Keeping my younger children (especially toddlers) occupied while I taught my older children has probably been one of the biggest challenges for our homeschool. It is even harder than Algebra (thanks to video lessons and a helpful husband). However, with some work and creativity you can make it all work. Also, keep in mind that these years are short and they grow up fast. These challenges are not forever.
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Last week I shared some ideas for scheduling your school days with little children. This week I want to focus on ideas that you can use to keep your young children safely occupied for short times while you work with your older children. I have broken the ideas up in to toddler and preschool ages, but use whatever works best for your situation and child.
First, utilize nap time. I know that sometimes means waiting until after lunch if they have dropped the morning nap. However, it can be worth it to get a little bit of uninterrupted time to focus on subjects that need direct attention. For us the two that are hardest with a toddler, are math and spelling. My children need more of my time and more quiet focus for those subjects so those are the ones I would do during nap.
Second, if the weather is good, think about working outside. We all enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and the outside toys and sandbox occupy the toddler for longer than anything on the inside. We can bring our books to the picnic table or on a blanket in the backyard and work while the toddler plays.
Never underestimate the power of a snack. I can put my toddler at the table with a slow snack like cheerios or cut up cheese and fruit. This will occupy him for ten or fifteen minutes while I work with the older children.
It can also be a good idea to have a few special toys that you only bring out during school time. This keeps them a little more interesting and helps keep them engaged longer. For one of my children we actually had five small plastic tubs with different toys and games. The tubs were labeled Monday through Friday and only came out on that day during school time. It wasn’t anything fancy of expensive, puzzles from yard sales, blocks, lacing boards, etc.
Finally, audio books can be a great way to help keep them entertained. Typically, they don’t have the attention span for a chapter book, but there are many picture books on audio. They can enjoy listening to the short stories while they play. As they get older, they can follow along in a real book.
My friend Tricia over at HodgePodge has a great article on Morning Room Time to keep toddlers and preschoolers entertained. We have not yet used this idea but I am working on getting it set up to use with my toddler soon.
Many of the ideas that work with toddler will also work with preschoolers. In addition, they are much more able to sit and focus for longer times and engage in the day to day activities of your home and school.
First, I find that if you can spend time with them first, they are less disruptive to your day. They crave that attention and are not yet able to really understand the need to be patient. So, if I spend 30 minutes with my preschooler before to get to work with the older children, his need is meet and he is better able to play independently.
Some preschoolers love the idea of ‘doing school’ like their older siblings. For those children, I highly recommend having a school bag with worksheets and manipulatives that they can use. One that my son really enjoyed was pattern blocks. He could take out the papers and the blocks and work through them independently but felt like he was ‘doing school’. You can also pick up inexpensive workbooks or print off papers where they can trace letters or numbers.
Art projects are another big hit with preschoolers. We do a combination of structures art from You Are An Artist and just giving them a bucket of art supplies and letting them be creative. It is amazing what they can come up with when you give them paper, crayons, glue, and scissors. We also like to add in fun surprises like googly eyes and stickers to keep it fresh.
We also enjoy using the activities from the Activity Room both for me to engage with them and for them to work on independently. They are fun and educational ideas that are perfect for them developmentally.
Finally, don’t under estimate how much they can learn and participate in family activities. If you are reading history with your older children, they can listen while they play with blocks or color. If you are doing a science experiment, they can watch and help by handing you materials. Their minds are learning and growing so much just by hearing what is going on in your home.
Overall, do not be discouraged by your younger children. Expect to work in small increments and have plenty of ideas to keep them busy. Also, keep in mind that they are growing and changing. What works this year might not work next year, and even though something didn’t work this year it might work next year.
What are your favorite tips and tricks for keeping younger children occupied and engaged during your homeschooling time?
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