5 Tips for Homeschooling With Little Ones in the Mix- Five Days of Homeschooling Tips

One of the questions I very often heard when my oldest two were school aged and I had two toddlers in tow was “How in the world can you get any homeschooling done with the baby and toddler around?” I would smile and say something vague like, “Yes, it’s sometimes hard to focus.” But the truth was that days often ended in tears- and not just for the little ones.

Homeschooling with little people underfoot is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in our homeschooling days. I often share with people my worst homeschooling year ever. It was the year that I had Kathryne at 6, Charles at 5, Ashlyne at 18 months and an infant Rachel. I had this idea in mind that I really had to “do school” with Kathryne and Charles because they were the ages to be in actual school. In my mind, this obviously meant that we had to sit in the schoolroom and accomplish a scheduled number of things each day.

Ashlyne, at 18 months, had other plans. When I let her run loose in the schoolroom, she ran from place to place looking for something to get into. The markers I laid out for Kathryne’s project- Ashlyne used them to draw on the carpet. The workbook open and ready for Charles to use turned into a blank slate for Ashlyne’s art creations. If I dared to try to read aloud to Kathryne and Charles or to teach a concept, her constant investigations into any and every thing were a definite distraction.

And so I had the bright idea to use a baby gate to shut her out of the room. My theory was that she could play happily with her toys right beside us in the kitchen. She could see us. We could see her. She had free roam of all the kitchen and living room and her usual toys, but she would be out of the schoolroom. It was the best solution. But not for Ashlyne who acted as if I had thrown her in Alcatraz where she was receiving regular sessions of bodily torture. Instead of roaming and playing happily, she stood at the baby gate and screamed her lungs out. Obviously this was even more of a distraction than her antics in the schoolroom. I tried moving the gate so that she was enclosed in her bedroom, but the wailing became even louder, and I was sure that any passersby would be convinced we were killing her.

Keep in mind that the whole time I was trying to solve the “Ashlyne issue:,” I had an infant in a baby sling attached to my body. Rachel was one of the most easy going babies ever. But she did like to be held, and she needed to nurse frequently. I had always worn my babies and nursed often, so that in and of itself wasn’t a big deal. But trying to chase the wayward toddler, teach a five-year-old to read, and work on math skills with a six-year-old, all with a baby attached to my breast did not make for easy days.

Homeschooling with toddlers
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So I’m not going to lie to you. Teaching with little ones in the mix is not usually sunshine and roses. It’s hard, hard work. But, I will also be truthful when I tell you that it is absolutely worth every moment. My big kids have had wonderful, fun times spent with the younger ones that they would have missed entirely if they had been in school. By the time Rachel was born, Kathryne would have been in school full time. They would hardly have had opportunity to build a relationship. Instead, Kathryne’s memories of “school time” involve carrying baby Rachel around or stopping to play with her as she learned to sit up. And we all laugh at memories of Ashlyne and the baby gate experience- even Ashlyne who apparently wasn’t traumatized for life.
Even though homeschooling with little ones in the mix is difficult, there are a few tips that can make it a little easier. In this post I’m sharing five of them. If you’re a new homeschooler or a mom who’s trying to homeschool older kids with little ones in tow, pick up my free ebook- So You Want to Be a Homeschooler– here. It has even more tips for homeschooling with little kids underfoot.

Tip #1 Change your idea of what school looks like.

If you have in mind that school at home should look like school in a traditional classroom, it’s probably not going to happen with little ones around (unless you are way more together than I was!). But real learning takes place in the midst of life. And there is plenty that can be learned in ways that aren’t anything like a traditional classroom. I had a friend tell me something in my early days of homeschooling, and I’ve never forgotten it. She had grown up as a homeschooler. She said “Life is school.” And that’s so true. Homeschooling is not something we do during part of the day. It’s a lifestyle. And changing your mindset about learning can really lift the pressure of homeschooling with little ones around.
Take the kids outside, and let the little ones play in a play pen or your yard if it’s smaller and fenced. Ashlyne could be happy penned in outside for short periods of time because there were more things to look at and to distract her. Let the older kids work in different places and different positions. Having workbooks and supplies arranged all nice and neat on desks in the schoolroom wasn’t going to work. But when Kathryne and Charles could sprawl on the floor- or sit under a table- Ashlyne had a little more freedom to roam without messing up everything. Changing your expectations will go a long way towards helping you feel less stressed about the little ones doing their thing while homeschooling.

Tip #2 Do school at different times.

For some reason, I had this idea that we had to get up and immediately “do school” in the mornings. Although we did finish much earlier in the day than traditional schools, this morning start time seemed like a requirement. When I let go of this idea, we could actually accomplish much more.  As I mentioned above, I had to accept the fact that learning takes place in so many ways at so many times. The idea is to capitalize on those times, not stress about the fact that you can’t make school fit into a specified time and place.
We could do work that needed more focus during nap time. I could read aloud in the evening after Daddy was home to chase Ashlyne. It was even okay to do school on the weekends if I needed to have the big kids do things while backup was home to help. A homeschooling mom from the nursing support group I was in suggested putting Ashlyne and Rachel- as she was older- in the tub and doing school in the bathroom floor or hallway floor while I watched them in the bath. Because they absolutely loved baths, this was a great idea. I could keep them secure and occupied for a long enough time to accomplish something with the big kids.

Tip #3 Have some really fun things that the little ones can only do during school times.

I never really had anything as formal as a busy box or busy bags for school time, but I did have toys that were primarily used for school time. I began to keep learning toys on low shelves in the schoolroom so that if we were working in that room Ashlyne- and then Rachel- could toddle around and pull out those toys to stay busy. As the little girls were old enough, I would pull out some kind of toddler friendly craft- like stringing fruit loops on yarn or playing with play doh. These would be fun things that they could use during school time.
I’ve seen some great ideas for making busy bags and sensory bins for toddlers and preschoolers. Although I don’t have little ones anymore, I save all of these ideas on my Homeschooling Preschool and Kindergarten Pinterest board. I also love, love, love Melissa and Doug toys for this purpose. I own several of the chunky puzzles that the kids loved when they were little. They also have the cool large, wooden magnet sets and fun things like lacing cards.

Tip #4 Work with the children from youngest to oldest each day.

This is a tip I heard shared at a homeschool convention one year, and it’s one that was a tremendous help. One of the reasons that little ones dart in and out disrupting school time is because they want your attention. It’s a normal thing for little people to want Mom’s attention. And, yes, we can begin to teach them waiting and sharing and unselfishness as they mature. But when they are really little, that’s a hard concept to learn. I discovered that if I would spend some time with Ashlyne- and then Rachel as she began to get older and notice- at the beginning of the day, before I went to do something with Kathryne and Charles, she could be a little less disruptive.
Obviously when she was 18 months old, the time spent wasn’t doing schoolwork. It was snuggling on the couch, reading a book, rocking and talking. It didn’t have to be long and time consuming, it just needed to be a little time for her. As she and Rachel got older, I could do something like a workbook page with coloring and letters and numbers before I moved on to do things with the older kids. But this idea of working from youngest to oldest and making sure that little ones were set and filled up with attention and love seemed to help our school times go more smoothly.

Tip #5 Relax and enjoy your days.

If there is any one tip I could go back and tell my young, homeschooling self, I think this would be it. “Just don’t stress.” Did you not get any math done at all today because the toddler was sick and needed constant attention? Don’t stress. Can you not seem to get anything accomplished today because the older kids keep wanting to stop and play with the babies? Don’t stress. Do you feel like school took a back burner all day as you wondered around putting out figurative fires, cleaning the house and feeding people three meals all with a baby on your breast? Don’t stress.
I can assure you from this side looking back that it will be okay. One day you’ll have a “normal,” less distracting day. One day you’ll be able to read a whole lesson without stopping to peel a toddler off the ceiling. One day you’ll actually have kids who can read and learn for themselves. It may not seem like it now in the thick of things. But it will come. In the meantime, enjoy the ride. Whether you are getting schoolwork done in a traditional way or not, whether you actually had time to cover the lesson plan for today or not, whether you were able to explain that math concept or had to keep stopping to clean up after a little one, enjoy the ride. Know that it’s just the season of life that you’re in and have fun.

Homeschooling with babies

There are so many blessings in having the whole family together- littles and bigs. There are days I can remember that are hysterical when I look back on them. There are times when we’ve all had so much fun. And, yes, there are days that ended in tears all around with marker on the walls and poop on the floor and torn workbooks and frustration. But if you try a few of these tips, I think you’ll make through those hard days of having little ones in the mix while you homeschool the older ones.
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