Ahhh, toddlers. Gotta love ’em. I have been homeschooling successfully with toddlers for many years. Or not!
You know me, I like to keep things real. And in the interest in being perfectly honest, let me just start by saying I’ve tried everything I know how to try and nothing is ever foolproof. Nothing works all the time. Real-life isn’t like Pinterest.
Here’s the big thing I’ve learned though. Are you ready? The best thing I can do for myself and my toddlers is to appreciate them. I have lots of fun toddler stories but one of my favorites is from 1998, the first year we were homeschooling. I was still in “let’s see if I can really do this” mode and I was very serious about it all. One cold winter morning as I was teaching Sierra from our favorite book on reading “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” I noticed that I had not heard from the toddler in some time.
Quietly, stealthily, I made my way to the back of the house, down the long hallway that had four identical doors. Skylar, our 20-month-old, was behind door number 3. He had literally covered himself from head-to-toe in Desitin and then, he had proceeded to cover his ride-on giraffe in Desitin. But wait! There’s more! After that, he decided it would be a good idea to dump all the baby powder on top of himself and “Giraffey.” Have you ever tried to get powder and Desitin out of bedding and pillows and wooden toys and carpet? Let’s just say it’s not something I’d like to spend another 8 hours doing.
As you might have guessed, we didn’t get to finish our reading lesson that day. I don’t think I made dinner. Our landlord was coming over to check some faulty water heater or something. There was no way I was letting him see the house covered in baby powder and Desitin!
Toddlers. You’ve gotta love ’em. Fast forward 15 years. That toddler is now a handsome young man. His days of dumping Desitin are over until he has his own child. I’m pretty much living for that. (Just kidding.) I tell you this story to remind you that if you’re in the throes of homeschooling and toddler taming, it doesn’t last forever. Enjoy your toddlers as much as you can. Laugh as much as you can. Don’t wish these toddler years away.
Of course, there are some logistical things that might help with the “taming” part of parenting toddlers, especially if you’re trying to homeschool older children too, so here are a few things I’ve learned.
Hard truth: children need consistency. They just do. I feel sorry for moms who are being pulled and pushed around by little tyrants that are only a couple feet tall—especially when the mom could be doing something about it. Now I’m not saying every child needs the same thing, far from it! But I am saying this: most toddlers are smarter than their moms give them credit for being. Of course there’s the occasional “exception to the rule” but make no mistake, your toddler knows you. And he knows what you mean when you give instructions. This whole counting to ten or three or whatever needs to stop.
I love this book by Ginger Plowman: “Don’t Make Me Count to Three” is one of the best books on toddler taming I’ve ever read. Check it out.
Bottom line? Toddlers know they are loved when you give them boundaries and stick to them. I’m not suggesting that there is no room for grace; but grace is given, like consequences, on a case-by-case basis. Love your toddler by being consistent in every area.
Your homeschooling efforts are only as good as the relationships behind them.
This is a lesson I have learned the hard way over and over. It’s worth taking the time to find out what the problem is. Sometimes, it’s a simple case of the child needing more affirmation or time from his parents. Toddlers are growing in every way. They need lots of love and affirmation along with consistency from you. You can do both, by the way. Keep in mind that whatever you do should be motivated by love.
I have tried everything under the sun to keep our toddlers busy while we do school. Sometimes, I wait for “difficult” subjects until the toddler is napping. Sometimes, I put in a video (here are my favorite videos in the whole wide world.) Sometimes, I set up a little area at the table where the toddler can color and feel like he/she is doing “school” with us. Sometimes, I give them the Sharpies and tell them to just color the walls. (Not really. But I’ve felt like it.) My point: experiment until you find a rhythm. Do what works for you.
This has worked the best for us over the years. It’s a win/win/win if you can figure it out:
- Mom wins because someone is helping to keep the baby/toddler occupied
- Older children win because they get the “privilege” of building rapport and relationships with their siblings. Plus, helps grow them, too! I let the bigger kids bake cookies, draw, watch movies (occasionally), play games, go outside, whatever!
- Toddler benefits in a million ways—not the least of which is the foundational building blocks for great relationships with their older siblings.
Giving your older children the important role of mentor and big brother/sister is an entirely separate homeschool course. It’s worth investing in.
Love your toddler, busy mom! Soak ’em up! It only lasts a couple of years and you don’t get it back. Play, play, play when you can with your toddlers. You’ll be surprised at how their little eyes will light up. 😉
What are some of YOUR great ideas for keeping toddlers busy during the day?
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26 thoughts on “Homeschooling With Toddlers: Finding Your Way Without Losing Your Mind (or Joy!)”
Hi Heidi, thanks for these tips. I currently am homeschooling a 1st grader, Kindergartener, and 3 yr old and 18 month old. It is definitely tricky. They LOVE being right in the midst of it all.
Becky, Right?!!! 🙂
Hi, Becky! I also have a 1st grader, kindergartener, a 3 yr old and a just-turned-two year old! Right there with you, moment by moment. Learning that sometimes my best-laid plans are not HIS plans for our day! Growing and being stretched. Hang in there this school year!
I kept my younger child who is 22mo younger than her sister busy at ages 3-4 while my older one was 5-6 by providing stimulating and “messy” toddler stuff for her while my older child worked on handwriting, patterns, spelling, art or something similar.
I found measuring spoons, measuring cups, regular small plastic cups and plastic silverware as well as small bowls and old cake pans, etc. and dried pinto beans, rice, pasta noodles in variety of shapes and colors and even sand on occasion were the most interesting to my 3yr old.
And to keep my floors mess free? I blew up a small plastic wading pool and put her and all messy objects in the pool and let her have at it. I was able to contain the mess and undress her in the pool if needed on days with sand and rarely had any mess on my floors.
I also sat on the floor with the 3yr old on the right side of me pouring sand rice and beans noodles and whatever else we found from cup to cup “cooking and drinking it” with her while I was able to turn to my left and watch my 5yr old write her ABCs and simple words on a lap desk and be engaged with her at the same time since I was the only adult home.
During art days we always did big family projects that were building physical skills of holding brushes or molding clay or using play dough for physical and sensory skills as well as imagination. These were stimulating and crafty for them while at the same time turning into adorable keepsakes for me!
When you have two children so close in age yet developmentally miles away it takes some creativity with your time and activities beyond nap for one while reading to the other because naturally everyone wants to be involved with each other and not feel left out. That was my goal – to involve and engage both of my girls in activities that were age appropriate while still being together as a family. And the best benefit I didn’t see coming was how quickly the younger one picked up the concepts and ran with them. Much earlier than her peers she is reading chapter books and doing double digit math as complicated science and geography lessons and she just started first grade while her older sister is technically a third grader but she does a lot of fifth grade work. And we still do most everything together and I can explain the same topic or situation two ways so that each child understands what I am talking about and really learns the lesson. I love being a mother. So much!!! It fills and completes my soul.
Thanks for all this, Kristy!
Thanks Heidi! I have a 16, 14, 11, 7 and now 3 year old1 We just adopted our 3 year old from China last month. Obviously, I have home-schooled with toddlers before but this is REALLY DIFFERENT! The language barrier for one, the fact that he did not grow to be 3 in our home with our rules, and thirdly…he is amazed by everything and wants to experiment with everything (like standing in the toilet with shoes on and flushing repeatedly). I cannot express how much the Buddy System has helped us. The other thing that we do is I make assignments early, have the older children help the other school-aged children and then I play outside with the 3 year old. I come back in and give more instruction, then go for a bicycle ride with 3 year old. Come back, help with another assignment and go for drive with 3 year old (otherwise he would be all over the other kids). By this time he is asleep, so I carry him in and put him down for 1.5 hour nap (schedules are a must!) That is when I help the other children and get a little (very little) housework done. We all do a quick clean after school and each child has a chore chart in his/her domain (posted on backside of door/cabinet in a clear cover sheet). That is how we roll so far and we are managing to keep pretty much on schedule. Not perfect but this is such a short season of our life.
I love that, Terri 🙂 Chore charts are awesome! Congrats on your newest addition!
This was just what I needed to hear. I try to remind myself to just enjoy my wild and rebellious 2-year-old boy (who is the exact opposite of my 5-year-old girl), because I know it goes by so fast. When I look back on just the past two years, I don’t remember the pains and trials- I miss my little baby! I’m not relieved that it’s over. I try to remind myself that I will feel the same way about this very day in a few years.
And I’ve actually been reading “Don’t make me count to three” – I’m about half way through. It’s a great book! Another one I highly recommend is “Loving the Little Years” by Rachel Jankovic.
Thank you for writing this. It’s always encouraging to hear from moms who have gone through it and survived. 🙂
Hi Amanda 🙂 Welcome! I’ll look into that book—and just for the record, I haven’t survived them all yet, LOL! Just the first six! 😉
Loving the Little Years! — Yes!! I read that book a couple years ago. At the time, I had a 3-yr-old, 2-yr-old, 9-mo-old, and just found out baby #4 was on the way. The book was just what I needed, met me right where I was, and since #4 arrived, I have gone back to re-read it too!
Blessings on your school year, Becky! Keep soaking them up 🙂
I have a kindergartner, preschooler and twin 17 month olds. While we are only four weeks into our “official” homeschooling, I’ve already noticed some things making a big difference. I try to give the little girls my full attention for at least 15 minutes before I start school with the big girls. They play pretty well together for the next 20 minutes while we have circle time. We have toys in the school room that are only for school time. The biggest surprise for me was how flexible my big girls are. When the littles are ready for more attention, my big girls are totally willing to stop and play while I tend to their sisters, and are ready to start back up again when I am. Also, we have a favorite show that helps us get through the last little bit if need be ;0)
Thank you so much for your encouragement, Heidi! Your blog and Facebook page have played a huge role in helping me prepare for school! :0)
Thank you Morgan! I appreciate that! Sounds like you are doing awesome 🙂 Keep looking up!
Thank you so much for your blogs! I love reading all these ideas. I am amazed at how all you busy moms do it with so many children at all ages, mine are 3 and 9 and sometimes I feel it really hurts us that we had them so far apart in age. My son now in 3rd grade and my little angel being 3 makes it hard when they both need my constant attention, he has major focus issues and has trouble working alone without me and when Im helping him my little girl is terrorizing the dog or breaking something! I feel like Im constantly back and forth but never really getting the things done I wanted to get done and that their both missing out on things age appropriate for them. Really could use some tips on this, as my heart is so in love with homeschooling and teaching our children.
This is a great idea for a blog post, Kelly. I’ll put that on my schedule. 🙂 Welcome to my blog!
Yeah I don’t know I think a lot of these moms are liars. I have the same problem and even though some of these tips are good I think what they are not saying, is that their older kids are probably not getting a whole lot of educating done. I’m dealing with the same thing and I don’t see how you can get lessons done with a kid on your head without sacrificing the older child. I don’t think anyone really admits this and it bugs me.
Renee, no one deleted your comment (to answer the second comment you left). It was just being held in the moderation queue.
I think moms in your situation need to have different expectations and learn to see the learning that *is* getting done: building family relationships as olders help youngers by reading to them, helping with their rooms, doing chores to help keep the home moving, etc. Reading to the family as a group while the little play on the floor can afford a lot of learning while a pencil may never be picked up. There’s a lot to learn from Magic School Bus too! Learning can definitely happen, it just might look really different than in other seasons.
Every time I read your blog/FB posts, my heart is deeply touched by the love you show toward: glorifying God, loving your husband, loving motherhood and home-schooling (including its challenges), basically enjoying this blessed life God has given us, even when it includes Desitin, baby powder, and every other conceivable thing those little rascals WILL get their hands on. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the way you show love and build up your sisters in Christ. Thank you for reminding us of all that is good, worthy, and blessed. I love you, Heidi and pray that our heavenly Father bless you and your family, “good measure pressed-down-shaken-together running over.”
Thank you Nicol! You have encouraged me greatly today! xoxo -h
What a great post! I love that you recommended videos. I have one particular child who would be satisfied with nothing less than screen time while I taught the older ones. Here are some of the things I have tried over the years, and what has worked for the most difficult children: http://pookyandthegeek.com/2013/08/29/dear-pooky-how-do-i-keep-little-ones-occupied-while-homeschooling-the-bigger-kids/
Great! Thanks Megan!
for my daughter who is a busy Mum
I had a similar Desitin incident when my first born was a toddler. A friend gave me some wise insight, “At least it wasn’t poop!” That was exactly the perspective I needed!
We have a few of the NEST animated historical stories and they are great! We also like Signing Time for our toddler.
Thanks for your perspective and encouragement today. We had a rough morning.
Haha! Great perspective 🙂 Welcome, Donita!
This was really helpful. I have a 7, 5, 3, 3, and 9 mo old. Yes, I wrote 3 down twice. I have twin boys age 3. And to understand them just picture Tigger from Winney The Pooh – times two. They bounce and run and jump basically all day. I need help with what to do with them so I can teach the 7 and 5 year old. Thanks for the encouragement to appreciate them and just keep trying any and everything. I heard you at a convention a year or two ago and thought you were so fun and wise too. Grateful for women like you who are helping others along in this journey!