I know that multi-aged schoolrooms were the norm back on the prairie days and Laura Ingalls makes it sound so romantic. The non-readers up front writing their alphabet on their slates, little Jimmy up at the board working his fractions, and Mary humming in the background.
Is this for real? Maybe the kids were exhausted from the morning milking and that is why they sat still on their little wooden benches. Maybe the absence of processed foods helped their brains stay on track. Maybe they could easily tune out the piercing scream of their brother demanding another granola bar.
What? Toddler brother? Ding. Ding. Ding. That’s why the one house school room ran so smoothly. There weren’t little siblings in the mix.
In our family in particular, the toddler causes the most distraction. That is why our school is abuzz with so much…ummm…life. That is a reason staying on track some days can seem impossible. But, it has always been like this for my stair step family.
When I started kindergarten with my oldest I also had a preschooler, toddler and infant. But my 2016 toddler is a toddler of all toddlers. If there is a table, he will climb it. A ledge, he will jump off it. If there is poison, he will eat it. If there is water, he will play in it. If there is a toilet, he won’t use it. ‘Cause that would just make life too easy.
How can he be in so many places at once? Chasing him is a full time job. Homeschooling is a full time job, too. So, how do we actually get to the reading, writing and arithmetic that we all know is so important?
It’s been a learning process, but over the years I have implemented a few strategies that seem to be working. I mean, most of my kids can read.
1) Enlist big brother/sister in the task.
This is my favorite and go-to strategy. I love to rotate my bigs with my littles. I will have my 8-year-old reading to the 4-year-old. My 9-year-old will be doing puzzles with the 2-year-old. All while I am studying phonics with the 6-year-old. Everyone is busy and actually productive. I also find that this time is great for sibling relationship building! Nine-year-olds and 2-year-old don’t have much in common, but they can both laugh at the crazy Harry and his purple crayon.
2) Busy Bags/Folders or other hands-on activities.
There are so many great resources out there on blogs and on Pinterest for sensory boxes, pasting sheets and busy bags. You can buy them or make your own. I like to pull these activities out during read aloud time but always ONLY during school time.
3) Use Nap Time Wisely.
We have a sanctioned quiet time/nap time from 1-3 pm. The smalls are sleeping and the bigs are either reading, coloring/drawing or doing school work. This is a good time for the kids to have distraction free time to work on math or other difficult subjects. I don’t teach much during this time, but I am always available for questions.
4) Hire/Enlist a Homeschool Helper.
We actually invited someone to move to Southeast Asia to help us this year…and, she actually came. So, Monday thru Thursday we have a toddler wrangler and a spelling/science teacher. It has been great.
Be creative. Maybe a friend has a teenage homeschooler with a servant heart and is willing to come by for a few hours a week. Maybe dropping the littles off at grandma’s or look for a Mommy’s Day out close by would help you to get a few focused hours a week. Look at the budget and see if you could afford a babysitter for a few hours. I know that this isn’t a viable option for some people, but it is crazy what we can conjure up when we are desperate.
5) Don’t be afraid to use technology.
I know that the iPad and the TV can be overused in this day and age. I’m not talking about handing your kid your phone just to get them out of your hair but rather, having a plan for your toddler’s screen time. There are so many brilliant resources out there. I haven’t found many educationcal apps my toddler can use for more than three minutes independently (open to suggestions!), but there are so many great quality shows via Netflix and YouTube. We also were gifted Right Start Media (the Christian Netflix) for Christmas last year, and it is a handy little site.
Whether our toddlers are smearing oatmeal all over our 3rd grader’s writing assignment or listening sweetly during read aloud, they are such a fun addition to our homeschools. It takes work, perseverance and a lot of prayer, but our bigs and littles can actually co-exist within the same space; and learn something, to boot.
What about you? How do you handle toddlers in your homeschool?
block images courtesy of depositphotos
Denise is a woman of many phases which currently include reading cookbooks, planning sewing projects that never get done, drinking coffee and watching Netflix. She homeschools her 6 kids with an “organic laid back approach.” Denise, along with her husband of 12 years and her children, reside in Southeast Asia. She is co-editor of Taking Route and can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Follow along her new Instagram project The Traveling Academy.