We always start off the year with wonderful plans and high ideals.
And then reality sets in. What am I going to do with the baby? How can I keep the toddler contained? How can I give my undivided attention to an older child?
With a bit of preplanning, training, and a stash of set-aside supplies, you will find that your toddler-through-preschool little one can, in fact, occupy himself.
First, and this is really important, spend time with your littles before you try to get school started.
Fill up their little love tank with cuddles, snuggles, giggles, and wiggles. You could make their bed with them, do a short devotional cuddled up on the couch, and clean up breakfast together. Then they will probably be ready to play on their own for a bit while you get the older kids started on school.
Start out being very clear with your littles on what they are allowed to do and where in the house they are allowed to be during school time. And then consistently enforce those boundaries because you don’t want to spend the next 8 hours cleaning up a Desitin and baby powder mess.
Also, littles handle daily life much better with a familiar schedule and consistent nap-times, so try to stick with a routine.
Below are some suggestions for keeping your littles occupied while you are teaching.
- Keep a stash of special toys and activities that only come out during school time—puzzles, Duplos, blocks, and other educational toys. (Check out Discovery Toys, Timberdoodle and FatBrain.) Ideas that might require partial supervision: String beads or macaroni, sew with yarn, go fishing with magnets, play with pattern blocks, do a “craft in a bag,” explore an electric toothbrush (these fascinate littles!), paint with water on construction paper, study a live bug in a clear plastic jar or play with stickers or magnet letters on a cookie sheet.
- Set up a tent with chairs and a blanket or throw an extra-large cloth over a table for a special play area.
- Have your child count the stairs, spoons in the drawer, or pencils in the box.
- Place one sheet each of different colored paper on the floor and have them sort the Legos by color onto the paper.
Ideas that take a bit more preparation—and a little supervision:
- Give your toddler the grocery ad and a washable marker and tell them to circle a specific letter or number. If the child is more advanced, make a quick “key” to follow, instructing them to circle each different number/letter with a different color. (All the 1’s are green, 2’s are blue, etc.)
- If your little can use scissors without assistance, let them make a life-size paper doll—of himself! Have them lay on a piece of cardboard, butcher paper, or wrapping paper (blank side up) while you trace their body. Have them draw a face and clothes and then cut it out.
- Keep your little one contained in their own special play area—a small plastic toddler pool. (Yes, in the house, but sans water.) No worries about messy play getting out of hand! Clean-up is super-easy—just drag the pool outside and hose it out!
- Let them drive the cars and dump trucks through rice, beans or pebbles.
- Give them playdoh and plastic cookie cutters.
- Strip them down to a diaper/underwear and empty a can of shaving cream in a pile and let them go at it.
- Set a bucket of water in the middle with cups and spoons or toys and bubbles for hours of splash-play.
- Collect leaves during outdoor playtime and then let littles glue them on paper in the pool. (Oh my! Do littles love glue sticks!)
- A snack will usually keep them occupied for a good 20 minutes as well.
Ideas that involve an older sibling:
When an older sibling spends time with a little one, it can give you uninterrupted teaching time with another child, and give the older sibling the chance to build a relationship with his younger sibling.
- Have the older child read aloud to his younger sibling. Consider well-written non-fiction children’s books, which can serve the dual purpose of teaching the older sibling and littles about the world around them. (How does the sun shine? Where do the stars go during the day? What are mammals?)
- They can play fun and easy clapping games (Playmate, Come Out And Play With Me, Patty Cake, Miss Mary Mack—you can find lots of internet videos if you have forgotten them) More than just fun, research tells us that crossing the midline (cross clapping) is an important developmental skill!
- Encourage your kids to play crawling races with the baby. (Did you know that crawling develops cognitive processes, even for the older kids?)
- Learning through song makes things stick—and it’s fun! Whether it’s the alphabet song, a counting song, or a more in-depth learning song from YouTube, Audio Memory, Lyrical Science, Wee Sing, or Skip Count, singing is a great way to keep a little engaged.
- Suggest that the children take turns as they make up a story together, play a rhyming game, practice matching letters and sounds, or play another game that develops language skills.
- Or even ask the older sibling to build a block tower just so the younger one can knock it down! (Laughter and squealing included.)
And finally, here’s a great tip for saving the little’s nap and quiet times for working with your older kids: make everything you do around the house a team effort—let all your children, even the littles, cook, clean, and fold laundry with you. Give them their own dust cloth, water-filled spray bottle for windows, and child-sized broom and dustpan. They’ll love it!
Homeschooling while juggling littles can feel challenging, but with a few tricks up your sleeve, you might just find it’s magical!
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.