Mom-to-Mom Support/Homeschooling with Babies and Toddlers

Homeschooling with Babies and Toddlers

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How does homeschooling fit into an already challenging schedule? While adding homeschooling to the mix may seem overwhelming, once you find a rhythm you’ll see why so many people choose this lifestyle—and your family will experience the tremendous benefits, including:

  • Not having to “shift gears” to correct secular values or unwelcome behaviors your children have picked up at school
  • Training older children to help throughout the day
  • Learning your children’s unique needs and strengths more fully.

Even if you have babies and toddlers in the mix, you can homeschool successfully. Here are some tips for how to structure your day so all your children—students and younger siblings—get what they need each day.

Utilize nap time

Nap times are golden hours for homeschooling—use them wisely. Be sure to schedule nap time at a particular time of the day instead of waiting for your toddler to fall asleep whenever he feels like it. With a more structured nap time schedule, all the little ones will be napping at the same time, and you will have uninterrupted time to teach your older children. Some families allow toddlers to watch a short cartoon or educational video before nap time to help these little ones calm down.

Keep in mind preschool and kindergarten work can usually be completed in 45 to 90 minutes each day. It’s not developmentally appropriate at these ages to do formal schooling for longer periods of time—young children need plenty of active playtime. If you have one school-aged child, then most of his formal schooling can usually be done during one baby or toddler nap time.

By first and second grade, your child’s work will require more time to complete. Instead of trying to finish all subjects during nap time, use the time for one-on-one subjects that require a lot of focus, such as math or reading.

Enlist the help of older children

If you have older children—ages 6 and up—let each take a short break to play one-on-one with their younger siblings. During those 10-15 minute “breaks,” pull aside another child for individual instruction. If you have a large enough family, you can schedule the school hours so one of the older children is always playing with—and responsible for—the toddler or baby.

To ensure both older and younger children are benefiting from this time, encourage “snuggle and reading” time on the sofa. During this time, older children can read to their younger siblings—older kids get practice in reading aloud while toddlers and babies benefit from every word.

Allowing older children to teach your preschoolers a subject is also beneficial and frees you up to work with another student. The older children learn right along with the younger ones and, often, are better, more patient teachers than Mom. The interaction also helps to develop sibling bonds.

One homeschooling family shares the following “parenting hack” for large families:

“Our family paired the oldest (beginning around age 9) with the baby and the second oldest with the following baby, etc. Now when Mom needs a helping hand to wash a face, pour a drink, buckle a seatbelt, zip a jacket, or entertain a little one, I know exactly which child to call for and the little one knows which one to call on when Mom is busy. We have found that a loving, trusting relationship has developed between the older and younger child and the older child has become more loving, self-sacrificing, and kinder towards others. This arrangement has worked especially well for family outings, because the task of managing the children is shared, the older-younger pair is already accustomed to each other, and the older child is prepared for and accustomed to handling this responsibility.”

Encourage independent learning skills

When children can progress through their school subjects independently, this gives you more time to spend with toddlers or children learning to read. More independent learning means more time for you to focus on other children, lesson planning, housework, and more. For children in first, second, or third grade, work towards being able to present the lesson and then assign a set amount of work that can be accomplished independently. As your children get older, independent learning time can naturally increase.

At the end of the day, schedule a time when you can sit with each child and tie up the loose ends from their day. During this time you will want to check that your children are being responsible for the amount of work assigned. You should also plan to discuss any challenges—and be sure to praise daily accomplishments.

By fourth or fifth grade, students should ideally be working independently 80-90% of the school day. Starting in third grade, Independent Study Charts are included in CHC Lesson Plans to encourage students to go from one subject to the next without needing many directions from Mom. Some subjects will still require Mom’s help, of course, but lessons like math, spelling, and grammar only require putting one workbook away and opening the next.

By fifth grade, your child will probably be able to follow the lesson plans on his own. The daily assignments in CHC Lesson Plans are worded directly to the student from third grade on up—this encourages a higher level of independence as soon as the child is ready for it. CHC’s texts and workbooks are designed to be “self-teaching” as much as possible, which saves time you may otherwise have spent referring to a Teacher’s Manual to introduce and develop the lessons.

Use lesson plans, but be flexible

It’s hard enough to homeschool with the interruptions toddlers naturally bring. But it’s even harder if you have to create your own lesson plans each week.

Purchasing prepared lesson plans can save hours of planning time. Again, CHC Lesson Plans are especially designed to encourage students to work independently, saving you even more time.

Since toddlers interrupt and “things happen,” it’s also important not to use a rigid curriculum. CHC makes it easy for you to adjust to different seasons of life and schedules with young children: it distinguishes core from non-core subjects, allows you to go at your own pace without feeling like you’re behind, and eliminates the need to report to an outside authority.

Each CHC Lesson Plan clearly explains which subjects are priorities (“core”) and those that are not (“non-core” or “elective”). When you need to cut your schedule down to the bare minimum, the lesson plans show you how—no guesswork or stress required. Deciding what’s essential and what can be cut is the same discernment process all teachers must use when preparing a day’s work—children in brick-and-mortar schools get behind, too. CHC Lesson Plans make that process easy.

Successful planning requires flexibility, not rigidity. CHC Lesson Plans give you a prepared lesson plan and curriculum, but also offer the flexibility that is so important in real family life.

Make discipline a priority

Obedience is also key to managing your day-to-day. Does your toddler usually obey if you tell him not to do something? Or do you have to physically remove him from the situation?

What about your older student? Does he respect your authority and practice diligence with his schoolwork? Respect for your authority as a parent-teacher and the willingness to work are important for independent learning skills. If you have to sit with a child to get him to do the work, that will be a major time investment.

Finally, remember that Jesus is at the center of your homeschool. When the school day’s “tide of battle” seems to turn in the wrong direction, take a deep breath and run for spiritual reinforcement. God is with you!

More ideas

Keep in mind, your little ones will likely want to feel included in the homeschooling action—you’ll likely have toddlers begging to “do school,” too.

The solution? When your toddler engages with activities during the school day, call them “school.” Coloring, painting, doing puzzles, and playing with toys are genuinely educational for toddlers since learning fine and gross motor skills is an important priority at that age.

A technique that has worked for many families is to set aside paper, books, and special toys in a tub or basket just for your little one. These are pulled out “for school time only.” If possible, have three or more tubs with different toys inside and rotate tubs to keep the toys fresh and interesting in the child’s eyes.

Beyond that, give your toddler a special place to play near where you and your older children are working. Consider placing a special spot at the table for your toddler so he can imitate his bigger siblings, coloring, scribbling on scratch paper or in used workbooks.

Another good way to integrate younger children? Offer babies and toddlers “lap time” while you are giving one-on-one instruction to an older child. That way you can focus on the lesson without worrying about your younger children getting into trouble in the other room.

It’s also important to carefully and strictly “baby proof” the house, even if this means putting favorite knick-knacks into storage. You don’t want to waste your time and energy dealing with accidents that didn’t need to happen in the first place.

For that “wild child” who simply wants to tear the house apart while you aren’t watching, 15 minutes in the playpen or high chair with special toys that have been stored away for this occasion can work wonders.

Some of the most engrossing toddler activities are so messy that they often require supervision. One way to solve this is by using a small kiddie pool as an indoor play area for your toddler. Messy activities such as play dough, slime, rice sensory bins, and finger paints stay much more contained when your toddler knows he has to stay in the pool while playing with them. That way you won’t have to interrupt your lessons to keep your toddler from kneading play dough into the carpet!

Some moms dedicate time during summer break, Christmas, or other school breaks to making a master list of ideas, activities, and toys to help occupy the toddlers and preschoolers. We have compiled a free list of ideas to get you started: Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Getting ready to homeschool—with babies and toddlers in tow

With a little planning and preparation, it’s very doable to integrate homeschooling into your daily routine—even with babies and toddlers in the house. By making homeschooling a whole family experience, encouraging older kids to help younger siblings, and creating a structured (but flexible!) schedule, you’ll be well-equipped to provide one-on-one time to every child. Equally importantly, you’ll foster strong sibling connections, a sense of responsibility, and independence among your children—skills that will help them in and out of the classroom. And that’s always a plus. 

The photo at the top of this article was submitted by Ashley from Pennsylvania.

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