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8 Tips for Homeschooling with Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers in the Mix


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Sometimes I amuse myself. When my kids were little, the outgoing message on my answering machine started with, “You’ve reached the Bales family three-ring circus…”

And lest someone think they could just track me down on my cell phone, my outgoing voicemail message started with, “You’ve reached the Bales family traveling circus…”

Homeschooling can be challenging. Throw a baby, toddler, or preschooler in the mix and chaos is often a much better word. When we started homeschooling in 2002, I had a 7-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. Fun times, y’all!

I’m here to tell you, though, that you can successfully homeschool with little ones around – and it’s just a small season in life that passes in the blink of an eye. If you’re homeschooling with babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, try these tips.

1. Take advantage of nap time.

Nap time was huge for us. When I was only schooling my 7-year-old, we saved reading – the one subject that required quiet and my undivided attention – for the afternoons when her siblings were napping.

If your older child is in the early elementary years, you’ll likely find that you can complete all or nearly all of his seatwork during nap time. For most early elementary-aged kids, formal seatwork generally takes a maximum of two hours.

If you can’t get it all done during nap time, save the most mom-intensive or quiet-requiring work for that time.

2. Try baby-wearing.

For moms of babies, look into using a sling or wrap for “baby wearing.” With baby happily snuggled up with Mom and her hands-free, schooling can carry on business-as-usual for the most part.

3. Create a baby- or toddler-proof area for schooling.

This tip probably saved my sanity. When my children were little, we schooled in our mostly-finished basement. It was an area where we could contain and entertain the baby and toddler with minimal supervision. 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.

Josh and Megan played with each other while I worked with Brianna. Once the lessons were explained and Brianna was working on her own, I moved to the floor to play with the little ones. I was still easily accessible to Brianna for questions or support, even if I needed to move back to the table with a younger sibling sitting in my lap for some cuddle time.

4. Involve younger siblings.

It’s also a great idea to involve younger children as much as possible. We spent a lot of time snuggling on the couch to read or with the younger kids sitting at the school table, playing with Play-Doh or building with Legos.

One of the favorite activities of the younger two siblings was getting involved in the hands-on projects that Brianna was doing for science or history. Toddlers and preschoolers love doing what the big kids are doing – and it may surprise you to realize how much they’re learning!

Sometimes younger siblings enjoy having their own “school work.” Pick up some coloring books or workbooks at department or dollar stores so little ones can have their own school books. My kids loved the free Letter of the Week curriculum.

5. Spend time with little ones first.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ll just get the big kids started, then, I’ll spend time with that baby.” Sometimes, if you give the little one a few minutes of your undivided attention first thing, he’s much more content to play on his own for a bit.

6. Take turns with the little ones.

If you have more than one older sibling, let them each spend some time with their little brother or sister during the day. Letting the older kids each spend 15-20 minutes entertaining the baby provides you one-on-one time with siblings, builds the bonds between the baby and his older brothers or sisters, and teaches older children how to serve others.

7. Utilize electronics.

Although no one wants to rely on the “electronic babysitter,” used sparingly and thoughtfully, TV, videos, apps, and online games can prove extremely useful in occupying little ones. There are so many educational options for young children these days.

I always liked using DVDs because they have a pre-determined length. That means the little ones couldn’t get involved in another show before I could get there to turn the TV off. I was amazed at how much Josh and Megan 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, y’all, four words: Leap Frog’s Letter Factory. Josh and Megan seemed to learn all of their letters and sounds overnight watching that video. I was so impressed that it was my standard two-year-old birthday gift for years.

8. Have “school time only” activities for little ones.

Have toddler and preschool activities that you only bring out during school time and rotate them often. Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas that didn’t exist when my kids were little. I had to rely on books. You know, paper books. {grin} Here are some of my favorites:

The Toddler’s Busy Book, The Preschooler’s Busy Book, and Picture Book Activities by Trish Kuffner

Story Stretchers for Infants, Toddlers and Twos by Shirley Raines

Homeschooling an older child with younger siblings in the house can feel challenging sometimes, but it is also incredibly rewarding. It’s not something that should ever dissuade a family from homeschooling.

What are some of your best tips for occupying little ones during school time?

updated from an article originally published May 18, 2007

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7 Comments

  1. I came across your blog via Menu Plan Monday. Thank you so much for this post! I currently homeschool a high schooler, an 11 yo and we have an 8 month old. Trying to do all we need to do in school amongst taking care of our baby has proved challenging at times. We work with nap times. However, our little one is yet to have a routine nap time so we have to go with the flow of whenever she takes a nap. Sometimes she may only nap maybe 30 minutes – other times maybe an hour and half. Sometimes she may only cat nap off and on during the day and other days she may take a nice morning nap and/or a nice afternoon nap. Trying to have any set routine doesn’t seem to be too realistic right now. Instead of being frustrated by this, I am trying to learn to just go with the flow and realize that “To everything there is a season…” Interestingly enough, that particular verse in Ecclesiastes is my theme verse for the year! I appreciate the links you’ve provided and look forward to checking some of them out when I find some time! 🙂

    Hope you have a great week!
    Karen
    http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/salt

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I am new to homeschooling our 6-year-old twins and we have a 3 and 1-year-old in the house too:). My biggest challenge has been keeping the little ones either involved or occupied. I look forward to checking out your links and suggestions!

    1. Oh my lord, I am so great full to see this comment! I have 6 year old twins and a 2 year old. The shelter in place order through me into this homeschooling situation and I feel like it’s not manageable. I want to complain to the school for the amount of work assigned. Glad to see you managed.🙏🏼

  3. I want to be you when I grow up. I have a 6 yr old that I have been feeling STRONGLY that I should homeschool, he’s just not the same sweet sensitive happy little guy he was before grade 1! I also have 11 month old twin girls, which is the main reason for NOT homeschooling, you’ve given me hope and inspiration! Thank you =)

  4. I center my day around my middle child and only boy, because he is potty training, which requires a lot of attention and proper timing. He naps when he’s sleepy, eats when he’s hungry (all my kids do), and requires very little “amusement” aside from playing with his older sister and time outside. He has an active imagination, loves PBSkids.com, and basically is teaching himself at a pre-K level. No worries.

  5. Hi : ) So, with schools shut down with Covid 19 there are a lot of us jumping into home schooling agendas. I feel like I need a crash course! Your posts have been helpful, and if there is anything else. Here are my main questions: How do you prepare the lessons? How do you get refocused when you lose the kids? Thanks!

    1. Hi, Eve. I’m so glad my posts have been helpful. My biggest suggestion would be to give yourself lots of grace. You’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool. Most of us homeschooling moms got to ease into homeschooling and even then the beginning can be HARD. You’ve got this!

      Here are some posts that may help on lesson planning:

      10 Lessons I’ve Learned About Homeschool Planning
      Homeschool Planning Tips
      Homeschool Scheduling and Planning

      Here are a few with tips for keeping everyone focused:

      6 Simple Ways to Help Fidgety Kids Focus
      10 Tips to Help Easily Distractible Teens Focus
      4 Essential Tips for Homeschooling a Child With ADHD

      Let me know if you have other questions. I’m glad to help!

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