Over the years I’ve had many people ask how I manage to homeschool when we have a baby in the family. That’s a breeze, as far as I’m concerned. Babies sleep a lot, are held a lot, and stay in one spot when you put them down. Getting homeschool done is a cinch with a baby in the house!
Toddlers, on the other hand, are awake a lot, move a lot, and talk a lot. Needless to say, they can wreak havoc on our best laid homeschool plans. Here are four things our family has done to ensure both a productive school day and a happy toddler.
1. Make the Most of Nap Time to Homeschool
Whichever parts of homeschooling work best with the least amount of distraction are the ones you should do while your toddler naps.
- Which subjects require your most focused attention?
- If you have at least two school-aged kids, which student needs the most help from you?
Perhaps that means nap time looks the same every day—a predictable routine that guarantees everyone’s work gets done. Or maybe it means taking it day by day, using that uninterrupted time for whichever need is greatest at the moment.
Nap times will decrease in frequency and length over time, so make the most of this opportunity for uninterrupted productivity while you can. It teaches your older kids how to focus on a task when there’s limited time to get things done and gives you the freedom to interact with your toddler later in the day.
2. Enlist Siblings to Help
A sibling doesn’t have to be much older than the toddler to be helpful in keeping the youngest family member entertained. When our third and fourth kids were little, we’d assign the two and three older kids specific time slots to play with the toddler. The time of day and length of time we chose for each pairing was strategic, doing our best to set everyone up for success. The older sibling’s job was simply to keep the toddler occupied with something safe, fun, and quiet enough to not be a huge distraction to the kids doing school work. Depending on the age spread and how the day was going, sometimes I told them how to spend their time and other times I let them figure it out on their own.
I love how this approach gave me a chance to work with one kid at a time, allowed various sibling pairs to nurture their relationships, and presented opportunities for the older kids to make a positive difference in the flow of our days.
3. Include the Toddler When You Can
It’s not always realistic to get everything done with your toddler out of the way, so look for ways to do school with the little one in tow. One great option is to read a Read-Aloud at breakfast or lunch when they’re happily restrained in a high chair.
Another option is to have the toddler snuggle on the couch while you read to an older sibling. Just give your toddler a stack of picture books, letting them know they can quietly look through their own books while you read a chapter book to the older kids. If the schoolwork requires only a little bit of your attention, then let the toddler hang out with you and just answer questions from your students as needed.
There’s a time for being solely focused on school work, which necessitates minimizing of distractions from a toddler, but it’s equally important to include them whenever possible. That’s how they learn not to be disruptive. As a bonus, their siblings learn to focus amid distractions, and you get to soak up time with all your kids at once.
4. Exclude the Toddler at Times
At some point in family life, a child has to learn to entertain themselves, something which may need to happen sooner in a homeschooling family in order for school work to actually get done. There’s no one right way to go about this, as there are countless factors to consider that vary from one household to the next. But the point is simply to teach your young child to keep themselves busy doing something appropriate while you teach your other kids.
Whether you get five minutes a day or an hour, a solid chunk of time or little snippets, this gentle toddler training will be helpful for your whole family. It’s easy for the youngest kid in the house to assume they’ll constantly be entertained by other family members, so it’s good for them to learn how to be content with solitude.
The Caveat of Homeschooling with a Toddler in the Family
Although I’ve spent time explaining how to work around toddlers, it’s also really important to make them just as much of a priority in your day as your older kids. Read books, sing songs, and play with toys. Go for walks, give bubble baths, and laugh together. Those toddler years can be hectic, which is why you have to be proactive in choosing how to manage your school responsibilities. But toddler years are equally precious and short-lived. Don’t get so caught up in minimizing the negatives that you fail to maximize the abundant positives.