The idea of homeschooling with a toddler is daunting. Being a parent, a spouse, managing a home, and educating one or more children (at times while working a part or full-time job) is overwhelming even to think about. Add a toddler into the mix, and it seems impossible. It’s not, you can do it and also make it enjoyable most of the time! Like anything else in life with many moving parts, you have to find a rhythm that works for you and everyone involved. Below are our top 10 tips for homeschooling with a toddler. Be sure to grab your FREE literature-based unit study for ages 2-4 from Before Five in a Row at the end of this post.
1. It’s a season; give yourself grace!
While in the middle of the baby and toddler years, a day feels like a week. The toddler years are only a season, and if you can keep that perspective, it will help you enjoy the days and not wish them away. Soon enough, you will have older children quietly studying, okay, maybe that is a dream. But you will not have interruptions from a toddler happening every 2 seconds around the clock, and you will miss those chubby cheeks. One of the most important lessons you’re teaching your older children is to care for people and honor them with your time and attention, even when it is inconvenient. It seems like this is a lesson worth investing in. Give yourself grace and then a little more grace during this season of homeschooling with a toddler!
2. Use nap time.
Getting your toddler to snuggle up on the couch and listen as you read to your older student is pretty easy. Or having a little one play with toys on the floor while you have a learning discussion or do some play-based learning with the older child typically goes well. When you are trying to focus on teaching a child how to read, or you are working a math problem together, and your toddler is pulling things out of cupboards and spilling the dog’s water all over your floor…is almost impossible. Schedule your older child’s subject(s) that need more of your help or attention during your toddler’s nap time. This method keeps distractions to a minimum and allows you to get more done in a shorter timeframe.
3. Take advantage of non-traditional school times.
Homeschooling allows you all kinds of flexibility, use it! It won’t work for everyone, but there’s no need to do school from 8-3 or 9-12 or whatever timeframe you might think of for “school time.” You are teaching your child 27/7/365 anyway, and you can do school any time you want. If you need more focused learning time together with an older child than a nap allows, try working together for an hour in the evening after your toddler is in bed for the night. Or, you can do lessons together on the weekend if your spouse is home and can play with the toddler. There is nothing that says you have to do school Monday – Friday or during specific hours. This schedule may not be ideal forever, but if you find yourself in a challenging season of schooling and wrangling a busy toddler, it might be worthwhile to take advantage of non-traditional school times.
4. Screen time is your friend; limit and leverage it to add an hour to your day!
Limiting screen time for young children is a good idea. It’s too easy for the hours to add up between television and phone usage—even for little ones. But, you can limit and leverage screen time to add an hour to your day! If you limit screen time (outside of family viewing) to only 1 hour a day during your school time and then break that hour up into 2, 3 or 4 viewing sessions your toddler will still be excited to watch, and it will give you 15, 20 or 30-minute time blocks to work with an older child on school work. Put the toddler in a highchair or booster seat during this time if it helps contain them, and adding a snack never hurts!
5. Incorporate highchair activities. Containing a toddler for 10-15 minutes allows enough time to work through a subject with a young elementary school student. Breakfast and lunch can be a great way to feed your toddler (they’re strapped into a highchair or booster chair and focused on food) and do a school subject with your older student. Then feed yourself and your older student while the toddler plays. You can also try other activities in the highchair; shaving cream or whipped cream on the tray can be a fun sensory experience that holds a toddler’s attention. Ice cubes on the tray can be another distraction. Water play with cups and spoons is fun, and clay or play dough is another option. The second half of Before Five in a Row offers a plethora of learning readiness and play-based ideas to help a young child build strength and prepare them for future learning success. There are many ideas in that section that you could draw from for highchair activities!
6. Build a buddy system into your routine.
You can institute a buddy system if you have two or more older students along with your toddler. One older student and the toddler buddy up and play together for 20-30 minutes while you focus on teaching the other student. Then switch! You can split these buddy sessions up by doing one before lunch, then break and eat all together and then switch buddies after lunch for another one-on-one learning lesson.
7. Outdoor schooling can be a win for everyone.
Have you ever noticed that toddlers tend to get crazy when they’re inside? Outside they’ll play with cars/trucks, sand, toys, or pull grass happily for at least 10-20 minutes? Take schooling outside; the sunshine and breeze will be beneficial for everyone! Give your older student 5 minutes to run and play before sitting down to learn. Sit at a picnic table (or just a blanket) on your patio or at a park and let the little one adventure away while you spend some quality time learning with your older student. This one simple tip can be a lifesaver when you are homeschooling with a toddler!
8. Accept help (or even ask for it).
It can be challenging to acknowledge that help would be … helpful! If you have assistance nearby in a grandparent or a friend, use it. There’s no medal for juggling everything, every day by yourself. Reach out for an hour or two once or twice a week, especially if you have a toddler or preschooler and a baby, and you’re trying to teach older children. This grouping is challenging and can be exhausting. If you don’t have any help and can’t afford weekly child care, focus on #1 and #10. Breathe, relax, and do what you need to, to care for your children and yourself each day!
9. Give your toddler their own “school” time.
Children have an attention bucket that they need you to fill each day. Younger children see their older siblings doing school and many want to do school too! When homeschooling, the little ones often listen in and tag-along as their older siblings are learning. But giving your young toddler their own “school” time with Mommy or Daddy is a wonderful way to fill that attention bucket. Watch as they happily run off and play afterward, giving you a bit more focused time with older students. Before Five in a Row was created for exactly this purpose! Your toddler will see Before FIAR as their school time and know that this is when they get a little undivided attention. Together you will be making life-long memories and building a strong learning foundation for your toddler.
10. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Back to point #1, this is a season, and homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint. A season in homeschooling is like running one mile in a 26.2-mile marathon. You can have a tough mile, or two, or three in a marathon and still run the race well. In fact, with 26.2 miles, it’s to be expected that a few miles will be difficult! The same is true with long term homeschooling. During many years of homeschooling, there will likely be babies born, illnesses in the family, death or disability (of an older relative), deployments (for military families), local or cross-country moves, just to cover some of the possibilities that will demand your attention. The lessons your children learn during this time often shift from textbooks and worksheets to life skills, empathy, compassion, and perseverance. These are lessons worth focusing on and doing well, even if it means relaxing on the “school” work during an intense season. Your children will be learning and will make up for any lost time. There are always gaps in learning; teaching your child to love learning and find their own answers will help them fill any gap, and it will create a lifetime of learning!
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Hopefully, after reading through the top 10 tips for homeschooling with a toddler, you feel confident to take on homeschooling during this season. Or, if you are already homeschooling with a toddler, maybe these tips have given you a few more ideas and ways to take advantage of the flexibility of homeschooling and create a rhythm and lifestyle of learning that works for you and your children during this life stage.
Below, you’ll find a free unit download based on the picture book Goodnight Moon, from Before Five in a Row. Try it with your toddler today and see if having their own “school” time fills their bucket and creates a little more margin for you to focus on learning with your older student.
I’d love to hear any tips you have for homeschooling with a toddler. Share in the comments. Do you know of someone who is in a busy season homeschooling with little ones? Share this post with them!