Friday, 28 March 2014

Trying Toddlers {how to get school done at the same time}

I had a message from a friend recently, asking for advice about how to keep a "non-school age" child amused, whilst still getting school done with the older children.  As I have more children, and have been homeschooling for longer, she thought I would have some good suggestions.

Do you know what?  I was trying to find out the same thing as she was!!! I have a Simeon. A very mischievous, high-maintenance Simeon.  No other children were like Simeon. Well, Joshua may have been, but I had no older children who I was trying to educate at the same time!  THAT adds a whole extra dimension into life. I am finding life with Simeon rather, erm, testing.

I thought I had things pretty "sorted" before Simeon. The younger "non-school" children usually played nicely together, allowing me to get on with helping the older ones with few interruptions.

Yes, well.... bang goes THAT theory.

Simeon wants to be with me ALL the time.  Not just with me, sitting quietly, and still. No, no. Sitting on my knee, fidgeting, touching things, making noise, being a distraction. Generally hard work.

I realised I was going to have to try a different approach.  He was just plain different from the others.  nothing in our life had changed - just that God had made him different to his siblings.  He didn't need to change, on the whole, it was more that I needed to adapt and survive.  The rate I was going, my stress levels were going to push me to distraction!

So, where did I turn?

My wonderful Tapestry of Grace ladies, who have decades, and centuries of experience between them all!

So, today I am going to share what they told me, and then tell you what worked for me.  Well, what  is working just now...

"try to keep a sense of humour and perspective. If things get out of control with littles then adapt your plan."

I reckon this is one of THE most important pieces of advice that was shared.  This doesn't just apply to little children - it applies to ANY change in your children.   A child struggling with a subject - ill health - a new baby in the house - moving house.   Basically anything that throws the "norm" out of sync.  In the past I used to get myself in a fankle because we weren't doing things "right".  I forgot that even with slight delays or adaptations, they are still gaining SO much by being at home, and learning happens in more ways than bookwork.  Going out to co-op is just as important as doing maths.  Going for a walk is as important as grammar.  Taking a day off to visit family you rarely see is as important as writing. 

With little ones, you need to just remember that dealing with them, and giving them time and attention, matters too.  If you leave them to run wild, or to get in a stress, or to have temper tantrums because they feel neglected, then you are not teaching them things that are just as important as doing maths with a 12 year old.  Maye MORE important!

Perspective.  That's what it is.

The older ones are probably better able to cope with change in routine than the little ones are able to deal with being neglected.

Oh and I don't mean to give-up on your curriculum but rather do you need to have a lighter time of it

This was further advice from the same lady.  She was pointing out that you don't have to ditch everything you do with the older ones - you have to adapt what and how you do, more than anything else.  Look at the big picture, and see how you can make things less intense, whilst still covering the work you need to do.  More reading, and less writing.  More oral reports and fewer written reports.  More educational DVDs, perhaps, with a fun report or picture to follow it up.

I loved towel time with my 3rd when he was 3.

This next concept I have heard of before, as blanket time.  The principle is to train a child, from a young age, to sit on a blanket or a towel, and have certain activities they do whilst sitting still in one spot.  I am going to be honest here.  I have tried this in the past.  Unfortunately, like so many parenting issues, it's a PARENTing issue.  You need to stick at it, and be persistent, for it to work.  I didn't.  Perhaps I need to try it again?  It's certainly worth trying from when a child is small, and probably a bit harder to implement if they are a lot older. 

I would have one older child play with the toddlers or babies while I was working with another older child, and vice versa. My babies loved to have one on one attention!

This next suggestion is where I plunked.  I have the ideal situation of having several older children now, who are able to help me.  I have come up with a loose schedule, in that the older ones take it in turns, for 20 minutes at a time, to look after the younger children.  Thankfully, Tabitha generally has a long sleep in the morning, so it's just Elijah (nearly 4) and Simeon (nearly 2) to work with.  I have toys which we rotate (see the tip below) that they play with.  I also have some drawers with puzzles, but they need a sort out.  Once they are sorted there would be a tray for each school day, with peg puzzles, etc.  I have other games like pairs, and lacing cards.  I will do a separate post about some of my favourite activities for pre-schoolers.  I also have books for the younger children, and the older ones read those with them, too.  It's such a blessing to have their help, and although it means they take time away from bookwork to do it, over all, with the fewer distractions, they still get done quicker! Yay!

I keep "school room" toys & crafts off limits unless we are doing school. I try to rotate them a lot.

As I mentioned above, we work with a similar principle.  I don't keep them exclusively for that time of the day, but we certainly only bring them out when school starts, and stick to one main play thing a day.  Rotation is certainly a good principle, so they don't get fed up.  I also try and make the toys into an educational experience.  Again, I will go into that more in another post.


I made a special box that was all theirs to play with during school time. It was special and unique to them and they loved it.

The next idea is one I like.  I have a 4 year old who has certain things he loves.  He really LOVES drawing and colouring just now, so I am planning on getting him his very own set of pencils in a pencil case, so they are HIS to enjoy.  Maybe even a special box or file to keep everything in, so he can get it out and do "school", too.  I don't want to rush anything too formal, but just to let him have something that is "special" more than anything else

I think i could equally do this for Simeon, but currently he isn't quite at the stage to be particularly fascinated with any one thing, so I may need to apply my mind to that a bit more!

 I instituted "Quiet Book Time" right after lunch once naps weren't taken anymore. My kids are older now and just was reminiscing about QBT and how much they loved it. The younger ones loved copying the older ones by "reading" chapter books. Another thing I did was make up preschool activity bags (2 moms wrote a book on how to assemble them).

This next suggestion is something we do, in one sense.  It doesn't really help to keep the little ones occupied during school time, but it may free you up to help just one child that needs extra assistance, perhaps?  We have room time after lunch, which includes book time.  We have had times when adults have visited and queried at how quiet the house was (I remember one time the midwife asked!), and I just explained it was room time.  Admittedly, I have got a bit lax with it, as I am getting younger ones pestering the older ones trying to do things, or vice versa, so I need to reinforce the importance of working together with the right attitudes.  It's a great opportunity to teach character!

I have also heard of the pre-school activity bags.  I have something similar, in that we have pre-school activities that I have in ziplock bags, which they can do.  There are some websites with free printables, that are great for little children.  Also great ideas to occupy them, only using everyday household items like dried pasta, or mixing bowls.

My younger children also enjoyed colouring and I would gear them towards colouring if they started getting loud.

Colouring is a hit and miss in this house.  Well, more that some children love it, and others are not at all interested! My 5 year old does NOT really enjoy colouring, and one of my older ones hated it, too.  It was like torture for them! Elijah, on the other hand, would draw and colour all day, given the chance.  It's certainly worth trying, as a set activity, and maybe even putting a younger child in the high chair, so they are contained whilst doing it.

 I love Kumon preschool books which help keep the little one busy, but also help start those fundamental skills like cutting, staying inside the lines, etc. A HUGE help these days!! Wish I had known of them with all my other kids! 

Now, this idea is one I have only looked up today, and I must say I am itching for my bank funds to build up, so I can buy some of these!  They look FAB!  Books filled with cutting activities, mazes, colouring, tracing, folding, sticking.  LOADS of fun things for pre-schoolers to keep them occupied.   Amazon seem to have them competitively priced, and I think I may suggest them for Elijah's birthday at the end of next month!

Save the most mommy-intensive subjects for nap-time. I can do math, spelling, handwriting, even science & social studies while entertaining the little guy, but reading instruction, especially for my requires my full attention, so it's a nap-time subject. (my little boy) knows that if nap-time changes, reading time changes - he has to be flexible, and most times he manages ok.

Now, NAP TIME?? WHAT is that?? *sigh* I have a toddler who DOESN'T NAP!


If he naps, he does NOT settle to sleep at night.  He was one of my earliest to ditch naps, and it's hard not to have that time.  This suggestion is ideal if your child DOES nap.  It's certainly what I do whilst Tabitha is sleeping in the morning. I get literacy and numeracy done, whilst she sleeps, and I do all my 5 year old's one-to-one done, as well.  Afternoons are when we do subjects that I can leave them to do more on their own, with me popping in to see how they are doing, and helping with babe in arms, if need be.

SO, there are some fabulous suggestions for occupying little ones.  If you have any more suggestions, PLEASE share them in the comments below, or share a link to your own blog, or a website you love which would be of help to other Mum's in this area.


  1. I feel a bit of a fraud writing this as my youngest is now five. However, he was/is high energy and aged two did make teaching the others complicated. I know the no nap issue-my idea of a disastrous day was if he napped as this would mean a disrupted evening.
    The things that really helped us were
    -working on his concentration skills but spending time reading to him, and his sister, each morning. I tended to read picture books primarily aimed at his sister, who was then four, but these did wonderful things for his concentration and vocabulary. We tended to read about five each morning (could one of your older children help with this?).
    -Duplo really helped us. He loved Duplo and spent gradually longer times with this.
    -some outside time each day.
    -some additional activity designed for him. Playdough on a tray or pebbles and sea toys on a tray.
    -easy puzzles
    At two, he needed a fair number of activities as his attention span was so short but this improved with time.
    It is strange to write this now and it seems almost sad that these days are over but I do remember how challenging they were.

  2. Comment from my friend, Michaela, from Facebook, as she struggled to post on here.

    "Thanks for the ideas, very useful, as I have to find new things each week/ day for Elizabeth - 17mths.

    One thing that all of them have liked is oats or cereal on a tray. I use scoops and bowls and stuff and also it's great if you have little cars, as you (I mean the child) can make roads in the oats to push the cars round. It makes a huge mess, but they do seem to love it. Also when bored, they eat them, lol! And it vacuums up easy enough.

    Another thing I found was designed for hobby stuff, mine are all different coloured boxes, from Rymans . But I fill each box with interesting stuff, playmobil people, stones, fossils, small cars, animals, and that can provide amusement for some time. Also you can use the boxes to stack into towers etc.

    Also, I'm afraid I resort to a biscuit, crisps, fruit, or raisins if I'm really desperate. And that buys me enough time for phonics or maths! "

  3. Aha...this is great! I only have a newborn & older ones right now, but pinning this as a book mark for next year. I can already see my babe is going to be active & need some help 'redirecting', let's just say that :)
    Rachael @