Inside: Trying to do school with little ones running can be a challenge. Learn 11 hacks to help when homeschooling with toddlers.
My son sat at the table, waiting for me to give him his next sentence for dictation. It was relatively quiet (which is unusual) when I hear this tiny voice from behind me say, “Mama, I wanna do what Bubby’s doing! Where’s MY pencil?” She reached up to the table to grab the pencil from my son, her fingers still sticky from leftover syrup, and started knocking things over. My son lost his concentration and it went downhill from there.
Homeschooling with toddlers can be a real challenge and often feels impossible! These little guys are so eager to do what their bigger siblings are doing, and while that’s cute, it can wreak havoc on your homeschool if you don’t have some sort of plan in place.
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At one point in our homeschooling journey, I had a toddler, kindergartener, and middle schooler. I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t spend some time figuring out how to deal with this. It was next to impossible to get any one-on-one instruction done with the older two when I had a toddler running around aimlessly getting into everything.
Perhaps you are in the same situation and think there is no way you can do this? Well, you can!
The first thing you need to realize (which I am sure you already have) is that toddlers have a VERY short attention span. This is going to be the biggest challenge you face when trying to keep them busy for any amount of time. That’s why you need to have a whole arsenal of ideas ready.
Here are some things you can do to not only survive, but also prepare your little one for learning later on.
1. Give Your Toddler Attention First
Toddlers demand a lot of attention. They are still in the self-centered phase where they think the world revolves around them. This is really important to remember. If you don’t fill that need, they are going to let you know and try to get your attention the entire time you are doing school.
Young children are usually the early risers in the house, so that makes it easy to give them the attention they need before everyone else in the house is up and moving. By giving them this attention before school even begins, they are going to be more likely to be able to play by themselves for a while, allowing you to work with your other children.
Here are some ideas for ways to give your toddler attention:
- Let him help you cook– you can get breakfast on the table and let your toddler help with some of the small tasks, and he will love it
- Read a book together-snuggling together is a great way to not only give attention but some physical touch as well
- Have 15 minutes of play time together– Let him choose the activity
- Take care of the pets-If you have family pets, work together to feed and take care of them. He will feel useful, and you can complement his efforts
- Sit and draw or color together– It only takes a few seconds to get out a coloring book or sketch pad, and most kids enjoy doing this
2. Include Your Toddler Whenever Possible
As I said before, toddlers want to be a part of everything your older kids are doing. Take advantage of this and try to include them in activities that lend themselves to this. For example, if you do a morning time before your kids go off to do individual work, let your toddler sit in on it. They may need something to keep their hands busy or sit on someone’s lap, but they will feel special being included.
3. Have an Older Sibling Play with or Teach Your Toddler
I used to set up specific times where my kids took turns playing or teaching each other. This freed up my time to get some chores done or work individually with another child. Not only is this helpful to you, but it builds sibling relationships.
My kids really looked forward to that time together and missed it if something came up in our schedule, and we couldn’t do it. My oldest is now 19 and still likes to spend time with his younger sisters.
4. Take Advantage of Nap Time
Nap time is one of the most valuable times of the day when homeschooling with toddlers! Use it wisely! Depending on the stage you are in, if you also have a baby in the house, you may need to sleep, and you should! If however, you don’t, this is a great time to teach your more involved subjects or have quiet time for students working by themselves. That’s hard to do when the toddler is awake and making noise.
5. Have Snacks on Hand
Toddlers get hungry often, and that can turn ugly quick. If you have to stop what you’re doing to go find snacks, you’re going to lose the attention of everyone at the table doing school. By planning ahead and having a snack ready, when hunger hits, you can hand it to your toddler and keep teaching.
Cheerios are the ultimate toddler snack because they are multifunctional! They can eat them, count them, stack them, string them, and sometimes try to put them up their nose. Just sayin’! My daughter would even stick them to her forehead to make us laugh (she’s the comedian in the family).
Stick a shish-ka-bob stick into a ball of playdough and let him toss or put Cheerios on it. Don’t forget to put the point side down. If you have a child like mine who could find the danger in everything, just cut that thing off! Better to play it safe than lose an eyeball.
Chances are good your other kids are going to want a snack as well when someone mentions food, so make sure to have something for them too.
6. Make Mystery Boxes
Mystery boxes are a big thing these days with toys, and that’s because everyone loves a surprise! Your toddler is no different. It gets boring doing the same thing over and over again. By filling a small box (like the plastic shoe boxes they sell at the Dollar Tree), you can change out different materials for your child to explore every few days.
These little guys are interested in just about anything, so this is easy to do. Just make sure there is nothing in there that’s a choking hazard.
Here are some suggestions for items you can use:
- Do-A-Dot Art Markers and workbooks to use them with (I highly recommend these!)
Regular pipe cleaners
- Giant Pipe cleaners
Stickers- They also make some with scenes to put the stickers on
- Silly Putty
- Teddy Bear Counters- or these manipulatives my youngest absolutely loved! These are adorable family math counters (there are so many different ways these can be used).
- Water Painting Books/Mats for Toddlers-My almost 9 year old daughter still enjoys the mat we have! These last forever! There is a big book, little books, and a mat.
- Puzzles- Along the same lines is the Melissa & Doug Wooden Latches Board. This was an absolute favorite!
- Cloth tape measure
- Magnifying glass with small items to look at
- Lacing cards- You can make your own and laminate them
- Stacking objects
- My Bible Quiet Book (This is great for church too!)
- Any other items you think would keep their attention
7. Busy Bags for Toddlers
I love busy bags! These were some of my kid’s favorite things to do. I would spend a little time over the summer searching Pinterest for ideas to put in them. If you haven’t heard of a busy bag before, it’s just a gallon ziplock bag filled with a single activity your toddler can do independently. Once they are made, they can be stored in a bin or box to use again easily.
These can be a lifesaver when homeschooling with toddlers. You can also throw them in a bag and take them with you when you have appointments.
9. Sensory Activities
Toddles love anything that deals with the five senses. After all, this is how they learn. These ideas below are super fun ways to keep your child busy, and he will love them! Warning: A few of these can get messy so you will want to buy a plastic tablecloth to put down on the floor underneath him and then you can just pick it up when he is done. That makes clean up pretty easy.
I used this idea a lot. All you need to do is fill a container with some kind of texture like dried beans, rice, or water beads. Then you toss in some toys and mix it up to hide them. Toddlers love exploring in these! You can search for great ideas to try.
Fill a bucket with water, and you will be amazed at how long it entertains your child! Let them step in it, wash a baby doll, have a car wash with their matchbox cars, or whatever creative ideas they can think of.
I Spy Bottles
These I Spy bottles are so fun to look at and try to find the different objects hidden inside. They are great to take in the car to entertain your kids also.
Scratch n Sniff Stickers
Who doesn’t love scratch n sniff stickers? You toddlers will get a kick out of them.
Shaving cream (or cool whip if you think your child will try to eat it) on a cookie tray is great for drawing pictures with their fingers.
Edible Finger Paint
Homemade Paint Safe for Toddlers
9. Montessori Activities at Home
I did a lot of Montessori inspired activities when my girls were little. What’s great about Montessori activities is that they teach your child independence and life skills. They are also designed to make your child think.
Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child is a great reference book.
I had a lot of fun making these types of activities! Here is a Pinterest board that is loaded with ideas you can make yourself.
10. Have a Bin to Store All Your Materials
This is extremely helpful! When you have all your materials together in one place, you can just grab the bin, open, and go. This is especially important when your toddler is getting bored and ready for another activity.
What to store in your bin:
- Busy bags
- Packaged snacks that won’t spoil
- Montessori activities
- Materials used in the mystery box
11. Blanket Time
What is blanket time you ask? It’s a method I used that was a game changer in our homeschool when I was trying to work with my other children or get something done around the house. It’s a wonderful way to teach your toddler to stay on a blanket and play independently for a 30-45 minute time period.
Every family is different (and that’s what makes the world go round), and some people may think this is crazy or even harsh, but I didn’t see it that way at all. To me it was no different than a playpen. The only difference is there’s no enclosure, and the child is learning self-discipline. It’s meant to be a fun and positive time for the child, not a punishment.
I have seen the benefits my children have gotten from this. They have learned self-control, how to sit quietly, how to entertain themselves, and be creative.
It was never a problem for my children to sit quietly in a pew at church because they had already been practicing it at home. They’ve also been able to sit quietly in a waiting room at the doctor’s office or at a friend’s house.
My daughter learned to enjoy this time. She always had a variety of toys and books to choose from. Sometimes she fell asleep during her blanket time, and other times, she had a sibling join her (as you can see in the picture to the right) and they hung out together for a while.
Toddlers are wonderful creatures, but they also come with many challenges when it comes to homeschooling. They are full of energy and can get very frustrated over the least little thing. Their attention span is almost nonexistent unless you have something that speaks to their hands-on way of learning. You have to have a few tricks up your sleeve and a plan of action.
Give some of these ideas a try! You will be surprised what a difference it makes. I’m not saying all your problems will be solved. After all, toddlers are unpredictable. But it will help considerably. Homeschooling with toddlers doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It can actually be fun when you put a little effort into preparing some activities for them. They just want to be included and act like the big kids.
Want to remember these hacks? Download a list for you to keep handy!
Hi I'm Heidi. I'm a former teacher turned homeschool mom of three. I've homeschooled from the beginning and my oldest is now graduated. I believe your home doesn't have to be chaotic just because you homeschool. When you join The Unexpected Homeschooler's community, you'll learn how to have a more organized, efficient, and productive homeschool, and I’ll send you this Daily Assignment Sheet tool as a gift to teach your students to work independently and free up your time.