Homeschooling with TODDLERS!

Ben loved the lentil math set.

You've gotten your baby settled into a predictable nap schedule. He's long past the fussy stage and is generally a happy fellow. School has settled into the new normal, and things are humming along quite nicely. But then your little guy takes another developmental leap, and in a matter of days he goes from crawling to taking his first tentative steps. A few more days pass and he's not walking any more, but running. Homeschooling with a toddler on the prowl is definitely more of a challenge than homeschooling with a sweet baby who hasn't learned to crawl.

I already told you I sometimes had trouble remembering where I'd left the baby, so you can only imagine what it was like once that child learned how to locomote on her own two feet. But when a toddler is on the loose, trouble is not far away. Valuable belongings end up in the commode, bunny ears get cut off of a sister's quilt, and permanent markers and paint make their way onto all sorts of surfaces you'd rather they not.

Amanda's paint seeking radar led her to face paints on this day.
 Toddlers are mobile, curious, and fast, but they lack self-control and judgment. My son Jonathan walked at 8 months, but his discernment totally lagged behind his mobility, so he was forever tumbling into some new problem. And since he had a propensity to pass out when he bonked his head, this brought about extra concern! Keeping him safe was a priority in his toddler years. (Yes, this is the same kid who broke his back mountain biking this summer, so keeping him safe hasn't gotten any easier.)

But toddlers are not only dangerous and destructive; they are also absolutely delightful. Every day they learn something new, and what joy there is in viewing experiences through their fresh, eager eyes. With a wonderful combination of boldness and vulnerability, kind of like teens, toddlers begin to explore the world around them, and as mothers we get to be present to guide. What a privilege to nurture these little guys.

So how can we continue to homeschool older children while loving and caring for the toddlers in our homes? Here are some of the things I found helpful in the years with lots of littles around:

  1. Fill up your little ones first! 
    When you spend time with your youngest children and give them attention right from the start of the day, they will be more content to play happily nearby while you work with your older children. My practice was always to have a 30 minute “preschool” time for all the under-kindergarten children immediately after we finished our family Bible time. During this time, older children worked independently. What we did varied by my current crop of under 5s, but it always involved reading good books and often songs, poetry, finger plays, games, crafts, or science exploration. (I'll list a few resources at the end of this post and the next one on preschoolers.)
  1. Character training is paramount for toddlers and preschoolers! 
    They need to learn obedience and self-control. Both of these are foundational before-school attributes, far more important to their future schooling and life than learning letter sounds and counting.
  1. Include your little ones as much as you can in your school activities. 
    Toddler Paul happily joined in the salt-gold trade play.
    Homeschoolers talk about the “trickle down” effect as your young guys learn effortlessly just by hanging out as their older siblings do school, and it is very real.  Ben chanted Latin sayings at 2 and, seven years later, still sings John 1:1 in Latin. Often you can find picture or even board books on topics related to those your older children are pursuing, and if you are doing dramatization, the little guys love to join in. When you do math with the older kids, give your toddler Cuisinaire rods or pattern blocks to play with. (Dropping math rods into a clean milk jug and dumping them out can occupy a toddler for longer than you might expect. One happy side-effect is that as they grow, your little people will automatically fit into the school routine, as it will just be a natural part of life for them.

  1. Toddlers need constant supervision! 
    In the blink of an eye you may find you have an escapee or that your sweetheart has dumped glue on the carpet in her brothers' bedroom. I wanted my little people playing nearby so I could keep a close watch on on them. Sometimes corralling those little bodies in a high chair and giving them crayons, pudding finger paint, or some other safe substance to play with can be helpful. Another option which you might use for brief times is scheduling an older sibling to play with the toddler. Then give the older child some ideas and direction in what to do with his little sister. (Do this sparingly, though. While it is good for older children to have some responsibilities and learn to care for their siblings, your children shouldn't become surrogate parents.)

  2. Try a toy rotation
    Have certain toys that can only be used during school time, and pull these out on a rotating basis. For example, Mon. = puzzles, Tues. = duplos, Wed. = playdough, Thur. = blocks or waffle blocks, Fri. = art materials (Crayons, stickers, washable markers, etc.) - maybe in the high chair.
  1. Plan messy crafts, science experiments, and anything else that will require 100% of your attention for nap times. Some moms teach primarily during naptimes, and that's an option, too. But teaching while the little guys are up is very doable and offers advantages as well as your little folks become a real part of your school.

  2. Mostly, remember to have fun with your crazy toddlers! 

Related Posts:

A couple of resources:
Before Five in a Row (Jane Claire Lambert): Readiness activities for ages 2-4 based on 24 lovely picture books. Second half of book is resource of learning ideas to use any time

A Year of Fun Just For One's 
A Year of Fun Just For Two's
      Out of print, sadly. Calendar format gives suggestion for games, crafts, snacks, fingerplays for each month.

Homeschool: Toddler Years - a Pinterest board - TONS of ideas for your little people!

Rest of this series:

Introduction: Homeschooling with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Homeschooling with Babies

Up next - Homeschooling with Preschoolers!


Anonymous said…
4These posts are very helpful and encouraging, Anne. I'm looking forward to the next installment! Thank you.


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