Homeschooling With Toddlers Underfoot - What We Actually Do

Last fall, after years of mentally planning, we started homeschooling Wyatt for Kindergarten.  I've had a lot of interest, not only in blogland but from my real-life friends, on all the workings of our homeschool, and a frequently question is: "What you do with the baby and toddler happy while you're working with Wyatt on his school?"

My first thought on that question is that if you have a younger child that's not that much younger, you probably don't have to do anything.  The only thing I'd suggest buying extra workbooks for them if they decide to participate.  That is what we are doing with Gwen, who was three years old when we started the school year. She often wants to follow along and do her own schoolwork, so I help her with the activities she's interested in - and if she's not interested, she can go and play or do whatever else she wants.  I believe in letting kids be kids before the school years, free from unnecessary obligations, so I really don't put any pressure on her.

The youngest two are another story.  Clyde was two years old, and Clarice was one last fall, and they do require more attention.  Since I was asked so often about how I was going to handle schoolwork with the little two running around, I thought I should probably have some sort of plan.  After I attended the homeschool conference and got all my curriculum choices together, I went on a mission to find activities for the younger kids while I was working with the older two.

I came up with a few activities via Pinterest, and I was really excited about giving them a try (activities listed below).  I also pulled aside a few of their educational toys and put them in a special box.  I figured I could pull all these things out whenever we started on schoolwork, and keep them occupied with their special "school toys".

These are the activities I found:

1. Nuts And Bolts Matching Activity.  Buy nuts and bolts of different sizes from the hardware store, and paint the outside of the coordinating hardware the same color.  

2. Clothespins and Paint Swatches.  I picked up some paint cards from Home Depot - two of each color.  The idea is to cut up one of the paint cards and glue a piece onto the back of a clothespin.  Then the kids can pin the clothespin onto the matching color on the cards.  

3. Felt Activity Books.  A lot of people make their own, but I just buy the $3 ready-made version at Target.

4. Lacing Cards.   Lacing shoelaces through colorful character cardboard cutouts (how's that for alliteration?).  I'm sure you've seen these.

I have a few more ideas in this blog I made for this post a while back too:

All these activités are great for color matching and fine motor skills, and I patted myself on the back for being so prepared.

But here's my little secret.

We haven't used a single one of these activities.

Do you know what Clyde (and even Clarice) like best?  A notebook and a pencil.

When I am working on writing or number practice with the big kids, Clyde likes to feel like he is doing the same sort of thing.  He wants to do "school" too.  He doesn't want to be left out, or relegated to a separate activity - he wants to be part of the action.

So I sit him down with his "school" notebook and a fat pencil, and he scribbles in it until we are done.

I think in the midst of all those inquiries about how to keep the little kids happy while we did our schoolwork, I forgot three things.  

1. My kids like to do things together as much as possible.  Clyde and Clarice both want to feel like "big kids".  They are always so proud of themselves when they accomplish something that they've only seen their brother and sister do up to that point.  It was silly of me to think I needed to entertain them separately from what everyone else is doing.

2. All my kids have always been independent players.  Most of the time while we are working on reading or anything else, the little kids just go off and play by themselves.  I've never been one of those mothers who structures her preschoolers' schedule.  We don't do a lot of organized projects or educational projects.  I just let them play, because that is my preschool philosophy - and my kids are great at independent play.  This is a big advantage in homeschooling, and I should appreciate it.  Some moms might need to plan a lot of activities to keep their younger children entertained - but I don't!  My kids have always entertained themselves.  I should just enjoy that!

3. Each round of work in kindergarten takes 15-20 minutes, and we take breaks in between.  Fifteen minutes is not a big enough amount of time to have to fill it up with baby and toddler activities.  Homeschool kindergarten is not a whole-day endeavor, like public or private school counterparts, because a lot of kindergarten actives are regular life activities.  Kids have free play time.  They color and paint.  They eat snacks.  They take a nap or "quiet time".  None of which actually feels like school.  The part that does feel more school-like is the bookwork, and that's the part that literally takes 15 minutes.  It's really not intimidating at all, and I was making it way too complicated.

So this summer, when I'm planning for next year, I'm going to try to remember what happened this last year and restrain myself from buying a lot of fancy extras for our homeschool - because it is likely that they will go unused.  I'd much rather take the kids outside and let them get dirty (or wet and cold) in the winter than spend all my time and money planning activities for them.  I'd much rather do "school" all together as much as possible and continue to encourage those sibling relationships.  I'd much rather just keep the whole thing simple and easy on myself, instead of overcomplicating things and adding more work to my plate.  I'd rather be not-Pinterest-worthy and happy, than Pinterest-worthy and stressed.

But I will probably keep my box of extras handy...just in case the littles are being extra needy one day and I need a backup plan!  I went to all that work, after all.

If you are a homeschool mom, especially if you have young children in the house, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  How do you make homeschooling work with babies and toddlers underfoot?

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Brittney said...

Hi Callow! It's Brittney from my former blogs Mommy-in-waiting/Nothing but blessed😊 Even though I no longer blog I love catching up on yours from time to time! Loved this post of yours as this was my first year homeschooling as well - my 6, now 7 yo in Kinder (we waited a year to start him) and my 3, going on 4 yo in his first year of Pre-K. My youngest is almost 2. For the first half of the year my littlest was still napping twice a day so we would homeschool mostly in the morning while he slept. But now, with him at just one afternoon nap a day, I homeschool my oldest in the morning while the other two play, and then homeschool my preschooler during my youngest's nap in the afternoon. This schedule has worked out perfectly for us as we manage to get everything done around 2ish at the very latest each day😊 We also alternate homeschooling in our home with homeschool classes at the local YMCA with other kiddos two days a week, which has been wonderful for adding in that socialization aspect. Thank you for sharing about your homeschooling approach - I'll be interested to hear more as time goes on! Best wishes with your upcoming school year as well!!

Natalie@She Builds Her Home said...

I love this. This is so me, as well! planning a bunch of stuff all out and then totally scrapping it ;) I ended up signing my little ones up for a mother's day out program 2 mornings a week for the fall because I know it's going to be a huge challenge getting school done with them around (they have some specific needs that make it harder!) I am hoping we can work toward this type of thing the other few days a week and have it be more of a family affair :) Thanks for sharing what you guys are doing!

Brittney said...

Oops, typo there!🙈 Meant of course to call you Callie!😊

Callie said...

Brittney, yay, it's so good to hear from you!! I love how you've worked out your homeschool day, that seems like it would work really well - and so fun to know that you are homeschooling too! 😊

Callie said...

That sounds like a great plan! I'm hoping it won't be too hard to get into a good routine again after the new baby...the younger ones definitely do require some sort of plan, but I'm hoping it'll end up being easier than I think like this last year!

Callie said...

Haha, no worries at all! I just thought it might be a new nickname. 😉

The Girl who Loved to Write said...

Ooh saving this for next year!!

Elizabeth said...

Ha, I was so relieved to hear you say you didn't use those. Not that it would be been bad, but you made it sound way too easy. I was actually thinking those were fun activities, but would probably get old within a week if each toy could only really be used for one activity. That's why the fancy ones don't always work. I spent hours researching and ordering fun things for a long plane ride for my 4 year old. He hated the lacing cards and art supplies and only wanted the toys...which he could do creative play with for hours. That's so true that little ones want to copy the big ones and be in on the action. I know every family does it differently. I think if you plan out all the non-negotiables like mealtimes, etc., then you see where the natural time for schooltime lies. My little one is less work to entertain in the first hour or two after she's woken up, and then gets cranky/needy. So I just keep that in mind. I have the art supplies in the kitchen and I let my son get a few out while I'm doing kitchen chores. He launched into color theory completely on his own, mixing play dough together and seeing what the combinations would make. I hung up an alphabet poster, but he isn't really interested. So they can be good at taking the lead and helping shape the curriculum.

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