It can be very tricky homeschooling different ages of kids, especially when you have very young kids with very young attention spans. Whether you do “school at home,” unschooling or something in between, kids always need some one-on-one attention, help with projects, read-aloud time and so on, and it can be hard to get much time free when little ones are around.
Here’s some tips to make it all go a little smoother.
- Reserve toys for use during “school time.” Some toys that can occupy my little ones for a long time include bristle blocks, legos and Matchbox cars with ramps. Anything that’s been out of sight can seem new after a while too. If your kids have a lot of toys, consider boxing up 2/3 of them and pulling them out on a rotation for these times. It makes it easier to keep things tidy, it makes the environment less overwhelming for kids, and it makes it seem as if there’s always something new.
- Have fun activities reserved for the little ones to use only during these times too. Here’s a list of high chair busywork for babies and toddlers that can come in handy.
- Set up science stations to keep young children busy. There are so many fun scientific tools that preschoolers love to use. My 3 year-old loves to use an extended magnet (used to get metal objects out of small spaces), a metallic cookie sheet and an assortment of magnets together. The magnets and the tool stick to the cookie sheet, he can use the magnet tool to move the magnets around from below the cookie sheet. We even put a paper target on it and let him toss the magnets at the target. Also set up little bowls with baking soda and vinegar, along with empty bowls for mixing and tiny spoons to scoop. I’ll write up more fun science stations for little ones in tomorrow’s article.
- Do the more serious schooling while little ones sleep. One homeschooling mom I know had very energetic twin toddlers and an older daughter. She did the majority of her sit-down homeschooling with her daughter when the boys napped and after their 7 pm bedtime.
Nurse the baby or wear baby in a sling while reading and helping the older kids.
- Assign the older kids to the little ones. If you have more than one older child, ask them to trade off spending time with the little ones while you work with the other. This can be especially fun for older kids if they can “play teacher,” lead art projects or otherwise do something they enjoy too.
- Do some subjects all together. Little kids can join in with the big ones in many activities, and others can be scaled down for their participation. For instance, if you’re doing lapbooking with the older kids you can fold up a lapbook for your toddler and give him a pile of stickers to happily stick to it.
- Give the older kids independent work. Kids can do reading, worksheets, computer activities and such on their own and just come to you when they need help.
- Take it outside. Many toddlers will happily play in a sandbox or back yard for hours. Spread out a blanket, grab your read-aloud and let the kids play while you read or do math drills or whatever.
- Use educational videos. If your kids watch TV, it can work well to pop in a fun educational video for younger kids while you work with older ones. Word World and The Magic School Bus are favorites around here. You can find all sorts for free through the Blue Earth County Library, or order them through Netflix.
- Remember, this time will pass. It’s okay if you don’t get as much done during this time as you hoped to. Homeschooling is dynamic, evolving and ever-changing. It doesn’t have to plod along at the same pace every day of every year the way traditional school does. Perhaps this will be a season of focusing on homemaking skills, reading, art projects and educational computer games, and perhaps later on there will be more of a focus on field trips and academics when you have more freedom for those. One of the great things about homeschooling is that it takes so much less time for kids to learn things. Another great thing about homeschooling is that kids typically keep on learning even when you feel like you’re not getting anything done!