Teaching your own kids is a HUGE challenge, and one that many of you haven’t asked for. The biggest question I hear from homeschoolers is “How do I homeschool my kids when I have a baby or toddler who demands my attention?” Here are a few tips to help you keep your sanity.
1. Rely on short bursts rather than lengthy teaching sessions
I think new homeschoolers have a vision in their heads of what “teaching” should look like. They envision a teacher (in this case, the parent) sitting alongside of the child, explaining things, watching the child work through each problem or read each page, correcting work and misinformation as they work…well, this is not reality.
Even in “traditional” school, the teacher typically isn’t standing in front of the room, lecturing for long lengths of time. Short bursts of time are devoted to concentrated “direct” instruction, and then children are sent off to practice new skills, review their work independently, work on projects, or take a break.
If you can get 5 solid minutes of time per subject, that is great! Most people’s attention span for that hard-core learning wanes after the first five minutes anyway. So pack the good stuff into those five minutes, and then give your learner a break (or a related activity), while you tend to your little one/s.
2. Forget the kitchen table
The kitchen table is where many homeschoolers do their “schoolwork”, but people with young children know that babies and toddlers are not going to sit nicely at a table while you work with your older kids.
So forget the kitchen table! Get on the floor of the living room, go outside, or hang out in a playroom/bedroom. All you need is a few clipboards for any paper/pencil activity. You might find that your school-aged child/ren actually do better when they are not at a table or desk. Many kids prefer to do their work standing up or laying down on their stomachs. This way your baby/toddler can play while your school-aged child does their work.
3. Rethink the amount of time you need to spend on school
A typical day at a traditional, 4-wall school involves a LOT of time – time for instruction, time for transitions, time for lunch and recess and assemblies, and specials, and passing periods, and announcements and clean up, and pack up, and…
Your day at home with your children should be much shorter than in their traditional school. (Psst – this is one reasons people decide to homeschool). If you want an 8:00-3:00 schedule for your kids (because you need it for your own sanity) you can definitely make it happen. You can do this by adding in all of those breaks and structure the day with outdoor time, creative time, technology time, etc. But if you want to just knock out the academic “work” in 1-3 hours, that is very possible. The exception to this would be older middle or high school students who require more time to complete their assignments, but they are more independent anyway and can work while you and baby/toddler go about your day as usual.
4. Take advantage of naptime
It is soooo tempting to use naptime for yourself (laundry, dinner prep, cleaning up, taking a nap yourself), but it might be the one quiet time of day you get. If you have younger kids who nap, use the time to really pay attention to your school-aged kids. Save the hardest work for this time. You won’t have the distraction of the little one/s, and can give your school-aged child some one-on-one attention.
5. Bring your younger child (children) into the learning
Whenever you can, try to include your little one/s into the learning.
- They can observe science experiments. Even if they do not understand what is happening, they will be learning a lot just by observing
- Little ones can pour ingredients into a bowl for cooking lessons
- They can use sidewalk chalk to “write” or “do math” when the older kids use it to work out their math problems
- Older siblings can read to younger ones as a way to practice their own reading fluency
- They can do their own activities alongside of their sibling/s (coloring, shape activities, fine motor activities, etc.). Check out Pinterest and Instagram (@busytoddler and @dayswithgrey are two great accounts with tons of ideas). Just remember that little ones have shorter attention spans and will need more activities to keep them busy than their older siblings.
6. Restrict access to toys and activities
This may sound weird to implement, but it WORKS. Hide certain toys and activities away until you need them. Perhaps your toddler loves Play-Dough. Do NOT allow access to the Play-Dough all day, every day. Save it for “independent” work time, or for times when you need to give some direct attention to your school-aged child. If you only allow access at a certain time of day, or certain days of the week, it will seem more special than if you allow your child to play with it whenever they want to.
Another way you can restrict access is keeping toys/activities in a certain area of the house and using these different areas throughout the day. For example, keep fun sensory activities in the kitchen, fine-motor activities in the living room, crafts in the basement/office/den, and bubbles and bikes in the backyard. Visit these different areas throughout the day, and as mentioned above, your school-aged child can also rotate to different areas with a clipboard or laptop.
7. Use technology wisely
Make sure access to TV, tablets, and computers is thought through strategically. You may want to allow your school-aged child to use these during the part of the day that is the most challenging for your baby/toddler. And if you are going to give your young child access to any technology, make that time count. Use that time to get through the tougher work with your school-aged child. Or, use that time for yourself – take a breath, stretch, do some chores that are hard to get done with a small human following you around.
8. Get up earlier
Ugh! I know, I know. This one sounds horrible, and it can be, but sometimes just giving yourself 30-60 minutes sans children can make a huge difference. Use this first part of the day however it would be most beneficial to you. This may mean household tasks (cleaning, dishes, laundry, paperwork), planning time (figuring out what your day is going to look like so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute), some self-care (meditation, exercise, journaling) – whatever is hard to get done when all of those tiny humans wake up.
Learning how to homeschool with babies and toddlers in the mix is no easy task, but it can be done. Give yourself some time to figure out the tips that work for you and your kids, because it doesn’t happen overnight. Good luck, Parents – you can do this!