Homeschooling with a Toddler in the House

When we started homeschooling last year, Squeezy Girl was not quite one and a half. She also was still partaking of that lovely thing called the morning nap. So the beginning of the year was fairly pleasant, but as the year went on and she got nearer to the TWO mark, she started to get evil.

I know, I know. Nobody ever believes me.

But as I thought about our homeschool during the summer, I decided I was going to have to do Something about Squeezy, to keep her busy and out of the boys’ hair. Because she likes nothing better than to grab a math paper off the table and run. Well except maybe to scribble all over a beautiful work of art with a Sharpie. She’s flexible.

Part of my philosophy of life, family, and homeschooling is that our whole family should not constantly have to adjust because of one person’s needs. We’re all in this together, and while sometimes one person’s needs need to be temporarily placed at the foreground, most of the time we should be working together for what’s best for all of us. Somehow, as Squeezy got into full-blown toddlerhood. that fell by the wayside. Instead, our days became a constant repetition of “just let her have it” or “we have to wait till Squeezy’s in bed to do that” or “don’t make her scream, just give her what she wants!” Obviously this sort of thing isn’t healthy for our family OR for Miss Squeezy, who was starting to realize that she had become the Center of the Universe for our family and was acting accordingly.

So what I wanted to do this year was find ways to keep her busy without anyone feeling like their needs were off less importance to me than anyone else’s. Obviously, sometimes in life you have to sit and wait your turn, but it shouldn’t be every single day for the same reason– because your little sister is a beast who is constantly getting her own way.

With that said, I also realized that the boys needed a place where they could work (and play) that was free from toddler fingers, so we rearranged a few things and put a table and chairs down in our basement playroom, hung some posters on the wall, and voila! instant schoolroom. Squeezy is not allowed in the basement, so the boys know that they have a safe place to keep their math papers and their most recent craft stick invention.

Anyway, I’m no expert, just someone living in the trenches of homeschooling right now, but here’s my ideas and experience and advice. And if you have something to add, I’d love to hear it!

1. Have activities that are designated for only-during-school-times.

Squeezy with her special books

Squeezy has her “special books,” which are library books, which she may only have once a day, while sitting in a certain chair, while I am working with the boys. We check out new books every week for her, and she knows she can’t have them the rest of the day. She has her special books and sit time together– she must sit in the chair and cannot get out unless I tell her she can. This usually will give us a good fifteen minutes of quiet plus five or ten more minutes of noisy “I wanna get down, Mommy” time. Enough to read a science lesson, practice flashcards, and hand out some assignments. I think it’s important that she learn to sit even when she doesn’t want to. So most days I make her wait a few minutes after she’s lost interest before I let her get down. Because homeschooling isn’t just about teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic; it is also about training all of my children, including my two-year-old.

2. Provide Your Toddler with a Variety of Educational Playthings.

Digging for treasures in a container of rice

By educational, I do not mean workbooks and flashcards. Toddlers learn by playing (and probably a lot of big kids do too, if we’re willing to admit it), so what they need is toys. But they don’t need crazy expensive toys. Some of Squeezy’s favorites are her “puffy balls”– little craft pom-poms. I give her the puffy balls, an empty egg carton, a couple cups and a spoon, and it can keep her happy for quite awhile. She also likes sensory play, like a bucket of rice or a tub of water, a washcloth, and some dishes to wash. She has a box of activities that I kind of rotate, called her “Busy Box,” that I pull out a few times a week. Not every day, because toddlers get bored so easily with the same things over and over. So sometimes she might play with her Busy Box while I work with Stinky, and another day she might build with blocks, and another day she gets to play with water. She also has a toy laptop that she loves. It’s the one actual toy that she will actually play with for more than ten seconds.

If you’re not sure where to start with finding activities for your toddler, the interwebs are full of great resources and ideas. I’ve been putting a lot of things on my Pinterest Toddler Stuff Board. Another awesome resource is Money Saving Mom’s Busy Bag page on her website. Most of these items can be made from stuff you already have in your house, and can just be tossed or recycled when your little darling has destroyed outgrown it.

3. Include Your Toddler in Homeschool Activities Whenever Possible.

Painting Salt Dough

I think this one is very important, because I think part of why toddlers and preschoolers tend to act out during school time is that they think they’re being excluded. In our day, Squeezy might make something with playdough right alongside her brothers who are making fossils, or she might paint or draw while we’re doing art activities, and you can bet that she is right there whenever we go on a nature walk or make up a silly game to practice a new concept.

4. Make Sure to Spend One-on-One Time Daily with Your Toddler.

Swinging with Daddy

This sounds kind of brainless, but it’s so easy some days to just get busy and forget to actually give your little one the time they need. Read a book, do a dance, cook something, give her a “playing bath,” build a tower, whatever. Just do something. This reminds your toddler that while she might not be the center of the universe, she is very important and very loved.

I hope these ideas help if you’re trying to homeschool with a munchkin in the house. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks too!



8 thoughts on “Homeschooling with a Toddler in the House

  1. We have a 2 year old who is into everything too. (a 4 year old too) Love your ideas for a busy box. We love sensory buckets. We use them all the time. My kids love the multicolored pom pom’s in a bucket. Thanks for the extra ideas.

    Lil Momma
    Homeschooling mom of a kid whose main educational goal is to one day beat her at hangman. (Ain’t ever gonna happen, btw)

  2. Thanks for this – I will be starting Pre-K with Z this year, plus I have Natalie turning 2 in December, so these tips will really help with her. 🙂 I’m planning to get a tall table for Z to do his work on, but maybe I should also print off things for her to color alongside him. And the busy box activities are a great idea, too. 🙂

  3. Erin when you are ready for her to do more I can not say enough about the crayola dry erase crayons they are awsome. Also there are several really good preschool packs free out there when she is older to help with sitting still longer ect. I love how you include her as well.

  4. great post, erin. where was it 7 years ago when i was homeschooling with a toddler? 🙂

    but really, i recall not wanting my home schooling kids school lives to be dictated by our demanding toddler. everything you’ve suggested i did, with one addition, sesame street. i always got a good hour in of schooling when elmo was on.
    as soon as josie could she was schooling with us. she is now the brightest one of the whole bunch (shhh, don’t tell my other kids i said that).

    happy schooling!

  5. I’ve been curious about this! I’m leaning heavily towards homeschooling starting next year… and while Paige won’t be a toddler (she’ll be in preschool for three days a week…) she still will need something so I can have a bit more time w/ Fynn… and even this year, Fynn and I are working on reading and writing, and she is into EVERYTHING and just wants attention because Fynn is getting some. Off to check out your pinterest boards 🙂

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