“How can I homeschool an older child with babies/toddlers/preschoolers in the home?”
This is a question that I hear frequently among new homeschoolers. Although homeschooling an older child while keeping an eye on little ones can be a bit more challenging or require a bit more creativity, it’s really just another season in life, a relatively short season, in the grand scheme of things. And, it can be done.
One of the most obvious opportunities of which to take advantage is nap time. If your older child is in the early elementary years, all or nearly all of his seatwork can be accomplished during nap time, even for the most structured homeschooling families. For most early elementary-aged kids, formal seatwork generally takes a maximum of two hours. If all of the older child’s formal work cannot be accomplished during nap times, save the most mom-intensive work for that time. For my older daughter, the most difficult subject for her — the one that required my undivided attention and a quiet working environment — was reading, so this was always done while her younger siblings were napping. For a mom of an infant, I would also recommend looking into “baby wearing.” With baby happily snuggled up in a sling or wrap and mom’s hands free, schooling can be business as usual.
Another option is creating a baby- and toddler-proof area for schooling. This can be any area in which younger siblings can be contained and entertained with minimal supervision. For my family, this area was our finished basement. The basement served as our playroom/schoolroom for several years. It was stocked with fun, baby-safe toys and books, a couch for snuggling to read and a table for my older daughter’s seatwork. My younger two children would play with each other while I worked with my older daughter. Once the lessons were explained and my daughter was working on her own, I would sit in the floor and play with my younger two, while still being easily accessible to my older daughter for questions or support or a younger sibling could sit in my lap at the table and have some cuddle time. The most important thing was that there was nothing in the room that my younger children could hurt or that could hurt them.
It’s also a great idea to involve younger children as much as possible. We could often all be found snuggling on the couch to read or the younger kids would sit at the “school table” and play with Play-Doh or build with Legos. One of the favorite activities of the younger two siblings was getting involved in the hands-on activities that their older sister was doing for science or history. There is often more than you’d think that toddlers and preschoolers can join in on with older siblings…and you’d be surprised at how much they’re really learning!
Sometimes younger siblings enjoy having their own “school work.” Coloring books or workbooks available at department or dollar stores can be great for this. Letter of the Week is a popular website offering free “curriculum” for babies through preschoolers. Creation Kids offers great, free animal-themed curriculum focusing on character traits for preschoolers.
Although no one wants to rely on the “electronic babysitter,” used sparingly and thoughtfully, TV and videos can be very helpful in occupying little ones. There are many educational TV shows and videos for young children. Videos are often especially nice since they have a pre-determined length and don’t provide a child with the opportunity to get involved in yet another show before Mom can get there to turn the TV off. I was amazed at how much my younger two children learned about fire safety from a Sesame Street video and a video given to us by our insurance company. Those were two of their favorite videos for several weeks! And I have to mention the Leap Frog video. Seemingly overnight, my younger two kids learned all of their letters and letter sounds by watching Leap Frog’s Letter Factory. There are now several more videos in the series, but this has become my standard two-year-old birthday gift.
There are also many sites on the Web offering ideas for entertaining younger children during school time. Following are a couple of recommendations:
Homeschooling an older child with younger siblings in the house can be a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding. In my opinion, it is not something that should ever dissuade a would-be homeschooling family from homeschooling.
The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
The Preschooler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
Picture Book Activities by Trish Kuffner
Story Stretchers for Infants, Toddlers and Twos by Shirley Raines