Over the past 8 years, we’ve had a baby, toddler, or preschooler in the homeschool mix. Yes, there were challenges and obstacles to overcome, but overall, it was such a sweet and special addition to our homeschool.
Little ones bring smiles and softness to what can often be a too-serious and somber situation. I want to encourage you to embrace this special time and make the most of it all.
Here are some practical tips to help you along the way.
1. Give yourself some grace.
If you have a newborn and are barely getting any sleep, or if you have a rambunctious toddler, give yourself some grace, Mama. This season will quickly pass, and there will be plenty of time to get your homeschool back to typical.
In the meantime, streamline your homeschool subjects and focus on life lessons instead of more intense subjects. Consider switching to more independent curricula, so that your older children can do more on their own.
Or get creative with instruction. Instead of textbooks and workbooks, maybe try learning videos and notebooking for a time. Simply turn on the videos, hand out journals, and have the older children draw or write about what they learn as they watch.
Or check out plenty of books from the library and let your kids dive in. Check for understanding through oral narrations and discussions. Choose what works for you and your family during this season, and let the rest just go.
2. Value this time.
Babies and toddlers do not keep, sweet Friend. Those little chubby fingers and toes and toothless smiles change so very quickly. Embrace this time as much as possible. Take note of their natural curiosity. Come alongside them and share in their wonder.
Ask The Lord to give you eyes to see this precious time as a gift—instead of a distraction. Their learning and wonder is just as important to their education and development as your school-age children’s. Don’t squander it. Shift your perspective a bit, and soak it all in.
3. Add margin to your schedule.
If you’re struggling with staying on task, consider adding margin to your schedule. If a subject or activity typically takes 20 minutes, schedule 30-40 instead. Life with little ones will happen along the way, so make time for those interruptions, so that that they do not deter you too much.
Now if you are finding that there’s no time for margin in your day, then it's time to take some things off your plate for a while. Know that it’s okay to skip extra-curricular activities or events for a season. It’s okay to simplify things for a while.
Less is often more. And it’s better to have less to do rather than to be in a constant state of overwhelm and frenzy. Babies are often the sweetest of reminders to slow down. Give yourself permission to do just that.
4. Start the day with your little one.
I know this may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, it works. Little ones often need some time for connection before feeling secure enough to work independently. Rather than diving into the tough subjects with your older ones, spend some time on the floor with your youngest ones first. Let the older children work independently or take some time to exercise or craft while you focus on your toddler or preschooler.
Color together. Read a story. Make a snack, blow bubbles, or do any of these other activities. The time you spend connecting with your precious child will give them what they need to venture on their own for a while. This will then free you up to focus more intently on your older children.
If your baby is younger, then wear them! Hold them close with a carrier and go about your morning. They will feel secure and comforted, and you will have your hands free to teach and share.
5. Homeschool when your preschooler is naturally occupied.
Try saving the most intense subjects for when your baby, toddler, or preschooler is already naturally occupied, such as snack time or nap time. Gather the older children at the table for a read aloud or lesson as your little one snacks or eats. Use one nap for more one-on-one support, and make sure to save a second nap for some Quiet Time. You need a break as well, Mama, so make sure to work that in each day.
6. Spend time outdoors.
There is something about being out in nature that is soothing and comforting for children. It also helps them engage and focus better so that they can then work on activities and play independently.
Consider scheduling some time outdoors each day with all your children. Let them run or explore or jump rope, or just engage in imaginative play. If they engage well, pull one child at a time for some outdoor homeschooling, and rotate as time (and the weather) allows.
7. Limit screen time.
If you have multiple littles, the temptation to put them in front of the television or computer will be enticing. Don’t do it, Mama. If you start the day with screens, you will find that they will have a harder time focusing and doing anything worthwhile for a good while afterwards.
Screens greatly stimulate the brain, and it’s hard for a pack of crayons and a coloring page to compete right afterwards. They can also negatively impact overall development, sleep cycles, and behavior, which is why it is advised not to allow screens prior to the age of two.
For older toddlers and preschoolers, consider a limited amount of screen time in the afternoons, once the majority of school and/or tasks are completed. I have found that the best time for this is during dinner prep. It’s not too close to bedtime, and it’s a good incentive to get everything else completed in a timely manner.
8. Create activity boxes.
The brain loves novelty, and it learns best with new experiences. Consider making five sensory bins and activity boxes for homeschool time. Check out my Preschool posts for lots of great ideas! Simply rotate through a box a day, and change everything out once a month.
Activity boxes work well right after connection time with you. Simply putting it out as an invitation to play helps inspire new learning and engagement. This will also allow you to free up some time for the older children as needed.
9. Let the older children help.
If your toddler or preschooler needs a bit more hands-on support, consider having your older children help out and rotate throughout the day. Encourage them to create learning opportunities for the little ones, or to simply play with them.
Another idea is Book Buddies. Have your older children choose a story to read to your little one while you work with another child. Motivate them to create a special reading corner, and encourage them to use distinct voices during their reading. This is such a great "win-win" activity, as it helps your older children practice their reading and oral presentation skills, while giving your younger ones a sweet story to enjoy with their sibling.
10. Include them.
Little ones want to feel like they are a part of the learning. They want to feel connected to the family as much as possible. Include them whenever you can. Give them a fidget basket with putty or a magic painting book to work on as you read aloud to the older children. Print off an extra coloring page on the topic you are studying in history or science, and give them crayons or watercolor paints. Let them help with a science experiment or hands-on project. Or give them some math manipulatives to work with.
The more included they feel, the better they will behave and the less they will cry out for attention. The more you include them, the more unity you will also find in your homeschool, and that is ultimately what your children will remember most.
Soak It In
Embrace this time, Mama, and enjoy the journey. Let these moments be used to grow all of you closer together as a family. Don’t let the distractions and inconveniences make you lose sight of the bigger picture. Focus on your children, and always stay connected with what matters most.