Homeschooling with Excellence no. 14

Minimizing Distractions

What To Do With Preschoolers and Toddlers

Toddlers are often the biggest problem with homeschooling since they want a piece of the action but are not really old enough to do much more than distract. Some ideas you might like to try: give them an old workbook to scribble in (and "check" it just as you do with the older kids); let them play with Legos®, Cuisenaire® rods, or some other math manipulatives; give them picture books to look at; let them sit on your lap while you read (pointing to the pictures or words you are reading helps keep them involved); if they sleep well, "school" while they nap; or, if you have more than two children, you could have an older child watch the toddler while you teach the third.

Ellen S. wrote,

We have a fairly strict schedule in our morning (we do all schooling before lunch) so that our day is predictable and my preschooler Caroline knows what to expect. We begin our day with prayer, read-alouds, and then World Geography. Caroline enjoys doing these with us. Then, as she begins to melt down or lose interest, I will let her play independently near us (if she can play quietly), give her own task, let her play "Jumpstart Preschool" on the computer, or ask her to please play in her room while we're working. It took about 2 weeks for her to get the hang of NOT being the center of attention but it did help! I have also used books on tape from the library and an inexpensive walkman.

I have a special school box for her. It contains quiet activities (puzzles, play-dough and cookie cutters, lacing toys, duplos). It helps to be able to say, "You can use that special box now!" as if it is a real treat! Once you get into a routine, your preschooler will become used to it and know is expected of her. Just be consistent!

Sally in IL wrote,

This is a list that a couple of moms put together. I thought I'd share it.

Busy Up

  • Have a special school box for the youngest child that they only use during school time. It may include special crayons to be used during handwriting time, unifix cubes to be used during math time, etc. This box is kept aside for use only during school time so that it remains fresh and new for the child.

  • Offer special (high chair) activities during school time. Put shaving cream in a gallon zip bag and let the child "write" with a finger on it and erase by squishing it around. Offer finger-paint or play dough. Have a big Tupperware container filled with rice or beans and let the child use scoops or measuring cups to pour it from one container to another. Yes, you'll have to clean it up later (or better yet, have an older child clean it up) but it may buy you 45 minutes or so.

  • Get book and tape kits from the library. The child can listen to the story through headphones while looking at the book.

  • Have your read aloud time with your older students right outside the bathroom door while the young child plays in the tub.

  • Always have school during naptime.

  • Have special toys for use during school time. Rotate these toys so they're always fresh.

Divide and Conquer

  • While working on a specific subject with one older child, have the other older child play with the youngest child in the playroom. This is their special play time together. Switch off.

  • If necessary, work on some school subject at night while dad is home to play with they youngest.

  • Have dad teach certain subjects. The family with 7 children has had their math taught to them by their dad for years. This frees up mom to work with the other children.

  • Have middle grade children do certain subjects on their own. After giving directions, allow the child to do the assignment as "homework".

  • Hire a homeschool teen (or ask a grandma lady at church) to come over and play with the youngest while you "pour on the steam" with the older children.

  • Swap school time with another home school mom. That way each of you can have two or three days of concentrated school time each week.

Other ideas

  • Do some activity with the youngest child before you begin school. That way their little "love tank" will be filled and they will be happier playing for a bit on their own.

  • Don't do every subject every day. Combine simple subjects and possibly do, for example, a week's worth of health in one day.

  • Be willing to do Saturday school when dad is home. This would be just a subject or two, not enough to eliminate family time on the weekend. Ditto for night school.

  • Use smaller bits of time for school. You may not be able to block out 4 hours from beginning to end, but you may be able to get that much time bit by bit.

  • Read aloud during breaKF1st and lunch. (This has the added benefit of mom losing a few unwanted pounds! :) )

  • Understand that your homeschool day will not look like a classroom day during this season of your family's life.

  • Combine subjects: That thank you note to grandma fills the handwriting requirement for the day. Reading The Wind in the Willows, a book your child reads just for fun, counts as a reader.


  • One friend says, "Trust that EVERY homeschool mom with a toddler goes through this! You are not alone. It won't be long before your toddler will want to have their own 'mini school' just like big brother and sister. You may have to try many different ideas before you hit on just the right one."

Both of these gals said they found that having their quiet time first thing in the morning before the family got up worked well for them.

I'm sure there are about a million other great ideas. This is just a start.

Laura Q writes,

It can be quite trying! My youngest is just getting old enough to do a little bit of "real school" but boy, it's still tough.

Play classical music while you homeschool. The children will be less likely to make noise when there is already pleasant music playing. They won't want to interrupt it! Also, may encourage them to dance those wiggles away.

Make sure you do spend time with them while older children are doing work on their own. Read to them, color with them, do things that feel "schoolish" to them so they feel part of it. Point out that big brother & sister leave them alone during their school time & remind them that when you're doing school with older ones they should do the same.

We bought a big box full of gallon sized ziploc bags, and filled each one with an activity. Got most of these ideas off a website by another homeschool mom but can't find that site, so I'll try to list as many as I can remember here for you. I pulled out only two or so each day and kept the rest hidden so they would be a special treat. Bring them out immediately rather than after they act up or they might start acting up just to get their school bags!

  • Put several sheets of paper and a pair of scissors in bag. On each piece of paper, draw one or several lines, some strait, some curved, some zig-zaggy, across paper in big marker. Put smiley or star at the end. Let them try to cut along the lines.

  • Put 10 small paper or plastic cups, labeled 1-10 in bag along with a couple of fistfuls of pasta, cheerios, etc.

  • Put several small paper or plastic cups in with several random things, some similar in some way, so they can "sort" the objects into the cups... by color, shape, material, size, whatever!

  • Take 10 index cards and number them 1-10. Glue that many pennies on each card, or draw that many circles on each card. Put pennies, poker chips, etc. in bag too. They put pennies on card to count up to each number.

  • Put 26 pieces of paper or index cards with one letter on each in bag with things like popsicle sticks, pennies, macaroni, cereal, paper clips, rubber bands that have been cut open, straws, etc. Have them outline letters with different objects. Look for ways they can cover straight lines with straight objects, and use curvy or flexible objects for curves and bends in letters.

  • Books on Tape from other family members. Enlist help from aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents, cousins, friends, anyone! Have them read a favorite children's book onto tape. Buy some headphones so your kids can listen without disturbing school age kids. Folks can give just tape if you already have book, or give book/tape combo as gift. Send them lists of books you have w/a blank tape or two and they can check out book from library, send tape back with sound. Remind them to make "turn the page" noise.

I truly hope you can find solutions that work for you and your family, and it certainly sounds as though you want to.

How to stop the "giggles, wiggles and remarks" during school time!

Cherie in WI wrote,

I am glad that [my kids] have fun, but at times it gets out of hand. Here are some ideas that may work.

  1. Stop and have a giggle-removal exercise — have them jump up and down, run in circles do jumping jacks. Or have them put on coats and run around the house 3 times etc.

  2. Do they have banks? Teach them how valuable time is. You have chosen to spend yours on them and they need to respect that. Institute a rule that if it becomes too disrupted that they are to pay you. (We did this with burping — my husband had to pay them a quarter if he burped rudely and vise versa — at first he paid out more than they paid in, but now everything is much quieter) Also, this should not imply that teaching is a thing you dread, it's just that mom likes to have free time too — just like they do and they need to respect that and finish school in a timely manner.

  3. Put one on an end of the table and the other on the other end and build a wall between the two (use a storage bucket etc). My kids hate to be apart and this works well.

  4. Do you follow a schedule where they get a break at a certain time? At the beginning of the day say, "when you are disruptive, I will wait quietly until you have finished. If we are not finished with work by the time break time arrives, you get no break." That way they are responsible for what happens.