(This is an portion of a letter I wrote to a friend with ideas for entertaining toddlers while home schooling school-aged children).
First of all I must confess, I do not have this all figured out. Each year I try new ideas and find new solutions through trial and error. I have had the opportunity to listen to CDs, read books and pick the brain of those who have gone before me. From these resources, and some of my own experiences, I have put together some ideas that will hopefully aid you in your schooling efforts. Although there is much to be said on the spiritual side ie: praying for wisdom, training your children toward good character etc., this will primarily be practical ideas. When I am faced with questions, I personally need to hear more than that it can be done, I want to know how to do it. So, if you are like me, here are some ideas on ‘how to do it.’
Before you dive into the school day, teaching your older children, spend time with the younger ones. Fill them up with your love and attention before setting them up to work/play alone. This can take on a variety of looks: playing with them, singing together, or reading. I started off doing this while my older boys prepared breakfast. This changed to after breakfast while the boys worked on independent school assignments. It changed again and settled into a time after breakfast when I would send the older boys to separate areas where they read devotional books. I would call them back when I was done with the little ones. This gave me uninterrupted time and kept the older boys from visiting with one another.
When toddler time is done, set them up with something specific to do. They will know what to do when they are told in advance and when useful, how long the activity will last. We thrive, in my home, on routine. When you keep to a routine (even though at times you may have to deviate) everyone will know what is expected of him/her. I recommend changing the activities frequently. I bought a small timer at the Dollar store for my preschooler to carry around. This helped him to know and understand that whatever task I was giving him would come to an end. Therefore, if he wasn’t thrilled about a given task, he could know that when the timer went off, he would be able to do something else. I will list several ideas.
-Simply playing independently in his/her room. Playing music or audio CDs of some sort makes this even more fun. Rotating toys for this time is helpful. Playing with only cars (or dolls) and then another day having only puzzles or building blocks creates a time to look forward to as the toys are different and hopefully exciting because they are changed.
-The play bath. When your toddler is safe enough to play in the bathtub, this can be a fun option. Set aside things only used during the school bath time ie: bubbles, dumping/pouring toys etc. We have also schooled in the bathroom. With the toddler cheerfully playing, I have been able to sit on the closed toilet lid, have a student sit on a stool, and whaala! A new classroom!
-Water play in the kitchen sink. Set up a stool in front of the sink. Place a towel on the floor (or have one ready to use when play time is done) and provide measuring cups, spoons etc.
-Bubber! This is a fun modeling medium like Playdoh but never dries out. Find out more on the Timberdoodle website.
-Sticker fun. In the summer I put together small envelopes filled with a variety of stickers we already have. I then pull out one of these envelopes and a piece of paper and have a quick activity.
-Shapes and glue. I precut many shapes in different colors and sizes and again fill small envelopes with a variety of each. I then can give my preschooler an envelope, glue stick and paper and he can create a scene, creature… This also provides some easy lessons on shapes and colors.
-Activity boxes. Fill small boxes, one for each of your school days, with whatever you feel would entertain your toddler for a time. This could be toys, educational games or puzzles (there are so many out there). You can often go to websites like Timberdoodle and type in your age range and a host of games etc. come up. Again, I use the timer for this time. I give my son a box and set the timer. He then knows he can play with anything in that box until the timer goes off.
-Bean/rice box. Fill a plastic box with dried beans or rice. Include empty plastic bottles, funnels (I found some at the Dollar store) and cups. You can set a plastic tablecloth under the box to help with cleaning. Or give your child a small broom and dustpan.
-Reading time. I would have my child sit on his bed with books used for this time or a baby in his crib. Back gound music can make this more pleasing for them.
-The book, Mommy, Teach Me! By Barbara Curtis is an excellent book filled with activities for little ones. She describes how to present the activity, what the activity is teaching, what supplies are needed and what the age range is for each activity. Here are a few of her ideas for 1 ½ year olds to two year olds. There are many more for children up to around age six.
-Sorting: I like to use colored beads with a muffin pan.
-Spooning: two bowls, one filled with rice/beans etc. Teach to spoon contents of one bowl into the empty bowl. Make sure this is done with the full bowl on the left so the child moves the contents from left to right (pre-reading skill).
-Rice pouring: Rice is placed in a small pitcher and poured carefully into another container. You can eventually use water to pour (this would take more concentration). When the contents are shifted then the task is complete. Move the now filled container to the left side and repeat the process, always moving from left to right.
-Wringing sponge: Place two shallow containers in front of child. Fill the one on the left with some water. Show child how to fill a sponge with the water from the left bowl and squeeze it out into the empty bowl. Repeat process until all water is transferred, then change bowl positions and do over.
-Matching cards (start out with just a few).
-Color matching (you could use paint card samples).
-Folding or rolling cloth napkins.
lacing cards are great for children 3 and up.
Stringing large beads
Matching card games
Wedgits- a building activity using colored ‘blocks’ and design cards.
-Older students can take time with the preschoolers/toddlers. This time can either be a play time or a learning time. Older students can read to, teach colors, numbers, letters etc. I have enjoyed scheduling times for one student at a time to teach his younger sibling. This frees me to work with the remaining student as well as providing an opportunity for the teaching student to serve his sibling.
-Snack time. When your preschooler is old enough, have him become ‘snack man.’ When I wasn’t schooling I taught him how to prepare very simple snacks. Then fifteen minutes prior to recess he would make a snack to enjoy with his brothers. This was another fifteen minutes that he was busy and I was free for the older students. You may also use recess to connect again with your preschooler, perhaps doing a lesson together, reading a story, or anything to show that you love him and that he is just as important as his older siblings.
Snack ideas: cutting out slices of cheese with cookie cutters and placing them on crackers, sliced bananas and peanut butter, measuring out raisins, spooning yogurt into bowls, making trail mix- with supplies out, he counts out nuts, raisins, m&ms.
I hope these ideas are helpful and aid in your home school endeavors. Have fun!