Homeschooling with Toddlers in Tow!
Written by Katie Dugdale
This is just one of the informative must-read articles in Homeschool.com’s
newest e-magazine–Back to Homeschool
One morning while we were doing school, I noticed my toddler had been quiet for an unusual amount of time. I realized I had lost track of her and had no idea what she had been doing. I also realized the door to my bedroom was open. I walked into a dark room and heard a faint strumming of a guitar. We keep the guitars in my husband’s closet. I don’t know how long she had been in there, but when I opened the door, I found my two year old standing in the dark closet dropping picks one by one into the guitar. She also re-tuned it for us and made sure all the strings were working well.
Toddlers and homeschooling are an interesting puzzle to figure out. My toddlers, and I’ve had four of them, have been passionate. By passionate, I mean wiggly, loud and bursting with personality that cannot be ignored. I have been homeschooling for six years in some form or another. Every year we have homeschooled, we have had a toddler or baby in our home. I have had to learn to embrace flexibility and to not hold too tightly to my routine. I remember when my oldest was two and people would tell me how quickly the preschool years would pass. I knew they were right, although at times, I didn’t believe them. As I am hunting down my toddler who has been suspiciously quiet while I am in the middle of doing school with my older children, I have to be careful not to wish away the toddler years. I need to be intentional to embrace every stage and make adjustments to our day as needed.
How do I homeschool with a toddler in the home? I cannot give a formula for success. I cannot give you a strategy that will work every time. What works today will likely not work tomorrow. You’ll need to have several tricks up your sleeve to make it work! I feel like I have tried everything under the sun to keep our toddlers busy while we do school. Sometimes we wait until the toddler’s nap time to do school. Sometimes the toddler watches a video. Sometimes we have a special area set up with markers and crayons so the toddler can do school with us. I have had to experiment to find our rhythm. As the babies and toddlers enter a new stage, that rhythm has to change to keep up with them.
While I do not have a proven strategy, I will share strategies I have up my sleeve, that have helped keep our toddlers occupied and even included during/in our homeschool day —
Include your toddler when possible – If you can include your little one in any way (modifying a lesson, reading to them, letting them do a craft project with you, letting them sit at the table and work on a “worksheet” while his siblings are working on theirs, etc.), they will enjoy the experience—I don’t know a toddler that doesn’t want to do “big kid” things. Plus, your toddler will learn something too (even if it’s to pay attention for seven minutes)!
Busy Bags – Busy bags are a way of organizing little activities for preschoolers and toddlers. These activities usually focus on some type of readiness skill like color matching, fine motor skills such as lacing and tracing, counting and more. I have several busy bag activities. I keep them all in a big tub in our kitchen/school room. I only get a few activities out at a time for our toddler. Each activity is in its own pouch. I use zipper pencil cases with the clear front you can find at stores like Wal-Mart or Target. If you need ideas for busy bags or want to learn more about them, you will find all kinds of great ideas on Pinterest!
Special Toys – I keep a basket of special toys that only comes out during school time. My toddler can sit in the Pack and Play and have some time with these toys. The toys include a Tag Junior (a toy that reads certain board books to the child), Lego Duplo Blocks, Puzzles, and Magnetic Dolls from Melissa and Doug. Rotate toys when you can to keep things fresh/novel.
Play Dough or Water Colors – When we are doing table work, I let my toddler sit with us and have play dough on a special tray with toys or water color paints. These things are minimal when it comes to mess and clean up.
Netflix – I admit, there are times when I just need my toddler to be occupied so I can focus on the needs of an older child. It’s at these times that I might sit her in her Pack and Play and let her watch educational shows such as Leap Frog Letter Factory, Leap Frog Phonics Farm, Signing Time, and a number of other preschool and toddler friendly videos.
Nap Time – If your older children can manage well in the afternoon, there is no reason you cannot take advantage of the quiet to get some school work done. My children are usually tired and have a shortened attention span in the afternoon so this doesn’t always work.
Older Children – I have a nine year old, a seven year old, a four year old and a two year old. The older two finish school at different times and the four year old doesn’t do school every day. I often ask a child who is not involved with school work to play or read books with a younger child. As you can imagine, this benefits both kids.
Any one of the above mentioned strategies can buy you anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour of time. I try to use that time to get our group activities such as calendar time, read alouds, Bible memory and more completed. My older children work independently with workboxes for the majority of their school time. If I can keep my toddler entertained for the beginning of school, I can be available to her as the older ones are working. She needs to know that she is valued and important to me. I try to spend time reading books to her or playing with her.
When I had small babies in the house, I relied heavily on morning nap time to get school done. I tried to make our lessons short and sweet. I made sure the kids and I were ready to get started as soon as that little one went down for a nap. We often had our read aloud time when I was feeding a baby. Listening to audio books together as a family during that time is great, when you do not have free hands.
The time with toddlers and babies will pass. It will pass quickly. I have heard it said over and over that the days are long, but the years are short. I am finding this to be true. So, as I am seeking to occupy my little ones so I can accomplish school with my older ones, I am trying to be intentional to see the joy in all the stages of this journey.
The beauty I have found in homeschooling is realizing I am not recreating a classroom setting in my home. We are home educating. We are doing life together. Babies and toddlers have real needs and provide real distraction and interruptions. My children and I are learning to be flexible and roll with the punches. Sometimes we have to take a step back and realize something isn’t working. We may need to pack it in for the day and head outside. We may need to take a snack break. We might even need to stop what we are doing and have a dance party!
Katie Dugdale is a child of God, wife to a wonderful man, mama to four little blessings and a crafter on the side. Her life is a series of adventures. She has moved five times in ten years of marriage and has had four children in four different states. She has a heart for homeschooling and loves creating and sharing resources to help others who are on the same journey. You can visit her at www.wellnurturedplantsandpillars.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Pinterest under the user name mama_monkey.