I, by far, have mastered this thing called homeschooling, but I have figured out what works for us. Actually, the dynamic changes every year somewhat, because we throw in a new baby (and a tired, pregnant mama) and that difficult, albeit loveable, two year old stage. All but two of our children are spaced two years or less apart. That being said, we vascillate each year between some more high strung youngsters with shorter attention spans, and more quiet, eager-to-do-schoolwork youngsters with longer attention spans.
Overall what has worked best for me, is to plan my own curriculum. My rebellious nature (lol) has caused me to look at a curriculum and say, "But, we have this book instead of the one that it calls for. But, we have the supplies to do this activity instead of the ones it calls for. But, we are more interested in this topic instead of.... You get the idea. So, instead of using the "middleman" curriculum, I just go straight to the books and choose activities that we are interested in. For instance, this year we are covering 1800's American history, (with some world history added). I took a timeline of the US 1800's and picked the topics I want to cover. One of those topics is "The Alamo". Now, all I've done is planned to check out the book "The Alamo: Surrounded and Outnumbered..." by Shelley Tanaka, and "Voices of the Alamo" by Sherry Garland. Then printed off some activities for lapbook/notebooks or color sheets. The older capable kids would do the more complex activities and the younger kids (ages 2-6) would color (or cut and paste since I keep plenty of construction paper and glue stick on hand). I obtain all this material by searching the internet, getting homeschooling newsletters and checking out sites like Homeschool Freeebie of the day. Here is a post about my history planning and here is one about science.
Sometimes the preschool aged kids get too antsy and some of them have not liked coloring. So, I keep some different blocks, legos, puzzles, etc. to bring out a few at a time. I'm really particular about what comes out though, because if I have to spend 20 minutes cleaning up beans all over the house, then the ten minutes of a "bean sorting" activity is not worth it. I do like the idea of having learning centers set up around like with art supplies or whatever, but we just don't have the space to do that. So, I do set up a few things like this is the lego wall or the puzzle table, but whatever I take out I have to be able to put away relatively easily.
For the school aged kids, I keep everyone on the same topic in a subject. Now, Brittany is high school and will be doing more independent work and research on her own, so we went with a different topic for her history and science. The rest of the kids will be all be doing 1800's US History and Astronomy/Geology for science this year. We ONLY do history two days per week and science two days per week. We do history on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and science on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for about 2 hours each. Two hours sounds like a lot, but realistically by the time you've read the book and discussed and done whatever activity, two hours goes by really quickly. If the younger kids get bored, then they can finish their activity and go play. They generally stay interested for the most part and I try to plan fun stuff like experiments, sometimes a craft, and educational related videos, too. But really, for the younger elementary ages, the basics are really what's important to focus on. The history, science, art, music, etc. are just extras at this stage. I have noticed that the younger kids pick up so much just listening to the read alouds, watching the videos, and taking part in the experiments and crafts. So, I do plan the basics for the younger kids in the mornings when they are more "fresh".
Now the one extra thing that I did plan is to read aloud the Little House Books to the little kids and I didn't think the older boys would be as interested in that, so I have that time scheduled for one hour (right before lunchtime) when the older boys are doing their writing assignments.
With the other subjects-that they don't all do together- I have them staggered to be doing each subject at a different time than the other kids doing that subject. For instance, in the past I had everyone scheduled from say, 9-10am doing math. But, everyone needed my help doing math all at once, since that is a heftier subject. But now, I have only maybe one or two children doing math while other children are doing subjects that require less of my attention like their spelling books. (It also helps that we are using Math U See this year which has DVDs.) Brittany will need the least of my help, and I'll be available to her whenever she needs me, but I have scheduled a specific time just to discuss and evaluate her assignments and address any questions/concerns she has for the week. (Or day as the case may be.)
Basically, the only subjects the kids are doing everyday (Mon.-Thurs.) are Bible, Spelling, and Math. They will do science two days, history two days, and writing and literature two days. So, I guess the key here is that you don't have to do every subject every day. Some state laws require 180 days and certain subjects, but if you are covering a week's worth of work in two days, what's the difference?
For the rest of the kids it will be very "hands on" teaching for me, but I prefer that. Also, if you don't prefer to do your own curriculum, there are some that include all grades on the same subject. I know Tapestry of Grace does that-it's more of a classical approach. It really is a lot of work on my part, but I want to do it. It works out best for us.
Also, I plan out everything-I mean EVERYTHING- over the summer, down to what libray books I will use and the call numbers. I have all printables printed out and ready to go. This saves me SO much time during the school year. I don't have to go back and do anything, it's all ready for me when we start in the morning. I just pull out the notebooks with my plans and we're ready to go. I had to start planning like this basically from the beginning. Most of our marriage we have only had one vehicle, so if I needed something from the library or supplies from the store, I was stuck. I needed to know ahead of time what I needed and when I needed it. Over time, I have tweaked and reworked, and now have everything the way it works best for us. I also just have to limit outside activities for us because the amount of time it takes to get 8 kids ready for something is exhausting.
So, that is a little more detail about our school year.