OCCUPYING TODDLERS
While Trying to Homeschool!


One Location

We have been homeschooling for about five years. While it has been one of the best decisions we have ever made, it has also been challenging. We find that keeping all the children in one location is very helpful. The little ones have their own desk if they want to color or do their 'work'. They know they have to be quiet in that area. We also allow them to play quietly on the floor with a special box that contains educational materials appropriate for them. 

If they are too noisy, they must leave and play in their room or the kitchen which is close by. If it's becoming “one of those days” then I try to have the older children working as independently as possible and spend a little extra time with the little ones. 

They know that when all school work is complete we do a fun activity. Everyone looks forward to that. It could be a science project that everyone helps with or a walk outside--usually something that will help them spend their extra energy.

BRENDA SAVERCOOL
Pitkin, Louisiana, USA
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Number Train

We made up a fun activity that keeps our four-year-old occupied while I'm working with the older children.  We call it the "number train." 

I took three shoeboxes and strung them together to be his "train cars" and tied a long string to the first box to use as a handle. We select another location in the house (for us, it's the living room) to be the "train station."  We place a number of small objects (marbles, toy soldiers, blocks, etc.) on the coffee table to be the "passengers." 

He pulls the train to me in the school room, where I'm working with the other children and I attach little cards with numbers on them to each box with paper clips.  He chugs out of the room to the train station to pick up his passengers.  If the card on the first box says "4," he puts four objects in that box, and so on. He chugs and choo-choos back to the school room for me to check and give him different number cards.

When all of the passengers are with me in the school room, he's all done.  We have also modified this to work on letters and colors. He feels like he's working with me, but he's going back and forth to the train station often enough that I can work with the older children at the same time. 

Who doesn't like chug-chugging and choo-chooing to their little heart's content?

LAURA PENTECOST
Fremont, Indiana, USA
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Keep Changing Activities

I recommend changing activities every half hour so that the child does not get bored, though sometimes I do stretch this time longer.

One-on-one time

I have a special time set apart in the beginning of the day for one-on-one time with the young children. This time is usually half an hour which increases in length as they get older. During our one-on-one time we might read, sing, color, work on training issues or the child might work alongside me. Spending this time with them first helps them to feel loved and gives me the ability to work on training them.

Blanket time!

While I work with an older child (or two!), the young child plays with a small box of toys. I rotate the toys to avoid boredom. The child is required to stay on the blanket! Sometimes, I also assign "couch time" for an older toddler. The child is required to sit on the couch and look at books or play with puzzles. "Room time" is fun also. I turn on a music tape, CD or book tape while the child plays with a set amount of toys. You can start with 10 minutes and work your way up to half an hour. They grow to love it and it teaches the child to play and be content alone.

Older Sibling Helper

I assign playtime or reading time with an older sibling. This helps to build their friendship and teaches the older sibling to serve the younger ones.

Nap time!

Don't let go of this!

In your Lap

Teach your toddler to sit quietly in your lap or beside you. They can learn to color on a piece of paper while the other children are writing or play quietly with blocks at your feet while you teach a math lesson.

HEATHER TULLY
Delaware, Ohio, USA
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Include the Toddlers

The best way I have found to occupy busy toddlers is to include them!  This means you must plan for your toddler just as you plan for your school children.  Jot down a list of things your little one can do in the areas of taking care of himself. Never underestimate what a young child can do. They will certainly surprise you if you spend some time instructing and training them!

In our home, we have a chart on the refrigerator with a small picture of each task in the order I would like them to be done each day. You can use your own digital pictures in a Word document or cut and paste from a magazine.  

Above each picture is a simple description, e.g. "Brush your teeth" has a picture of a little girl brushing. After about a week of walking my children through the list they can do it by themselves, with my five-year-old daughter helping my two-year-old son. Meanwhile, I can nurse my baby or get breakfast ready.

For personal care, our list includes going potty (my son is potty training), getting dressed, putting away PJs, combing hair, and eating breakfast, which is when I teach the children from the Bible. Our Bible time includes a "hymn of the week" and learning the Apostle's Creed.

During chores, my children make their own beds. No, they do not do it perfectly, but they do their best! Then they can pick two chores each from a list of four.  The first chore is emptying the bathroom trash into the kitchen trash every day, even if they are not full (put a rubber band around the liner so only the trash dumps out). 

Next, I bought a Dustbuster for cleaning crumbs from under the table each morning, and for cleaning up hair from the bathroom floor. Two-year-old boys generally LOVE noisy chores like this one!  The other two chores are sorting silverware from the dishwasher and helping with the laundry. I am AMAZED at how many laundry steps young children can accomplish with a little instruction! 

Now we are ready for school. School in our home is known better as "fun time with Mama!" Both older children participate while my baby naps. At the table, my son can do sticker books, color, sort "counting bears," write on the slate or dry-erase board, or play with a toy. Reading time is all-inclusive. My lap can be quite full, especially if it's time to nurse again! 

JENNY HINTON (Second generation homeschool mom)
Munford, Tennessee, USA
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Train to Stay

I have a 19 month old who is into everything. And he LOVES to climb. I found it very distracting to home school his two older brothers while my toddler was running around the house climbing on top of everything. Therefore, I spent a few afternoons training him to “stay on the rug” and play quietly with his toys. 

I home school the older boys at a desk on one side of the living room and we have an area rug in the middle of the sitting area on the other side. When I need him to stay put to concentrate better, I tell him to “stay on the rug.” 

Because I keep him in the room with us, he hears his brother practicing his phonics and he has picked up almost all of the sounds.  He mimics them in the background and it makes his brothers laugh. This makes learning all the better! 

KAREN ADAMS
Aubrey, Texas, USA
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Older Children can Help

Now that my older children (aged 11, 9, 8 and 6) are focusing on long division, fractions, decimals, and percents, it is not as easy to include my three-year-old in their work. I now get my older children to rotate blocks of time playing one-on-one with their little sister, Faith. This gives me one-on-one time with each of the others during math time, while it promotes sibling bonding and, hopefully, a servant heart. 

The children look forward to their time with her, and she will often bounce up to the next sibling with a beautiful smile on her face and beam, "It's your turn!"  With each sibling, Faith gets a fresh playmate, a variety of personalities, and never-ending game ideas!

When the older children are working on independent work, Faith gets me!  She can tag along as I do chores, learning the foundations of skills around the house, or work with puzzles, coloring, and Play Dough when we all study together. When she was two, it was not easy (actually very frustrating!), but the patience and training has paid off now, especially when we read science or history books together, or when they listen to the Bible or read-alouds.

I believer it is important not to overlook behavior problems in a toddler, even if it means stopping a homeschool lesson. Do not overlook it! It is tempting to ignore a toddler's bad behavior for the sake of the homeschool lesson at hand, but it is far better in the long run to stop the lesson and take advantage of the training.

REBEKAH HIXON
Altoona, Alabama. USA
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Blanket Time

While homeschooling three of the children, my two toddlers play on a 5 x 5 blanket with a plastic shoebox filled with small toys. I call it blanket-time. My two toddlers sit and play on the blanket for up to two hours. I keep the box only for blanket-time. Blanket time is my portable playpen. I use it in church. I even use it while visiting other families. 

I cannot have my little ones running all over the place unsupervised while I try to homeschool, so blanket-time has helped to keep order in my home.

AMPARA CUCUTA
Highland, New York, USA
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It Pays to Plan

A little bit of planning and organization in the summer has saved my sanity this school year. Here is what I did:

For my 1 1/2 year old I bought six Rubbermaid shoebox size tubs (97 cents each at Wal-Mart) and filled each with a quiet activity. When it is school time she gets to pick a tub and sit and play quietly at our dining room table with us while I teach my kindergartner.

The different tubs include:

1. Empty tubs with lids (such as margarine tubs, empty bacon bits tub) and plastic frogs. This is Hannah's favorite! She puts the frogs in a container, twists the lid on and then takes them out and puts them in another container and so on. When we were on Christmas break she kept looking up to the shelf in the kitchen where I keep her tubs and asking for her frogs.
2. Wooden blocks for stacking.
3. Board books to look at.
4. Plastic zoo animals (elephant, monkeys, giraffe etc.).
5. Plastic play food and dishes to cook with.
6. Empty measuring cups (1/2, 1/4 etc.) to stack together.

The basic rules are one tub out at a time and to pick up her things when finished. Each tub has no more than 15 or 20 objects to pick up. I get out one tub per subject (math or reading time) and she needs to be happy with this the whole time. No asking to switch after five minutes.  

For Theo, my four-year-old, I found a great book called Preschool Activities in a Bag by Paula Reetz and Sherri MacLean, www.ActivityBags.com. This book was a lifesaver. It gives instructions to make simple and inexpensive activities to keep your preschooler busy and learning while schooling older children.

In the summer I made 20 activities. Each activity is kept in its own zip lock bag in a file cabinet in the corner of our dining room. When it is school time Theo picks an activity to work on. Some of his favorites are cutting out shapes, matching lower case to upper case letters, and sorting coins. 

All the supplies for each activity are contained in the bag so Theo can independently set up and clean up. The other big advantage of having all these activities ready is that I can grab a bag and set both my four and six year old to work on something educational while I do office work. This is much better than letting them watch T.V.

I concentrate better with everyone in the same place; I don't send the younger ones off to go play at school time. Instead, they sit at the table and do their school work. This way they learn that school time is “sit and work quiet time” and they look forward to this time.

HILLARY CRANDALL
Denver, Colorado, USA
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Participation

The first year I homeschooled my daughter Elizabeth, I was concerned about what I would do with my very active 2 1/2 year old son. I tried letting him watch educational preschool videos during teaching times, but I soon realized that he wanted to be a "big boy" and do "school" with his big sister as well. 

So, I set up a desk for him and involved him in every part of our day. I purchased and designed my own worksheets to keep Ethan busy while Elizabeth was doing her math and handwriting pages.

They both participated in reading times and all other subjects, as well as field trips and other activities--and they both had so much more fun!  Ethan has learned so much, and he is completely unaware that he really isn't in school yet!

ALISON BABCOK
Murrieta, California, USA
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Paint with Water Books

We use "Paint with Water" pictures with our toddler while I work with the two older children. I give him two pictures at a time to "paint" and this is his homeschool "work".  I keep it in a folder and store it with the older children’s work folders so he feels big like them.

The "paint with water" books are great because they only require a little dish of water and a brush--the color is already on the page and spreads when the brush goes over it. There is no mess and the only liquid they use is water.

CHARLENE WITEK
Des Plaines, Illinois, USA
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Younger Children First

I recently purchased Susan Bradrick's CD, "Twenty-four Hours is all you get." She makes a wonderful case for putting time with the younger children first--a priority above the school-aged children.

Instead of finding something to fill up their time, they get focused attention in the prime hours of the day. More time can be devoted to the school-aged children while the younger ones are napping.

She really helped me understand that I cannot afford to waste these fleeting, crucial, tender years with my youngest ones.

I am adapting this principal into our daily routine. I begin my day with the four-year-old cuddling, reading with me and being with me in my room while I make my bed, read my Bible, pray, etc.

He really relishes this time with Mommy, and will say "I didn't get my cuddles" if we miss it. I also spend time with the little ones while the older ones are cleaning up after breakfast/first school session.

ANN HINES
Willow Springs, Missouri, USA
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Play dough is my Answer

A few weeks ago we were trying to do our schoolwork around the kitchen table.  Our youngest son was trying desperately to be involved in the process. I put out some cans of play dough, cookie cutters and letter stamps and he had a ball. The older children ended up doing their spelling words with the play dough as well. 

BETSY PENDERGRASS
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Bag Swap

A group of homeschooling moms and I are getting together for a Toddler Activity Bag Swap!  Ten of us!

The bags will follow certain rules; they must be very inexpensive, if not free, to assemble. They must allow a toddler to use them independently (though it may take a few minutes for mom to demonstrate the first time). They must be easy to clean up, and there must not be any parts that are a choking hazard for littler babies lurking around.

Each bag will be assembled in big Ziploc bags with a little white zipper handle, NOT the type that has to be pressed together.

Here are some of the ideas:

  • Cardboard shapes with holes punched around the edges, and a piece of yarn tipped with masking tape. Sewing!
  • A pie tin and small toys with magnets glued on the bottom.
  • An empty paper towel roll and a toy car to roll thorough it.
  • Several cups of various sizes to stack and build.
  • Chalk on dark construction paper.
  • Crayons and sandpaper (an interesting change from paper).
  • A big puzzle with five or six pieces, homemade or purchased from a yard sale or thrift store.
  • Very big beads and a drinking straw (easier to handle than string).  Mom can make a sample pattern for the child to follow if she glues the two end beads.

Here are some ideas that one mom can do for her own toddler:

  • A can of shaving cream and a nice smooth surface (counter, inflatable pool, cookie sheet)
  • A shallow bucket of water with boats, scoops, etc.   
  • Cornmeal on a cookie sheet to practice writing with a finger.
  • A spray bottle of water and a small dry towel for "washing windows."
  • Make a necklace with string and cheerios.
  • Picture book and tape to be enjoyed on headphones so they don't bother other children.
  • Record your own personalized tape for your child to listen while he looks at his favorite book.
  • A flashlight.
  • When a flashlight gets boring by itself, you can add cut-out shapes of cardboard for a shadow and light show (an older child may enjoy building a little tent of blankets and chairs to create a dark space).
  • Beanbags and a bucket.
  • A drop of food coloring in water, an eye dropper, and a paper towel or coffee filter.
  • Clothespins and just about anything that can be clipped together; paper, cloth, paper cups.
  • A disposable camera.
  • Pictures with colored glue. If you use this on a smooth plastic surface, such as a page protector, you can peel the pictures off when it's dry!  It’s also great fun to paint your hand, let it dry, and peel it off like extra skin!
  • A captured bug in a jar.

MAGDALENA ALVAREZ
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
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Begin with the Youngest

I used to have the idea that the most "important" school should be first in the day. We'd start with devotions; I'd do what was necessary for the oldest, and work on down to the youngest. 

With this schedule, I had a lot of trouble with my third child's attitude. I realized she felt very left out, as often her "school" was neglected when school for the two oldest took too long.  I changed my plan, and began school with the youngest.

The first 30 minutes after devotions, I devoted to my preschooler, including her younger sister when she wished. During this time, the older work independently. This is very special time to us, and has helped my preschooler feel very treasured. She never gets left out. 

After our time together, I have a number of things for her to work on independently, and they vary depending on the day of the week.  She absolutely adores coloring, which makes it easy to satisfy her. 

Anything a child likes will help--puzzles, workbooks, cutting, making pictures with colored shapes, painting with water books, making shape pictures with rubber bands on pegboard, etc. Variety each day keeps things fresh. 

Also, something that worked wonderfully was scheduling a short "school session" with her older sister. The two girls loved their time together. My oldest thought it great fun to be the teacher and the younger was kept busy and learning. It was a win-win situation all around.

The key to this time is having an activity prepared for them ahead of time. I would vary the activity according to the day of the week, e.g. Mondays would involved something to help learn the ABC's, Tuesday would be numbers related, Wednesday might be shapes or colors, Thursday would be a Bible story activity and Friday could be a craft.

By the time she was done with her school with me, her independent activity and her short school session with older sister, the six year old would have free time to play with her.

I found it was definitely hardest when I had a newborn, two-year-old and four-year-old. It gets easier as you have children who are a little older and can help out more.

TAMI CAIAZZA
Rose Hill, Kansas, USA
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Rice Play

I have a shallow Rubbermaid container about half full of rice. I toss in several cups and a couple of sand toys. This keeps my two and three year olds entertained for about two hours at a time.

Granted, I only pull it out about once every two weeks. We set the ground rules of no dumping and trying to keep it in the box. For the most part, it works great.

It takes an extra couple of minutes with the vacuum cleaner when play time is over, but those precious hours of uninterrupted play is invaluable to the rest of the family!

My friends think I am nuts because this inevitably produces a little extra work for me but it's a trade off I am willing to make.

AUBREY FREEMAN
Huntsville, Alabama, USA
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Preschool Teachers

Things have gotten much easier since I was introduced to the assumption that 95% of what we teach is remembered.  With that in mind, I make it a point each day to have our nine and seven year olds teach our four and two year olds so I can have time with the opposite one.

The Teacher of the Preschooler pulls out a drawer full of all sorts of preschool "teaching" objects like an abacus, flashcards (picture, number, and alphabet), blocks, and much more.  I often purchase items for this drawer, to keep it interesting. There are also lots of writing utensils (markers, crayons, watercolor paints) papers, child-safe scissors and glue available.    

We've done this for a full year now, and it's amazing how much the older children have taught them, especially our little four-year-old guy. They've pretty much given him a full K4 education! The older ones have benefited not only in their own learning but also in good habits such as patience, perseverance and helping others.   

When they do not need my help, the older children do their schoolwork independently such as reading and copy work. This frees me up to do housework with my toddler following after. Our K4 child is well old enough to know how to respect the work of others, so I expect him to be quiet and read or write or else he needs to go play in his room while they work.

LORI SEABORG
Pensacola, Florida, USA
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Advice from an Older Mom

Toddlers First

If you give your toddler the first part of the day, he or she will be much more content the rest of the day. Sit on the couch and read to them, do finger plays, talk about colors, shapes, days of the week, months of the year, community helpers or your family. Teach them some songs and have special cuddle time with them. Fill their tank with your love and attention, hugs and smiles.

Special School Only Toys

Start a list of special toys you would like to collect over time for your toddler to play with during “school.” I have a list on my organizer called “Wee Hands Busy School.” Some of the things on my list are: magnets on a cookie sheet, tinker toys, bee’s wax, baby-bendable toy, notebook, cutting and pasting box, Tupperware containers, audio tapes, sticker books, felt and pipe cleaners, etc.

I also save little toys that have a small container, like our Winnie the Poo house, which has a handle, snaps closed, and contains small Winnie the Poo characters we have saved over the years.

These toys are kept and brought out only during special school time. If you have a baby who is not walking yet, keep some special baby toys in a basket for baby to play with near you only during school time. The little ones start to look forward to this time when they have their special toys, and are kept occupied while you sit with their older brothers and sisters. They feel “big” because they are “doing school” too.

After Lunch and Before Nap Time

While your bigger children are cleaning up your lunch mess, take additional special time to sit with your baby and/or toddler to read and sing to them before you put them down for their nap. If you are consistent with your nap time, bed time and getting up time, your toddlers will be more peaceful. Let your children work with things they can do independently during the morning hours. Use nap time to work on special projects and one-on-one with your older children without worrying about little hands disturbing your work.

Half a Day Schedule

Toddlers love repeat activities, and function better with a schedule. If a full day schedule is too burdensome for you, try a schedule for half a day until nap time.

A sample schedule might be:

7:30 – 8:30 Breakfast and Clean up.
8:30 – 9:00 Chores (Toddlers can help empty the dishwasher, empty small trash cans and put in liners, pick up toys, straighten shoes in the closet, fold washcloths and match socks).
9:00 -- 9:20 Couch Time with Toddlers.
9:20 – 10.00 “Hands On” activities, math manipulatives, puzzles, play dough, coloring, dress up, special video or audio tapes.
10.00 – 10:15 Snack.
10:15 – 10:45 Outside or exercise.
10:45 – 11:15 Minute clean up.
11.00 – 11:30 Toddler Special School Toys while you sit with older children.
11:30 -- 11:45 Lunch prep.
11:45 – 12:15 Lunch.
12:15 Reading time with small ones while older ones clean up.
1:00 Nap time for babies and toddlers, one-on-one with older children.

LYNETTE CRIDDLE
Canyon Lake, Texas, USA
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More Ideas

Here are some of my ideas:
•    Buy a small hard plastic pool and place it on the kitchen floor nearby. A few measuring devises, funnels, spouts, spoons, and bake ware items, along with something to measure and pour (water, dry lentils, rice, cheerios) provide lots of great fun. Supervision is a must, of course.
•    Spread a tarp on the floor and spray foam shaving cream. Young children love to smear it around. Actually, you can do this on tile or linoleum flooring and wipe when done for a sparkling floor!
•    Have a bin of "school time toys" that only make an appearance when you need total cooperation from the little ones. When you have to really focus, bring out the bin. The toys will keep the child's fascination longer because their newness has not worn off.
•    Plan lessons around nap or rest time.
•    Provide paper and crayons for the younger siblings to "do school" right along with the older ones. You'll be amazed at how much they learn just by being close to you.

MICHELLE PIPPIN
Pueblo, Colorado, USA
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