Homeschooling several children of multiple ages can be challenging in itself, but homeschooling while you have a toddler running around can often seem overwhelming!
When we first started homeschooling, our kids were ages 7, 5, 3, and 1; life was busy, to say the least!
Looking back, I think that the two littlest ones were not always given the attention they should have received during the school day that first year. I was so focused on teaching the older two all they needed to know! Our two toddlers got into mischief more than I would have liked during homeschool hours, probably because they were trying to get more of my attention. Maybe you can relate to this?
As we continued to homeschool, I learned some important lessons about how to make things go more smoothly with toddlers in tow. I know there are many of you out there who have toddlers and are trying to figure out how to juggle homeschooling older kids while still keeping an eye on the littler ones. So I’m hoping these suggestions will help your day go more smoothly as well!
- Give your toddlers special attention as you start your day:
Fill their little “love tank” full with as much undivided attention as you can give first thing in the morning. If they love to be read to, spend time reading to them; if they like to play games, spend time playing a game with them. Let them know they’re important by spending 10-15 minutes of time focused on them. It’s okay to start schooling the older ones later if needed. Your toddler needs to know they’re important too, even though they aren’t “doing school” yet.
- Let your toddler participate in as much of your school activities as possible. If you’re reading out loud to the older children, let your toddler play and listen too. Yes, I know they may be a bit of a distraction, but you can train them to be quiet and listen (somewhat!) while they’re playing nearby. It’s unrealistic to expect them to sit completely still while you read to the other children from a history book, but they will likely be listening as they play and you never know how much they’ll retain from what they hear!
- Set up “activity boxes” filled with items to be used only during school time. These can be used when you need focused time to work with the older kids on their school work. You can buy inexpensive shoebox size bins and have them labeled for each day and fill them with fun things your toddler can play with independently. Provide a mixture of several different things to do in each bin because a toddler’s attention span is short! These bins can contain items that help them to work on their fine motor and gross motor skills. A few ideas for what to put in the bins:
- playdoh with cookie cutters (you’ll need to get them set up for this one)
- magnets with a magnetic board
- stickers and paper
- durable children’s books
- blocks for stacking
- thick string and big beads to thread on the string
- a bucket of beans and scoops, as well as an empty egg carton to put beans in
- Some of their favorite toys (cars, dolls, etc.)
- Ping-pong balls and a small bucket to throw them into
- Coloring books and crayons
- Simple puzzles
- Go to pinterest for more ideas: https://www.pinterest.com/krismcox/ideas-for-toddlers/
- Assign your older children specific times of the day to play with your toddler – when you really need some focused time to work one-on-one with one of your older children on a subject, ask another one of your children to be in charge of entertaining your toddler. This develops responsibility and patience in the child doing the caregiving, and is great for bonding between siblings (this is assuming you have more than one older child in your home)!
- Have pre-made snacks readily available: Toddlers often have meltdowns when they get hungry, so have some healthy snacks in baggies or Tupperware containers that you can quickly put out for your toddler when they get hungry. Having a cup of water ready and accessible for them to grab when they get thirsty will also help.
- Plan to take frequent breaks: Expect interruptions! Your toddler will need you to take some time with him/her throughout your school time. You can avoid most unexpected interruptions by planning breaks in your schooling every 15-20 minutes to give your toddler the attention he needs. If a toddler feels like he’s being ignored for long periods of time, he’s more likely to get into mischief! It’s also good for all your children to have physical activity breaks throughout the day. Activity breaks are good for your older children to regain focus, and you can have the toddler participate in physical exercises as much as they’re able along with the older children. These “brain breaks” are a great way to help kids regain focus in their school day and toddlers can enjoy them too! Check out Heather Haupt’s “Brain Breaks” for ideas of what to do for physical activity. If you don’t want everyone to take a break you can plan breaks for just one of your older children to play with your toddler too.
- Busy board: I wish I’d have thought of this when I had toddlers! I found this idea on pinterest and was so impressed with it, I wanted to share it. A busy board is just a board with all kinds of real life items that kids love to play with glued to it. Things like a small calculator, key chains, simple door locks, door jams, magnetic letters, buttons to push, etc.
8. Make use of naptime! Of course, you’ll get some of the best quiet time to work with older students when your toddler is down for a nap. Use nap time to work on subjects that require a lot of concentration and quiet focused time.
My biggest hope in writing this post is to help moms of toddlers realize what I learned the hard way:
Your toddler’s need for time and attention is equally as important as teaching your older children their three R’s.
I want to encourage you to NOT look at them as an inconvenience or a distraction from your homeschool teaching, rather recognize that they are at an important stage in development, and they need your time too. You’ve already begun homeschooling them as well, just not in reading and math!
Having the right perspective will make all the difference on how you respond when your toddler has a meltdown right in the middle of your history lesson with the older children. Your children are watching how you react when things don’t go as planned, and with God’s help, you can respond in love to your little one.
Please share ideas that have worked for you in keeping toddlers busy during your homeschool day in the comment section! Your idea might help someone else!