by Laura Malone
Nothing can crumble the homeschool day like a roaming, curious toddler without direction. One of the enchanting aspects of homeschooling is the vision we have of being able to snuggle up on the couch with our children and dive deep into magical books from different worlds and times. But just as we get to the best part, we hear something spill to the ground from the kitchen. The toddler, oh so independently, climbed into a chair and helped himself to a little snack. And the rest of story time is spent on our hands and knees cleaning up the cheerios or drinks that were knocked off the table.
“OK,” you say. “We’ll just catch up tomorrow.” But that’s the day you forgot to put the crayons out of reach. And the day after that you spent 45 min consoling him during math time because his paci disappeared into the toilet. Another promising week dissolves with frustration.
I’m currently homeschooling five children, but I honestly have to say my most difficult days were when I only had four. This was a time when my two girls were elementary age and my two boys were toddlers. The girls needed my full attention during school, but the boys were getting into everything or crawling into my lap grabbing whatever books and supplies we were using.
Many days ended in tears, mine or theirs. I struggled to meet everyone’s needs and often felt like I was failing. Today I want to share a few helpful tips that I eventually incorporated into our day so my toddlers would stay safe and happy while the older kids learned.
- Utilize your toddler’s nap time. This is my absolute best piece of advice. Do instructional time with your older kids while the toddler sleeps.
- Enjoy “Mommy/Toddler Time” early in the day before starting school. Little ones crave time with Mommy. Feed that need first and their tank will be full. They’ll be more likely to play independently after they’ve had your love and attention.
- Enlist siblings to entertain them. I’ve done this two ways. When I had a toddler and preschooler at the same time, I supplied them with toys and games they could play with together. When I had only one toddler, my older girls would take turns working with me and then playing with the little one.
- School during your toddler’s snack time. Put the toddler in a highchair next to you and have him snack while you teach. This way they are confined to a safe area, you are near and they are busy. Choose a snack he can easily pick up and feed himself without much mess such as cheerios, sliced grapes, goldfish, etc.
- Arrange a babysitter. Enlist grandparents, aunts or friends to come over and babysit for a couple of hours a day while you teach. You could have them alternate days so you’re not taking up too much of one person’s time. Choose a friend that also has a toddler to babysit a couple times a week and do the same for her.
- Create a toddler-safe space in your school area. Here are a few items I included in my toddler-safe space:
- Giant cardboard box to climb into or color on
- Crawling tunnel
- Play tent
- Cheese mat for crawling and climbing. These are pricey. We only have one because a neighbor gifted it to us, but I highly recommend them. They come in handy not only for toddlers, but for getting energy out on rainy days.
- Kitchen drawer filled with extra plastic kitchen utensils. Make sure that it is low enough for the toddler to reach into by themselves. This was for days we schooled at the kitchen table.
- Play kitchen with dishes and play food
- Ramp to roll cars or balls down. We pulled a shelf from an old bookcase and propped one end agains our couch. The cheese mat listed above is also great for this.
- Include them when it makes sense. Read one of their books during read-aloud time so they feel included and give them a very simple version of the arts and crafts your older children are doing. If you have a toddler that is itching to be involved in some way, these are great times to include them so they’re more inclined to play independently during instructional time.
- School outside. Here are a few outside toys that kept my toddlers busy while we schooled on the trampoline or porch.
Check out my complete list of outdoor activity ideas here!
- Educational Videos
- Leap Frog’s Learning DVD Set
- PBS App
- Any kids’ videos from the RightNow Media App (My kids love BOZ, Superbook and Bibleman.)
- DVDs from the library
- YouTube Channels (Super Simple Songs, Blippi, PBS Kids, Cocomelon, Peppa Pig).
- Create a toddler “School-Time Toy Box”. This was a special box that we only pulled out during school time. This makes it extra special for the toddler. It included things like:
- Stacking and nesting blocks
- Leap Frog A, B, C toys
- Old purse with keys, mirror and small toys in it
- Magnetic tiles (3+)
- Dry erase wipe-off books (2+)
- Interactive board books
Look up, Mama. Going into each school day with a PLAN for your toddler will reduce interruptions and make you more available for the older children. Pick a few ideas from the list above and switch it up each day. Or, if you hit the jackpot and find one that your child loves, stick with it for a while. Comment below and let me know what your biggest toddler struggle is or share what’s working for you!
And remember, the toddler days are short. Do what you can and enjoy each moment while it lasts!
P.S. Here are a few homeschool RESOURCES to help make your year go a little smoother: