Of the eight years I’ve been homeschooling, there has been one thing that has made each year challenging- I’ve always had at least one young child in the house.
I’m not going to gloss things over. I haven’t completely figured out the best way to handle this, yet. I still have hectic days dealing with an extremely independent and curious 3 year old. In fact, just today she decided to color our toilet tank with a green Sharpie… but…I have come up with a few solutions that have been immensely helpful in our homeschool.
I’m not promising any miracles here. Young children are unpredictable, so what works one day may not work the next. I’m also not going to give you a list of “20 Fabulous No-Fail Methods of Keeping Your Toddler in Check!” I’m going to be real with you and let you in on the most effective ways we’ve been able to keep our little ones busy while we homeschool.
Activity Baskets That Are Just for School Time
These don’t have to be anything fancy. We filled ours completely with items I found at the dollar store. In fact, that’s where we got the cute baskets, too! You can use anything that you think your child will find interesting and is age-appropriate. Our baskets are usually filled with stickers, play dough, puzzles, fat crayons, small notebooks, craft sticks, glue sticks, pipe cleaners, foam craft supplies, books, flash cards, and any other number of things. The possibilities are endless. The important part is keeping them only for school time. Believe me, I know how hard that can be. My little stinkers are always pros at finding my hiding places, but it is crucial that you do this because this is what keeps them new enough and interesting enough that your child will want to use them again and again. I also usually have about three separate baskets with different contents so that it won’t be the same activities day after day.
Including Your Little Ones in Your Homeschool Activities
If there’s anything we know about young children, it’s that they like to be a part of whatever is going on. While I’m certainly not saying that you should expect your two year old to diligently work in a phonics book everyday, have some workbooks from the dollar store handy that you can pull out whenever it’s school time. Everyday I ask my 3 year old if she wants to do her school work. She usually gets a big smile on her face and plops herself at the table with the rest of the kids. It’s plain to see that this makes her feel big and important, so we all think this is the cutest thing. Sometimes, though, she doesn’t want to participate. That is absolutely fine, but I always give her the option. And actually, you don’t even need to limit yourself to just providing workbooks. Even a coloring book or some paper and crayons to draw may be enough to hold your little one’s interest. One word of caution, though. If you’re going to have them work at the table with the older kids, don’t make their activities so interesting that they’ll pull the kids away from what they’re supposed to be doing! (speaking from experience…)
I haven’t forgotten about babies…although babies may be too little to sit at the table, you can always put them in the high chair at the table or even put a small baby in a bouncy chair in full view of everyone. Again, they just want in on the action!
Enlist the Help of Older Children
Older children can be such a huge asset in entertaining younger children. Two of our teens take turns being “homeschool helpers” and two of our preteen children are “homeschool helper trainees.” Each of them is paid a small stipend to help out with the little ones every other week (they alternate weeks). All I ask of them is to keep an eye on the younger kids, try to keep them quiet, give them something to eat or drink if they ask, and make sure they have something quiet to do. Oftentimes, they will just take them outside to play in the yard. They usually only need to do this for a couple of hours a day.
If you don’t have older children, see if you can find an older homeschooled child who would be willing to help out, or maybe you could even get a grandparent to come over. No matter who it is, there’s no harm in asking someone for help. The worst they can do is say no!
Let Them Watch TV
I know I’m entering dangerous territory- I’m used to that, though- but TV is not evil incarnate. Yes, there are some inappropriate things on it (which is why we stick to Netflix), and, yes, I think it is possible for a child to watch too much television, but allowing your little one to watch “Mr. Rogers,” “Barney,” or “Magic School Bus” in order for your older children to have some quiet time to concentrate is not going to damage them for life. In fact, we often use programs on Netflix and YouTube in ur homeschool lessons, and we all learn loads from them! Just some food for thought.
Additional Methods I’ve Heard of But Not Used:
In the past I’ve read of some parents who use what they call “blanket time” to keep their littles under control during homeschool. Since I’ve never done this myself, I’ll just tell you what I know.
You lay several blankets on the floor- separately, not close together- and you lay some toys on the blanket. You sit your child on one of the blankets for a predetermined amount of time, and then you allow them to move to a different blanket after a while for a change of scenery and toys.
I’ll admit that this would never work with my kids. Instead of it giving us more order in our homeschool, I think I would have to spend the entire time standing guard over the blanket to make sure she wouldn’t take off! Another reason I wouldn’t personally use this approach is because I wouldn’t want to squelch a child’s passion for exploring by confining them to small spaces for a couple of hours a day. Each to his own, though, right?
Homeschooling During Nap Time
This is another one that I’ve never used because my kids have never been ones to take naps at the same time everyday, and also, when my younger kids are napping, I want to relax, as this may be the only time I get to all day!
But, again, this is an option, and many people do this everyday.
The important thing is to find the method or methods that work for you!
So now here’s my question for all of you seasoned homeschool mamas: How did you keep your littles occupied during your homeschool day? Leave a comment. You never know if there’s someone who really could use your advice!