Here are some survival tips for homeschooling when you also have a baby or toddler in the house. (Or both!)
Little ones definitely make homeschooling more challenging. Babbling toddlers make it difficult to read out loud, and it’s hard to see the words on the page when someone is bouncing up and down on the couch. We have had either a baby or a toddler in the house for Aidan’s entire school career, and you now what? It has been OKAY! He is in 7th grade now, and on grade level. We actually moved him to a university model school halfway through his sixth grade year, and that ended up being an EXCELLENT choice. Unfortunately, that option is not available in many areas, and we have to pay tuition now, which can be prohibitive. Check out this post to read more about our decision, and I also included ideas in that post for making homeschooling work with middle schoolers when you have little ones at home: Transitioning to a University Model School.
Last fall, there came a point at which I couldn’t take the chaos anymore! Janie was a difficult baby, Jonathan was a needy preschooler, and Owen was, well, Owen!
Here’s what I did:
- I set up an area for toys near our homeschool space. I would love, love, love it if Jonathan and Owen would play upstairs in the game room while we do school downstairs. But they won’t. They have to be where we are. So I decided to just go with it – but on MY terms.
Every Sunday night (well, most Sunday nights), I change out the contents of this shelf. Different books, different toys. This has been a chance for them to “rediscover” toys that were forgotten in the game room.
Here are some ideas for a rotating toy area:
- Stuffed animals
- Plastic animals
- Duplo Legos
- Toy dinosaurs and real sticks and rocks for setting up a scene
- Hot Wheels
- Lincoln Logs
- Magna Tiles
- Playmobil (or Playmobil 123 for toddlers)
- Junk mail and scissors for cutting it up
- Alphabet magnets and a surface to stick them to
The rule is that when it’s time on our new-and-improved schedule for Owen and Jonathan to play at this spot, they MUST stay there. It’s amazing how creative they can be with a few toys when they know they have to just play there and make the most of it! Now that Janie is mobile, we have to limit our toy selections on this shelf to things that are safe for her too. Duplo is awesome when it comes to baby-safe toys that bigger kids like too!
Independent Activities for Preschoolers
I also created a separate post with 40+ Activities for Preschoolers. These are activities that we use during school time – things that are independent. Well, as independent as a preschooler can be!
- Then I fired up the printer and printed coloring pages and activities for preschoolers. After I set up our new toy area, I filled up the printer with paper and went crazy printing off pages from my favorite bloggers – Check out This Reading Mama, 3 Dinosaurs, and The Measured Mom for free printables. Jonathan and Owen have enjoyed cutting practice pages, coloring, and writing.
- I now schedule out everyone’s day – even the toddler’s. I have written in the past about how a schedule with exact times on it did not work for us. We have always used a checklist to make sure that we get everything done, and we mostly follow the same routine each day. Well, I decided to give a time schedule a try, and it has definitely helped! The reason that it’s working is that the older boys are getting started on their work at 8:50 a.m. every day even if I am still changing a diaper or cleaning up a mess. Also, I am forced to make sure that everyone has something to do all day long, and that the things they are doing actually work. For example, I don’t schedule Aidan’s guitar practice during Janie’s nap. And since I have thought out ahead of time when he should practice guitar that won’t interfere with nap time, it actually gets done.
Here’s an example of scheduling a 6th grader, 3rd grader, kindergartner, 2 year old, and baby:
8:30 Morning Jobs: Make bed, put away pajamas, brush teeth, each person has one kitchen job.
8:50 Quiet work time: Gresham does handwriting, Wordly Wise (vocabulary), and his Awana handbook. Aidan does his Bible reading for youth group, Wordly Wise, and guitar practice. Owen and Jonathan play at the toy shelf.
9:30 Bible time and History. I read the history lesson (The Mystery of History) and we discuss. Owen and Jonathan color during this time (things I printed off the internet!).
10:00 Break and snack. I put Janie down for her morning nap.
10:30 Math for Gresham (I help him), Aidan does grammar/spelling, Owen does phonics/handwriting.
11:00 Math for Aidan (I help him), Gresham does grammar/spelling, Owen does math.
1:30 Read Aloud
2:00 Nap for Jonathan. Owen plays quietly. Aidan and Gresham finish work from the morning – Aidan usually has math to finish and the journal part of science. We also do writing during this time.
3:00ish – Play outside
5:00 More outside time or TV time while I make dinner
The 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. hour requires the greatest amount of multi-tasking on my part, but Janie is almost always asleep during that time, so it works.
**This schedule was from last fall, we will adapt is slightly this fall now that Janie doesn’t take a morning nap anymore.
Rule #1: The value of a little sibling far outweighs the interruptions they cause to the school day! Don’t ruin the relationship by being frustrated at the interruptions. They are only this age for a short time, really.
If you have a toddler who is age 12-18 months, do not stress out! This is probably the hardest age, and it will pass. Eventually. For us, the toddler stage has been marked by two things: straining to read out loud over the constant toddler babble and endless, endless activity. The best bet is to hang in there, get what you can done, and know that it will get better. If there is a safe place in your home where the toddler can play independently without getting into trouble, take your school books to that room!
If you have a toddler or baby and your oldest child is 2nd grade or younger, do not stress out!
School for a 2nd grader and below really does not require more than about 3 hours per day.
Sample schedule for one homeschooled child (K-2nd grade) plus younger siblings:
9:00 a.m. Read aloud while younger siblings play in the same room. (Bible reading, History, or a good chapter book)
9:30 a.m. Handwriting/Spelling/Copywork. Move to another room for this so baby has a new place to play. Preschooler does play dough.
10:00 a.m. Put baby down for nap. Snack time.
10:30 a.m. Grammar book or phonics. Preschooler does cutting practice or coloring.
11:00 a.m. Science. Read outside if the weather is nice and the preschooler can play.
11:30 a.m. Play time.
12:00 noon – Lunch
1:30 p.m. Afternoon nap time for baby and preschooler. Math and writing in a journal for school age child.
2:30 p.m. Quiet play time for school age child, other two hopefully still sleeping! Mom can rest!
3:30 p.m. Outside play for everyone.
Another schedule option: I have a friend who uses a rotation system each morning. She sets a timer for 15 minutes, and her children rotate through four different stations (math with mom, piano practice, etc.) every time the timer goes off. It doesn’t matter what time it is exactly when they start the rotation – but it gets done, and there’s a structure to it.
Even with structure, we still have interruptions! There’s no perfect system or schedule for homeschooling because 2 year old’s don’t consult the schedule first when they decide to take their diaper off and poop on the carpet in the game room – ha! But a little planning goes a long way. I have learned that it’s really too much to expect a toddler or preschooler to entertain themselves all day, but if the day is broken up with independent play mixed in with set times for reading, coloring, building with blocks, play dough, a simple craft, etc., then the day flows more smoothly.
More Resources for Homeschooling Moms:
- 100 Tips and Tricks for Homeschool Moms – Practical ideas collected from several homeschool moms!
This post was originally posted January 2015 and updated August 2015.