Homeschooling with Toddlers
Just hearing the words homeschooling and toddlers can send fear into any mother. In fact, I have had many moments of, “CAN I DO THIS?” when it comes to homeschooling my older kids with toddlers in the room. But why or where does the fear come from?
I believe unrealistic expectations or comparison traps are the root cause of these fears. As a mother who grew up in public school, went to college to become a classroom teacher, and then taught 5thgrade for 5 years before becoming a mom, I can tell you I struggle with both of these to the extreme.
Stop for a moment and think about what your “ideal” or “perfect” homeschooling time looks like. Is it quiet? Is it sitting at a desk? Is it hard-working distraction free kids? Is it full of sweetness, kindness, loving, smiling, cooperative, joy filled, light bulb moments, peaceful, patient, and self-controlled?
Sounds great right? But now think, is that real life? Is that picture you have formed the way you live life? Do you, as a grown adult, posses all the qualities above? I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt: I do not! I probably will never have these qualities to the level of a perfect display of schooling.
But moms, can I just say, that what we are picturing is not real life, it is a false expectation of what we think we need in order to do school. So before we get into to way we can support our toddlers while we homeschool, we must take a look at where the root of our expectations come from, AND create a realistic expectations for our homeschooling environment.
For me and my household, we do have expectations for homeschooling. Our time together is not a free for all, and it does have expectation that we teach all of our kids in order that we all might have a successful school day.
Currently I have two elementary kids homeschooling, one preschooler, and two toddlers, so as I share some tips and tricks below that will help you gage your thoughts around what I am sharing. In addition, homeschooling is not a cookie cutter for each family, we don’t all operate the same, we don’t all have the same kids, so we wont all have the same expectations either, use this as a guide and support to your schooling.
Here is our school day, along with how we have best incorporated our toddlers:
We start the day with a good filling breakfast. WAIT A MINUTE, why are you talking about breakfast, I thought this was about schooling. Well, hear me out my friends. Our children, in order to meet out expectation, need to have their basic needs fulfilled if we want to have the best outcome. Furthermore, sleep is part of their needs, so if your kiddos (toddlers included) are lacking for sleep, nourishment, and emotional stability then having them meet your expectations of schooling is going to be an uphill battle. We must meet their needs first.
After breakfast, our family has been blessed and encouraged by a time we like to call, morning boxes. This time is a great way to start our schooling together, because we ALL get to do it TOGETHER. We gather around in the living room and I have created a box for each of the kids. Within the box there are quiet activities like: coloring, puzzles, thinking games etc., which they get to use while we do our read aloud during morning boxes. But, before they get to dig into their boxes, we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag, to the Christian Flag, and to the Bible. Followed by the memory passage we are working on (examples include: The Lords Prayer, Psalm 23, The Apostles Creed, or a poem.) After, as the kids are getting their treasures out of their boxes we listen to a hymn of the month and sing along. Once everyone is settled then I will read loud from our book of choice. In the past we have worked through: novels, historical accounts, picture books on a theme, holiday books, science lessons, they can be a lot of variety and flexibility. Some things to note is that this time will need to be taught before a rhythm can be developed. As the parent you will need to know and set yourself up success by training your kids what they get to do during this time and what voice level is appropriate for this time. For our family we also needed to teach on staying in once spot throughout the reading time. This expectation needs to be retaught if ever the kids are not following the guidelines. As mentioned above I have a 2 and 3 year old and they are able to sit during this time, but I know I will have to reteach, give reminders, and make sure their morning boxes have new things in them week after week to create a space of newness. It is such a blessing to start the day off together as a family, all ages get to participate, there becomes a common language that is then reenacted through creative play later from the books we read, and a sense of one room school house where there is not divide due to age or ability.
After our morning box time in the living room we head into what I like to refer to as our clipboard time. I have created clipboards with the grade level work that must be done for each kid. As the three older kids grab their clipboards and get started, I grab one of my boxes for the toddlers that have educational activities in them. I have multiple boxes of separated activities so that the younger kids do not have access to all the toys at once, and potentially they would go a week without seeing these toys to make sure things are not too repetitive. Some of these activities include: stacking blocks, puzzles, tinker toys, car or train tracks, Legos, stickers, pretend food and more. The younger kids will need their activity switched every 20 minutes or so, (it could be shorter in the beginning as they are building stamina or longer time if they have grown in their stamina). I try my best to time my reading with each older kid with a new toy box to make sure it is fresh for the younger kids while I am teaching a concept like reading or new math concept. It is important to know that while I work to create a room that is quiet in volume, it is ok for their to be noise, and it is ok for the older kids to learn to deal with distractions. This is a life long skill that will carry with them.
After the clipboard time, I send the kids all for a play break, I have found sometimes you need to incorporate more breaks into the day and guess what: that is ok! Play breaks are just that a break to refresh so that they can come back and refocus. I encourage laying out the time frame of the play break before you send them off.
Once everyone has had a play break I will call once kiddos back one at a time to work with them on their one-on-one schooling need, which could include: reading, math, science, writing, social studies, you name it if they need support in that area I working through my direct instruction at that time. While this is happening I rely on my older kids to support the play with the younger ones while mom is working one-on-one with another kid. We are a family team and we all work together, there is much incentive as well because if the play is not going well then everyone will loose their play break and have to come sit in the room with mom doing a quiet activity while I go through my one-on-one time.
Then guess what!? I am done, that is all the formal schooling we do in a day. Learning happens all day, the older kids will have time of quiet reading while the youngers nap, but the bulk of our school we accomplish in the morning, before lunch!!
Last couple tips and tricks:
- When in doubt use a snack, if the youngers are getting restless then bring out a snack to save the day.
- Toddlers like to feel importance, especially as their older siblings are working, they want to do work too. So call their activity work, and create a sense of learning from what they are doing, make them feel an accomplishment.
- Remember the expectations for this time will grow and change as your family grows and changes. Everything in a season will be just that: a season. So enjoy the seasons, and find creative and new ways to make the season work for your family not just for you.
- If your toddlers (or kiddos) are getting bored with their toys, put some away from a month and bring them out again and SURPRISE they are excited to play with them again! Or ask a friend to switch toys for a month, even if it is similar to the activities you already have in place the fact that they are new to them is always exciting.
- You don’t have to spend a lot of money on education activities. Real life is educational so grab some pots and pans and let them pretend to prepare a meal. Or create a toy bath tub and let them wash the toys, or use a big cardboard box and see what they can create out of it. Remember that some of the education activities for toddlers can include boxes, or coloring too.
- Switch up the area in the room that they are sitting when you switch up the box every 20 minutes or so, it is fun for them to feel the next purposeful thing instead of remaining in one spot.
- Lastly, remember each day is new. It will bring new challenges, meet those new challenges with a positive outlook, embracing a sense of seasons, and a joy to bring new mercies to a situation. Remembering ultimate how our father in heaven gives us new mercies every morning to.