3 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Homeschooling With Toddlers


homeschool and toddlers

Let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

Do you get nervous when it gets really quiet around your house? Do you have to put markers, glue, and other creative art supplies up on a high shelf? Do step stools located in unusual places around the house make you cringe? If you have answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you must have a toddler living in your home. Toddlers are a joy, there is no doubt about that, but they can also create havoc if left alone with nothing productive to do for too long . . . Parenting young children is not exactly easy. Any mother or father can tell you this!

It requires a good deal of consistency, steadfastness, and compassion on the part of the parent. When said parent is also a homeschool mom, it requires an extra dose of creativity, organization, and determination just to juggle your many responsibilities. But these are the very qualities that you bring to the homeschool table anyway, so let’s take a look at the best ways to be a great parent for your toddler, while still devoting a good portion of your day to teach and train older kids at home.

There are three strategies to use when homeschooling with toddlers in your home:

  1. Keep them busy.
  2. Divide and conquer.
  3. Get creative.

Let’s look at each one, as you will want to employ a combination of these sanity-saving strategies in your home to gain the most enjoyment and satisfaction with both your older and younger children.

Keep Him Busy

Are you ready to start homeschooling your toddler? Guess what? It’s not necessary! He will learn so much just by playing and listening and talking and interacting with his family. If you want to give him a head start in academics, then take the time to read, read, read to your little ones—in the morning, before nap time, and before bed. Additionally, talk to him about what you are doing during the day and let him help you when it is safe to do so. As an example, you can count outloud the number of forks that you will need for the dinner table and then let him put them on.But please, don’t pull out the workbooks just yet! Your toddler will learn far more just from spending time with her family members in attentive conversation and meaningful work and play. However,that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan special activities for her so that she can be part of “school” too.

  1. Have a special school box for your toddler that he uses only during school time. It may include special crayons to be used during handwriting time, snap cubes to be used during math time, etc.Our special preschool box is filled with individually zip lock-bagged, age-appropriate*supplies and activity ideas, such as these:
  • Puzzles (large and few pieces for little hands)
  • Large nuts and bolts (from the hardware store)*
  • Letter and number magnets (for the refrigerator)
  • Paint brush and water (to be used on cardboard)
  • Small containers with lids (with surprises inside)
  • Yarn and sandpaper (yarn sticks to create designs)
  • Hole-punched cards and shoelaces for sewing
  • Magnets and paper clips or screws*
  • Matching games and card sets
  • Pipe cleaners and pony beads*
  • Paper and crayons*
  • Flashcards
  • Stickers*

*Note: Please use discretion. If your child is going to chew, bite, or swallow something (such as beads or crayons or paper clips), don’t put them in the box! This box is to be set aside for use only during school time so that its contents remain fresh and new for the child.

  1. Offer special high-chair activities during school time. Put shaving cream in a gallon-size zip lock bag and let the child “write” with a finger on it and erase by squishing it around. Offer finger painter play dough. Fill a large, plastic, lidded container with dry beans or split peas and let your child use scoops or measuring cups to pour them from one container to another. Yes, you’ll have to clean up the area later, but it may buy you 30–45 minutes of teaching time with another child.Additional ideas for high-chair time can be found here:redshift.com/~bonajo/preschool_activities.htm.
  1. Put the step stool up to the kitchen sink, close the drain, and run a drizzle of water into the sink along with a little bit of dish soap. Give your child some plastic cups, bowls and spoons to “wash.” He’ll feel glad to know that he is helping with the chores. A turkey baster and soapy water can keep a child entertained for a while too.
  1. Check out book and tape/CD kits from the library. Your toddler can listen to the story through headphones while“reading” the book.
  1. Read aloud to your older children right outside the open bathroom door while your younger child plays in the tub.Or just read in the bathroom. Strange perhaps, but safe!
  1. Make some special toys available during school time only. Rotate these toys so that they are always fresh and interesting.

Divide and Conquer

  1. While working on a specific subject with one older child, have the other older child play with the youngest child in her room. This is a special playtime for the two of them. Then switch for the other sibling to have this special time.
  1. Ask Dad to teach certain subjects. My husband teaches science and logic to the older kids. This frees me up to spend undivided time with my younger children.
  1. Have middle grade students do certain subjects independently. After giving instruction, send them off to work on the assignment on their own.
  1. Hire a homeschool teen (or ask Grandma) to come over and play with the youngest child while you “get serious”with the older children.
  1. Swap school time (or toddler time)with another homeschool mom. For example,you teach a subject to her older kids (along with yours) while she plays with the younger ones. Or vice versa. That way each of you can have uninterrupted school time with your older kids and/or playtime with your younger ones.

Get Creative With School Time

  1. Wait until your toddler’s nap time to work on school subjects with your other children.
  1. Work on some school subjects at night while Dad is home to play with or put the youngest to bed.
  1. Do a fun activity with your toddler before you begin school. This should help her to be more content to play on her own or to listen to books quietly for a while as you give attention to the other children.
  1. Don’t feel like you have to do every subject every day. Combine subjects or possibly double up on some school work on certain days when the baby takes a longer nap or is playing more contentedly.That way, you can do less on other days! For example, combine geography with history, or do a whole week’s worth of science on one day.
  1. Be willing to do some schoolwork on Saturday when Dad is home.
  1. Use smaller amounts of time for school. A block of four hours may not be possible at this time, but 45 minutes to an hour at a time may be doable.
  1. Read aloud during breakfast and lunch (while your youngest child is contentedly eating in his high chair).
  1. Understand that your homeschool day will not look like a classroom day during this season of your family’s life.Maybe it never will. And this is okay! Enjoy this season of your child’s life,knowing that it will not last forever and that you are not alone. Your toddler will be at this stage only for a couple of short years, and the next thing you know, he’ll be in kindergarten. They are only young for such a short time, and it is a precious,precious time. Don’t wish it away!Make every effort to stay flexible with your schedule and your to-do list,as toddlers change from one day to the next. Just when one strategy may be working for your family, he’ll change and you’ll need to try something else to keep the school day flowing. In other words, what worked yesterday might notwork today! Above all, give him lots of hugs and kisses during your school day,which will reassure you both that he is not an interruption but a blessing.

This is a guest post by Terri Johnson. Terri Johnson, along with her husband Todd, founded Knowledge Quest, Inc., publisher of history and geography materials. Knowledge Quest is well known for producing mapping programs such as Map Trek and Time Trek, as well as timelines, historical biographies, geography curriculum, software, and even mobile apps. Visit Knowledge Quest at www.KnowledgeQuestMaps.com .

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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