As much as we desire to have our little ones at the table with us, their frustration level from not having enough to do can become a distraction and hindrance to other children trying to work. Here are a few ideas for keeping them learning alongside you…
A noisy, whining, discontented toddler or preschooler is a major distraction and hindrance to an otherwise happy homeschool. I suspect, however, that most homeschooling moms, philosophically at least, would like their young children to be meaningfully engaged in something that furthers their development and learning. This can be a burdensome challenge on top of the already demanding job of coordinating a couple different kids schoolwork. Perhaps you, like me, have ups and downs in this area. The downs typically arrive when I am not prepared with enough in my “arsenal” of activities for her/him to do.
YOUR BAG OF TRICKS
Depending on the age of your child, make a list of the age-appropriate educational toys and resources you have available at home. Put ideas that can be done independently by the child towards the TOP of the list. A few suggestions include:
- Simple puzzles- for preschoolers I like geography puzzles that help them learn their way around maps
- Coloring books (consider one with educational value such as geography, animals, illustrations from a classic story, etc.)
- Write on books or placemats and dry erase markers
- Play-doh and tools
- Books on tape or CD
- Dominos or dice (try mathmats.com for some simple dice games)
- Math counting manipulatives
If you reserve some toys to be used only during “school time” it will increase their appeal. Hold fast to this rule or they’ll lose their magic and won’t be “special”, something to look forward to sitting down and getting to use!
While knowing WHAT is available will greatly enhance the chances of somesmooth school time, there are a few more techniques that will increase it. Making a simple plan of your school time and when your toddler/preschooler(s) will be with you— and when it would be better for them to be learning somewhere else will keep you one more step ahead. If you have an itinerary for where they’re going to be and what they’re going to do you increase both of your chances for success.
Consider scheduling in time with older siblings doing any of the activities they cannot do by themselves. (This idea comes in part from Teri Maxwell’s Managers of Their Households book.) For example, when child A completes her math, perhaps she takes a 10 minute break to read a book to child D. Then, when child B completes her math, he can sit and do a puzzle with child D. This accomplishes more than one goal. It provides good bonding time for the children one-on-one wit out the whole family or all the siblings together. It will strengthen the reading fluency of the child reading aloud. It provides the teacher with a few more minutes to work with another child needing individual instruction.
Another tactic is to help the child (depending on his/her age) to develop the skill of playing by him/herself for short periods of time in his/her room. We called that “Room Time”. Start with short periods of time- even 5 minutes- and a “new” or infrequently brought out toy then increase the time as you recognize the child is able. If the child is a toddler, consider using a baby gate- not as a way to keep the baby from getting out- but just to eliminate that temptation to come to Mommy. Having a few “exciting” toys that are ONLY AVAILABLE during room time will provide more incentive for the child to enjoy him/herself. The skill of entertaining oneself for 30 minutes is a very valuable skill and will serve a child well as they grow up. We live in a culture that demands to be entertained. We don’t want to raise kiddos that demand to be entertained.
Personally, I attempt to hold “screen” solutions for last. There are some excellent educational videos available. I really like the Leap Frog line of videos. PBS has some good shows as well. Your library is likely to have many of these as well as Netflix. I have taken advantage of their desire to “watch” by putting on things like Brainy Baby Spanish or Muzzy when needed. Use the screen judiciously and try to save it for when you’ve exhausted your other options.
- Develop a collection of educational tools set aside for “school time”.
- Make use of older children for short periods of time to “teach” the younger children.
- Help young children to develop the skill of entertaining themselves alone for increasing amounts of time.
- Use an educational video so that their “school” time is productive while you are otherwise occupied.
What have been your best toddler/preschooler solutions? What are your favorite educational shows for them to watch?