Homeschooling with Little Ones in Tow

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We have six kids, 12 and under, which means that we have a busy and blessed (and loud) household! One of my biggest challenges has been homeschooling with little ones in tow — handling the toddlers and infants well when trying to “do school” with the olders.

After some years under my belt managing the chaos, here are several ideas to help you do the same!

Trying to homeschool with little ones in tow? Here are some tips to manage the chaos and take care of the youngers so you can "do school" with the olders!

Make Them First

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard, and the hardest to follow for some reason, is to make them first. But it’s true! I know from experience.

My youngest kids always do better when I spend some decent, focused time playing with them first. Here are some ideas to make it a habit:

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes after breakfast to focus on the youngest while the older kids clean up or play.
  • Play with toys, build a tower, or read books with them. Have a special book basket just with learning toys and books for this time together. 
  • Include them as a special helper during your morning routines! Include them on the chores, have them help you get out the supplies for the day, etc.  

Be Flexible

It may seem obvious, but being flexible is probably the biggest key to sanity here.

  • Prioritize lessons by planning the most important subjects and lessons first, so they are sure to get done even if the rest of the day doesn’t stay on track or your little one melts down and needs mama. 
  • Establish a routine. No need for strict schedules, but sketch out a good, flexible routine that you can practice to help guide your day.  
  • Have catch-up times and days for those weeks that get away from you. Move a lesson forward, do a quick lesson before bed, or make one day or afternoon a week a catch-up day if you’re concerned about getting everything done that week.   
  • Let it Go. Yes, there are times (even seasons of time) when your little ones will need more full attention and all the planned lessons for that week won’t get done. No worries, mama! You’re homeschooling for the long haul here, so everything will pan out.  

Contain Them

  • Meal times are favorite times for lessons, especially for read alouds, memory recitation, and discussions. The littlest ones are strapped into high chairs and sometimes that’s aaallll that’s keeping them from inflicting destruction.
  • Blanket time is also an awesome tool! At about 18m old, start teaching them to sit on a blanket for 5 minutes at a time and play with toys set aside for that purpose. After a while, they can work up to 30 minutes at a time and will enjoy it as well. It’s great for doctor’s appointments too!
  • Pack and Plays are great for infants or crawlers with the same basic blanket time training steps. We have one in our living room for the toddler with some toys, books, and a blanket. Even if he protests at first, he eventually settles down to snuggle or play quietly. 
  • Car rides are perfect for practicing memory work or listening to audiobooks. Make a recording where you are reading memory verses, Bible passages, or other things you’d like them to memorize.

Employ Busy Bags and Simple Activities 

Whether you call them busy bags, busy boxes, or tot trays, these can be a great way to keep your littles occupied while schooling. They are basically activities or toys set aside just for these special times to keep them entertained.

  • Be patient. Busy bags aren’t always a hit initially. Nor do littles always play along and keep themselves occupied while you’re homeschooling. Over time, however, they’ll learn when it’s time to play with the busy bags or other toys while you’re at the table with the olders.
  • Use them during blanket time. They are easily portable and contained, so they are ideal for that purpose.
  • Start simple. Some of ours include simple felt character scenes, counting bears with a small muffin pan for sorting, and geoboards with rubber bands for the preschooler. Put together interesting objects that suit the developmental stage of your child.

Use Naptime… Or Not

  • Teach during nap time for those subjects where your child needs focused attention or you just don’t want someone eating the pencils they’re trying to write with.
  • Or take that time to rest yourself, because you need that some days more than your kid needs a math lesson! And your kids will be happier if mommy is happier. Just saying.

Let Them “Do School”

  • Simple art projects in the high chair with chunky crayons, washable paint, or playdoh. 
  • Try faux school, giving them something that looks similar to what their older kids are doing makes them happy. 
  • Use a fun preschool curriculum that’s designed with play in mind! This could be something you pull together with weekly activities, or a great curriculum like A Year of Playing Skillfully.  

 

It’s certainly true that homeschooling with toddlers and babies around can be challenging. Hopefully some of the tips here have provided ideas and inspiration for your own household! At the end of the day, we can embrace the chaos knowing that not only is this just a season of life, but it is a blessed one.

While little ones may derail the best laid plans, we can model for all our children an attitude of flexibility and forbearance. In fact, having those youngest siblings around teaches our children much in the way of compassion, kindness, and patience. Homeschooling is truly a family affair!

What ideas for homeschooling with little ones would you add to the list? Let’s help our fellow homeschool moms out. 🙂 

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This Post Has 56 Comments

  1. You sound busy. My youngest is now five so managing has become much easier. He loves building so a box of Duplo or Brio were really useful when he was about three but there is a stage before that when concentration span is short and he was hard to occupy.

    1. Hello. I like the ideas about prioritizing subjects and make up days and times. I like to do Bible and then the hardest subject first then easier and favorite subjects later. I also generally plan for four days worth of school work and use the fifth day for catch up or special projects. Lort S

  2. “Faux school” is what works for us most often. For instance, yesterday my oldest were coloring a picture where they colored certain blends different colors. I made shapes on a paper for my 3 year old and wrote the blends on them and had him color them whatever color the older kids were doing at the moment. He was learning shapes, colors, and I’m sure it didn’t hurt him to see the blends on there even though he doesn’t necessarily understand what they are yet. Doing what the others are doing keeps him happy.

  3. Love all the homeschool groups I can join

  4. I find that Planned messes are easier to deal with than the unexpected ones, so I’ll give the toddler something messy to play with. Flour/oats/rice with bowls and spoons on the kitchen floor is always a big hit. And I’d much rather sweep that up than scrub marker off the walls or an entire tube of toothpaste out if the sink! Lol!

  5. This is the first year I’ll be homeschooling and have a baby to keep busy! Blanket time is such a good idea. I’ll definitely be using that strategy, along with the busy bags. Thanks!

  6. I was needing some tips to keep my 2 year old entertained! Great ideas!

  7. I love the idea of setting a timer and getting a little bit in while my older child is finishing up from breakfast. Sometime I feel like if I don’t have a huge block of time, then why bother. But that is so not the way to look at school for little ones. 5-10 minutes is plenty at a time. And I love the idea of doing school at lunch. We just started Spanish….and it is great going over vocab while we all eat!

  8. Thanks for affirming the NOT doing school during naptime. The advice to wait until little ones are at nap to do school just doesn’t work for us (and is what I get most often when I ask for ideas 🙂 ).. For me, that’s when I recharge, and naptime wouldn’t be nearly long enough to get school done with my other 4. But I will be trying some of the other ideas! Especially edible! 🙂

  9. I’m glad you suggested napping when your kids nap, because you are right–homeschool mamas get worn out and grumpy from lack of sleep. 🙂

  10. Wish I had heard of Busy Bags when I had littles. Sounds perfect.
    I totally agree about giving them ‘faux’ schoolwork
    A big ‘ol chunky workbook picked up at Costco can go a long way with smaller homeschoolers!

  11. I love this. Some of these are a good reminder even for those of us that have kids growing out of these phases.

  12. Your home sounds joyful! I don’t have any littles anymore, but if I did these would be great ideas to try out.

  13. I love all the different ideas. my oldest is only 7 so we school during nap time, but this year we’re adding in a five year old so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. My 3 year old is pretty independent so it’s mostly trying to figure out how to occupy the 1 year old.

  14. I have six kids and one thing that helps me get it done is to always have an activity or assignment ready to go that the bigger kids can do on their own. When the baby or toddler looses it I pull out the activity and I can step out and take care of the little one without losing the older ones too.

  15. This is my first year using Busy Bags- I appreciate the encouragement because they haven’t been as big of a hit as I had hoped! I will keep trying!

  16. I most love the recommendation to record things we want them to memorize!

  17. My kids are all older now, but I remember the years when I had little ones. I had 4 kids in 7 years. I just want to encourage younger mothers to hang in there. Even when things don’t go even close to what you had planned, your kids are learning. Remember this it is a marathon not a sprint.

  18. Some great tips! My toddlers like to “do school” when their bigger brother is working. It really helps for me to set them up with a craft while working with my older. They really love to be included in.

  19. I love getting your emails every day!

  20. “Faux school” works great for us right now, too. Dollar store workbooks look enough like the real thing to satisfy my copycat 3 year old.

  21. I love all of the great suggestions for little ones!

  22. I do and like many of the options you presented in your article. I also plan times where an older student (meaning perhaps 2 yrs. older) will sit and play with the youngest in my family ( now 6mo) for around 10 minutes up to 30 minutes if all is happy. I encourage them to actually play with the baby…show them how to use the toys, flip through a board book and comment on the pictures, review animal sounds, colors, shapes, the ABCs, songs, etc. Then I switch and have another ‘older’ child do the same, all up until noon ( we all take a ‘recess’ at 10, so I can feed baby and they can run outside, etc). This way they are still always in my sight, on my radar, but they are growing confident in what they have learned by attempting to pass it on to someone else, they get to play, have a brain break, but not be totally derailed on their own school work. and the baby loves the one on one time with each. After noon, I have done all the one on one teaching of the others, so I am then able to spend focused time myself with each of the littler children. This has worked for us for several years now. I have 8 children if that is helpful for anyone to know.lol.

  23. Can’t even tell you how many times busy bags or trays set up with activities little ones can do have saved my sanity schooling with littles ones. I also try to include my little one in with what we are working on. Thank you for these useful tips!

  24. Having a flexible schedule is something I need to work on.

  25. Your posts are so inspiring! Thanks for the time you put into these!

  26. I love the tip of including them and making them a special helper! We did this in elementary public school, so why not at home too?

  27. My 3 year old learns best from his 5 year old sister. He copies her words and actions so much.

  28. I love the list of suggestions on keeping the little ones busy. I am a mom of five myself, keeping the younger ones entertained has always been a challenge for me.

  29. This is helpful for me since I am in this stage of schooling.

  30. I love all the support from the Facegroup pages!!!

  31. Giving my littles my first 15-20 minutes of focus and getting them interested in an activity was always the best for me when I had little ones in the mix. Also, any time I was reading to an older sibling, they were welcome to come snuggle on my lap, so my lap was rarely empty. 🙂 And as much as I didn’t think I’d ever say this, I actually miss those days! Now my youngest is a preschooler and much more independent to go off and play on her own.

  32. I only have two children but my oldest is starting Pre-K this year with a little sister tagging along so these were helpful suggestions for keeping her occupied.

  33. “At the end of the day, we can embrace the chaos knowing that not only is this just a season of life, but it is a blessed one.” Definitely the phrase I will be hanging up where I can see all the time as it really one line that stood out to me the most.

  34. Best reminder: It is okay and even the best choice for me (Mama) to take a nap/rest during nap time verses trying to accomplish one more task.

  35. The reminder to start the day with your youngest intentionally filling their love tank is always needed.

  36. Excited about critical thinking and habit tracker

  37. I like the great resources and tips

  38. I like the art in the high chair idea.

  39. Burning question: how do you record yourself to play the memory work in the car?!? I knew how to record myself on tape, LOL, but have not kept up with technology on that score!

    Other than that, I like the tip to use the 15 min of together time to play with learning toys. I got my 2 year old some Melissa and Doug beads to string, just for the purpose of keeping her occupied, but she hasn’t really gotten the hang of them yet. So maybe I can use that time to teach her, and then it will be one more thing she can entertain herself with! I genuinely love spending time with her. Everything is new and exciting and delightful to her. It’s so fun.

    Mealtimes never work for me, and it’s not just the toddlers. Somebody always needs something passed, or gets up to refill their water, or something spills, or the toddler dropped her spoon, or she’s refusing to eat, or what have you. We just started trying to listen to the 5 Minutes in Church History podcast during breakfast, and even that is a struggle.

  40. I agree that routines are critical, they help everyone focus and provide expectations. I also like someone’s suggestion about:planned messes”, to avoid destructive messes. What a great tip, i wish I thought of, would have saved my patience.

  41. All of these suggestions are perfect and practical. “Let it Go” is the hardest for me to do.

  42. This is helpful! I’ve heard about putting them first and, yes, that can be difficult to do. I like your idea of setting a timer though! I’ll have to try that.

  43. Being patient helps a lot.

  44. Contain Them! That was what we did with my daughter, as long as we were at the table, she had to be there too.

  45. I had a friend who used blanket time and it was amazing to watch her children play so contentedly on their blanket. It truly works!
    Also, naps for mom when needed are key!

  46. I loved homeschooling littles! We had special work boxes for each day of the week. They could only do that activity from the box on that particular day. This way they always looked forward to doing it the following week! We had letter boxes, playdoh boxes, little plastic animals in boxes, dry beans to play in, lace up cards, magnets, etc.

  47. The planner because it would help manage time and stay focused!

  48. I love all these ideas! Thank you!! I can’t wait to try them!

  49. I love your tips for little ones. Especially all the ones aimed at relaxing and letting it be. When my twins were toddlers and my first was entering schooling, flexibility on my part was the most key. Sometimes they did school with us, sometimes the made a mess playing with water in the bathtub… It never was the same, but if I was flexible we all ended school time happy enough and without too much of a mess to clean up.

  50. What a neat collection!

  51. This post is so helpful, I am just starting preschool with my oldest and have a almost 18 month old and am pregnant with baby 3. The hardest part for me will to be flexible with a schedule.

  52. Learning Hebrew would be fun!

  53. I have enjoyed following you through the last few years. Thanks for your love for homeschooling and God. Thanks for offering giveaways!

  54. Establish a routine. No need for strict schedules, but sketch out a good, flexible routine that you can practice to help guide your day. And to remember that these moments in time, each blessed day, is about my son and the time I get to spend with him … let the chaos go and remember to focus on him, play and engage with him; meet him at his level and with his interests.

  55. I need to practice with giving the little ones some special time first thing. I appreciate that you didn’t even bring up a possibility of screentime in your blog, but I do confess that Mr. Rogers has been a lifesaver for my day rather frequently.

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