One of the unique challenges of homeschooling and other forms of at-home learning is the question of “What the heck do I do with my younger child(ren) while I teach my student?!” And it’s a valid issue as many of us make plans to homeschool or have students who will be participating in online classrooms this fall. Playing the various roles of parent, teacher, and technology aide can be overwhelming enough; trying to keep younger siblings entertained and quiet while you do all of those other things can seem impossible. As a mom of one school-aged child, a preschooler, and a baby, I’m no stranger to this juggling act and can tell you that there are some hairy moments in any given day. But be encouraged because homeschooling with preschoolers and toddlers is possible. It just requires a little bit of planning and a lot of flexibility. Here are my best tips for keeping younger children occupied during school time:
- Attend to your little one(s) first. It’s tempting to prioritize your older child’s assigned work since their education is on the line, but constant interruptions and having to put a lesson on hold can be frustrating for everyone involved. Get your little one settled and content and then move into completing your older child’s work for the day. At the same time, remember that it’s okay to be flexible; breaks (intentional or otherwise) are both necessary and good.
- Have special activities reserved just for school time. Create a selection of age-appropriate books, activities, and toys that can be enjoyed independently. Play-Doh, blocks, and other hands-on activities are usually winners in my house.
- Do schoolwork during nap time. If you have the flexibility and it works for your student, move school time to when your little one is napping. One of the benefits of at-home learning is flexibility, so as much as you are able, make your schedule work for you and your family.
- Let them do some “school” too. Most preschoolers want nothing more than to do whatever big brother or sister is doing. Get workbooks from the dollar store or Amazon, hand them some crayons, and give them their “assignment.” If your child is too young for workbooks, give them a special coloring book or other educational activities. My preschooler loves to do tangram puzzles and play with the math manipulatives from his big sister’s kindergarten curriculum, which is a bonus since he’s learning even as he’s keeping himself busy. Teaching a younger child to work independently starts early and is a skill worth fostering.
- Include your toddler/preschooler as much as possible. Sure, a lot of it will go over his or her head, but you may also be surprised at how much they pick up. I’ve loved watching how my son interacts with his big sister’s lessons and how he learns from her that he might not otherwise have.
Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers IS possible and can be fun and a great way for the entire family to learn together!