. 287), read the sixth-grade books, and do one warm-up year for logic, using Critical Thinking Press materials. 8 (third grade) Depending on reading ability, can read Kingfisher history along with older siblings and can write 2-3 sentences about what he’s heard, or can listen to Usborne reading with younger siblings and then write; can read books about Ancients listed in WTM for first-grade independently and write about them, or can read them aloud to younger siblings (they are read-alouds for younger children in any case) 7 and 5 (first grade): Listen to parent read two-page spread in Usborne history, and both draw pictures or narrate back to parent (who writes for them) what they’ve heard. Possibly alternate, so that one child narrates while the other draws a picture. Listens to parent or older sibling read first-grade books aloud. 4— Reading instruction 1— Has fun and gets lots of love.
Year Two: 400-1600 13 and 12 (grade 7): Move on to next section in Kingfisher book, continue timeline, begin to make three-level outlines (p. 293); begin formal study of logic, read grade 7 books. 9 (fourth grade): Continues to read Kingfisher or Usborne book, depending on level of reading ability and maturity; writes 4-5 sentence summaries; reads books listed in WTM for second-grade (the grammar-stage books listed for grades 1-4 are all close to the same level of difficulty). 8 and 6 (second grade): Listen to parent read from Usborne History of the World; alternate narrating to parent what they’ve heard, and writing a single sentence on their own about the most important subject covered; listens to parent or older sibling read second-grade books 5 — Continues with basic reading instruction and handwriting practice, 15-20 minutes per day. 2 — Continues to get lots of love and attention.
Year Three: 1600-1850 14 and 13 (grade 8): Continue in Kingfisher book, making outlines and timelines; read eighth-grade books listed in WTM, continue the study of logic. 10 (fifth grade): Begins to use Kingfisher book for the study of the years 1600-1850; begins a timeline with 1600; begins to make a basic outlines of Kingfisher text, as described on p. 281; begins warm-up exercises for logic. 9 and 7 (third grade): Continue with Usborne book, reading independently. If possible, they can take turns reading aloud to the other sibling. Each should write a brief (2-3 sentence) summary of the material read; third-grade books are either read aloud by the parent or read silently by the children, depending on reading ability. 6 (first grade): Begins with Usborne history for the years1600-1850. Listens to parent or older sibling read pages aloud; draws a picture; listens to parent or older sibling read aloud from books listed for Grade 3 in WTM. 3 — Continues to get lots of love; also starts drawing with markers and crayons during school time.
Year Four: 1850-modern times 15 and 14 (grade 9): Begin Great Books study with the Modern Period book list; continue to keep a time line (to prevent them from becoming confused!) as they use the Timetables of History and outside reading to construct “Context” pages, as described in the “Rhetoric” section of Well-Trained Mind; begin the study of Rhetoric. 11 (sixth grade): Studies the modern period using the Kingfisher History of the World, and beginning to construct two-level outlines, as described for sixth grade; continues time line; does the modern readings listed in the “Logic” section of Well-Trained Mind; begins the study of formal logic. 10 and 8 (fourth grade): Continue to study the Modern Period, using the Usborne history and writing 3-4 sentences summaries of their history readings; work through the reading list for Fourth Grade. 7 (second grade): Listens to parent or older sibling read from the Usborne History; alternates narrations with writing single-sentence summaries of the history lesson; listens to parent or older sibling read aloud from Fourth Grade reading list. 4 — Begins phonics instruction, 10-15 minutes per day. Still gets lots of love and playtime.
Year Five: Ancients 16 and 15 (grade 10): Return to the Ancients, using the Great Books and other rhetoric-stage techniques described for high school in Well-Trained Mind. 12 (seventh grade): Goes back to the beginning of Kingfisher and starts to construct a new time line, which will be connected to the previous time line next year; progresses to three-level outlines; continues study of logic. 11 and 9 (fifth grade). Entering the Logic Stage, these two students switch over to the Kingfisher history and begin to write their one-sentence outlines, as described on p. 281; they also begin their time lines and do their Critical Thinking logic-warmups. 8 (third grade): Goes back to the beginning of the Usborne Book; reads independently or is read to, writes 2-3 sentence summaries; does readings listed for Ancients (First Grade) in Well-Trained Mind). 5 — Continues reading instruction and handwriting practice, 15-20 minutes per day.
Year Six: Medieval / Early Renaissance, 400-1600 17 and 16 (grade 11): Continue Great Books study; they will end in grade12 with 1600-1850, but have already done modern texts in Grade 9. 13 (grade 8): Continues with Kingfisher history, now making complex outlines, and finishes time line, connecting it to time line begun in grade 5; does Medieval / Early Renaissance readings listed for Grade 6. 12 and 10 (sixth grade): Continue with Kingfisher history, progressing to two-level outlines; do Grade Six readings; begin the formal study of logic. 9 (grade 4): Continues with Usborne history, reading independently and doing 3-4 sentence summaries; also does independent reading in the reading list suggested for the Medieval / Early Renaissance period (Grade 2). Next year, will progress on to Kingfisher hsitory for 1600-1850, beginning to outline and to construct a time line. 6 (grade 1): Begins the study of history with the 400-1600 period in the Usborne history, being read aloud to by parent or by fourth-grade sibling, who is doing the same period in the same book; draws picture; is read to from the 400-1600 reading list by parent or older sibling.

The following answers may also be of use to you:

Susan’s recommendations to a mother with children aged seven, five, and four:

Generally, when parents have three or more children and are just beginning classical education, I suggest starting in the Ancients with the children who are in school, and continuing on through the four years of history in the order we suggest in the book (Ancients, Medieval / Early Renaissance, Late Renaissance / Early Modern, Modern) while simply adding in children as they reach first grade. Use Usborne history first, move on to Kingfisher for the second cycle, then on to the Great Books.

So you might do something like this:

Second grade and kindergarten: Ancients (kindergarten child draws pictures of whatever you’ve read, second grade writes two or three sentences. Five year olds can really just listen, color, draw pictures, and enjoy themselves. Prioritize learning how to read for five-year-olds; if they get bored and wander off during history, it’s perfectly OK.)

Third grade, first grade, and kindergarten: Medieval / Early Renaissance (third grader begins to write short 3-5 sentence summaries of what you’ve read, first grader can still draw pictures until she writes well enough to write a sentence about what you’ve read), kindergartener as above.

Fourth grade, second grade, first grade: Late Renaissance / Early Modern (fourth grader can write short compositions, second grade writes 2-4 sentences, first grader as above)

Fifth grade, third grade, second grade, kindergarten: Modern times. Fifth grader should move on and use the Kingfisher history of the world for modern times, begin his time line (you’ll fill in the earlier parts in the next three years), and start outlining (in other words, go into the Logic stage in our book). Third, second, and kindergarten stick with Usborne, as above.

Sixth grade, fourth grade, third grade, first grade: Ancients. Sixth grader uses Kingfisher and outlining and fills in the first part of timeline. Fourth, third, and first as above, with Usborne.

Seventh grade, fifth, fourth, second (and any others :-)): Medieval / Early Renaissance. Seventh grader does logic-stage study. Fifth grader ALSO moves into logic study, beginning the time line, starting to outling (as in our book). Fourth and second stay with Usborne.

Eighth grade, sixth, fifth, third: Late Renaissance / Early Modern. Three older children are following logic-stage recommendations. This year, the eighth grader fills in the last part of the time line and connects it to the Modern timeline done in fifth grade. Third grader still in Usborne book.

Ninth grade, seventh, sixth, fourth: Modern. Oldest child moves into Great Books study, starting with the books in the twelfth grade list (these books are, technically, no more difficult to read than those on the Ancients booklist). Seventh and sixth do Kingfisher/outlining. Fourth grader still in Usborne.

Tenth grade, eighth, seventh, fifth: Oldest child goes back to Ancients and continues Great Books study. Middle children are still doing Kingfisher / logic-stage study; fifth grader also begins use of Kingfisher, outlining, and time line.


The useful thing about this schedule is that all four children are doing the same time period at the same time, which will keep your brain from exploding. Also, you always have at least two (sometimes three) using the same basic history text. It doesn’t matter if various children “come into the cycle” at various times, as long as they’re doing the history chronologically during the year.

As far as science goes: You can be flexible. The order that we suggest is a convenient one, but it isn’t engraved in stone. I do encourage you to do the same subject (biology, say) with all children all year, using the different level texts and resources for the different ability levels. It will preserve your sanity.

Susan’s recommendations to a mother just beginning to classically school a seventh and fourth grader:

If you’re just beginning with a fourth and seventh grader, consider using the Kingfisher history for both your fourth and seventh grader, and then asking the older child to also use the Timetables of History to do extra work on the events during each period covered by the Kingfisher book.

Seventh grade is a little bit early to start Great Books; ninth grade is about as early as most kids are ready to tackle the classics. You might consider having your seventh-grader do a “speeded up” history course with the Kingfisher book, making a timeline and really getting comfortable with the chronology, the order of events, the famous people and important happenings. Then, in ninth grade, she could start to tackle the Great Books course, starting back with the ancients. Alternately, she could just do Ancients and Middle Ages with your younger child for seventh and eighth grade, and then incorporate the Great Books reading into her curriculum for ninth grade (Renaissance) and tenth grade (Modern) studies. Then, she could return to the Ancients and the Medievals for eleventh and twelfth grade. The advantage to this would be that she would hit the hardest works (the oldest ones) during her most mature high school years.

As you can see, the method of doing history is flexible! The most important thing to preserve is working through it in chronological order — no matter where you start.

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