One of the biggest challenges for a home schooling mom is keeping the little ones busy so that you can focus on schooling the older children.
Since I have a variety of school aged children, as well as many littles, I get asked this question often.
The important thing to remember is that schooling is a part of home life, so don't be discouraged if you feel like your day doesn't flow according to your schedule. With preschoolers, toddlers, and babies in the home, continuity is usually not a part of the package...and that's okay! It still works, and God is faithful!
Here are my tips for keeping little ones busy while schooling.
Make play time something to look forward to. My biggest and most successful tip is to have toys/activities that are ONLY brought out during school time. I keep bins full of fun toys put away during non-schooling hours. This creates excitement for the toys and keeps the kids from getting bored of them.
Location, location. Choosing the right place in your home to school makes a big difference when keeping little ones busy. We want to be able to keep an eye on them, but still have space for them to play. In our two story home, we school downstairs in the front room. Our rule is that little ones may not go upstairs during school. They usually stay in the room with me playing with whatever we've taken out, but because of our open floor plan, they're free to roam the bottom floor. I realize that some homes are limited in options for schooling, and others choose to spread out and school all over the house (we do that too sometimes), so just pick the best location for your needs, keeping your little ones in mind.
Have a variety of things for them to do. I love toys that encourage imagination and creativity. Things like Tinker Toys, Legos (the larger ones), Potato Head (and the Mrs.), Fuzzoodles, wood blocks, Lincoln Logs, dominoes (setting up and knocking down), etc. are the toys I rotate out one or two at a time. If I have little ones at the school table with me, I give them coloring books and crayons, scissors and paper (you'll be amazed at how long a three year old can sit still just cutting paper into a thousand pieces), Dry Erase Activity boards, Magnetic Dolls (boys and girls), puzzles, etc.
Schedule sibling time. In between subjects, I will occasionally enlist an older child to play with a younger one. It helps to change things up a bit and encourages relational building. Encourage an older one to read to a younger one.
Educational videos. Our general rule is to keep the TV off, but on occasion, I will put in something educational or character building for the little ones. They love Leap Frog's Letter Factory, Kingsley's Meadow, and The Book of Virtues.
Take breaks. Don't forget to take breaks when possible, even just a few minutes, to read to the little ones, snuggle with them, or give them a snack. Mine often do a lot better when I take the time to love on them than if I were to only focus on the schooling children for several hours.
Routine vs. Schedule. I remember the days when I had a wonderfully neat and tidy school schedule. My personality is one of structure, so a schedule worked best for us. Even if we strayed slightly, we knew exactly what must be done each day....and for the most part, stuck to it....even through morning (all day) sickness! But somewhere around my sixth or seventh baby, I began to relax a little. In fact, I was forced to. With so many little ones to tend to (nursings, diapers, whining, correcting behavior, kissing boo boos, etc), it was impossible to allot specific time frames to each subject. Having a routine, as opposed to a rigid schedule, affords structure, but allows for those unforeseen forks in the road. We still know what we need to do for the day, but how we get there looks much different. Play around a bit and find out what works for you, but be flexible and EXPECT interruptions. Those interruptions are no surprise to God, so go with them and allow Him to direct your day!
But what about babies. Ohhh sweet babies! I pretty much always school with a baby in my lap, either nursing or just cuddling. When my babies get old enough to sit up, I may put them in a high chair so that they can see what we're doing....or I use the walker/exersaucer. I also take advantage of nap times! I can get a lot accomplished when the baby is asleep. Setting up a port-a-crib, with a few soft toys, in your schooling area can also help with mobile babies so that you're not chasing a crawler constantly. Some of my friends "blanket train" their babies, but I have never tried that.
Computer time. If you have a computer in your school area...or a laptop, you can begin your 3-5 year olds in their computer skills. There are many educational games that little ones love that will stimulate their brains and build their basic computer skills. Fact Monster and Starfall are our favorites. Both have lots of fun learning games for little ones.
Enjoy this time. I know that these days....when the kids are little....seem so hard, and you look forward to them being older so that you can school without so many interruptions. Since I've graduated my oldest child...and she is now married...and another one soon to graduate, I'm realizing more than ever that this time, when they are little, is short! In a blink of an eye there will be no more babies crying, or toddlers to chase, or toys to pick up, or little ones to keep busy. These are some of the sweetest times...so try to relax and enjoy these days with littles. My husband and I often joke that this is the reason we keep having babies....because we'll miss these little years too much, as hard as they may be sometimes!
Do you have tips to add? What are your favorite ways to occupy little ones?