We don't use worksheets or busy work or cute activities in our home. When my children are working on formal lessons, I want them to be engaged with books and ideas and math problems, not just busy. It doesn't differ much in the early years. I present books and ideas from nature. They are engaged, but keeping them busy is not something I aim for.
People often ask me how to keep little ones busy while older children do formal lessons. I think mamas really want to know how to minimize disruptions while homeschooling, and I don't know how to answer that! Since I started homeschooling Miss H, it is a big challenge to simultaneously care for a toddler and preschooler while trying to impart wisdom on a six-year-old.
In a Read Aloud Revival master class, Sarah Mackenzie said, "Homeschooling is not an emergency." This has helped change my perspective on homeschooling with little ones around, and has encouraged me to interact more with my two little boys while homeschooling. I'm not trying to keep them out of my way. I'm homeschooling them, too, although without formal lessons. They need to know that they are also a part of our learning atmosphere, and not just a problem to be solved. Every child is different, but this is our approach for homeschooling with little ones around.
I've used affiliate links in this post to share some of the things my little guys use while we're homeschooling. You can read more about affiliate links in my policies.
1. Embrace the interruptions
Getting annoyed over every little interruption didn't work. I tried. Amazingly, my frustration didn't prevent my little guys from interrupting. So I've learned not to stress out so much about delays. If I feel like I have a tight schedule to adhere to, then maybe I have too much planned, or too many activities in our day.
Embracing interruptions does not mean that I'm totally open to interruptions 100% of the time. I still have boundaries. Sometimes I put up a hand and say, "Let me finish this paragraph first!" or, "After this lesson, okay?" But, knowing that I'm available to them seems to make my little guys need me less. I'm not an off limits temptation, giving all of my attention to someone else. This release on controlling interruptions has made a huge difference in our homeschool.
2. Include Them
For the same reason that I embrace interruptions, I include my little guys. They want to feel like homeschooling is for them too, because it is. I don't value academics in the early years, but I do value my children's desire to learn. I try to follow his lead (my four year old, at least. My two year old is interested in toys and vacuums!)
Our school room is set up in our basement, and we also have the majority of our toys down there. This helps immensely! The younger two play during homeschooling time, and they have plenty of options to choose from.
A quick look at what including looks like in our home:
- Telling them that morning time is for all of them, not just big sis
- Including books for the little ones in our morning basket
- Presenting ideas from the Idea Nest all together, my oldest included
- Having coloring books accessible for "school work"
- Letting little ones sit on my lap while I'm reading
- Taking breaks in between lessons to play with my little guys or to help them with their Lego Duplo creations
- Giving one-on-one time to each boy before we start our lessons for the day
- Allow them to participate in any lessons as much as they can (both of my little boys especially love playing with math manipulatives!)
These are some of the things that keep my four-year-old engaged during lesson time. My two-year-old also loves Duplos!
3. Work on Habits
This is starting to sound like a go-to answer, but I believe that whenever we hit troubles in homeschooling, we need to evaluate which habits could help us solve them. I am currently working with my boys on playing together nicely. When we are working on homeschool lessons, 85% of our interruptions involve two fighting boys! We've been practicing not taking things from each other while playing, and it's starting to help!
4. Move Lessons Outside
It's the middle of January in Colorado, and while that doesn't say much weather-wise (it has been 50 degrees for the past week!) our backyard is still iced over thanks to its north-facing position. In the fall, when it was sunnier, I often moved our lessons outside. I just grabbed all of the books that I could, spread a blanket, and got to work. Everyone loved this! The little guys could play safely and supervised, and big sis enjoyed the fresh air.
When we don't do this, it's a struggle to get my little guys the outdoor time that they need. This allows us to hit our outdoor time goal (this year we're shooting for 1000 hours outside!)
5. Make a Checklist
This year, now that H is a great reader, I made her a checklist of work that she can do independently. This includes copywork, handwriting, nature journal entries, and sometimes math reviews. I print this list out each weekend, and give it to her during the week. It's her responsibility to complete it. When I get pulled away by one of the little boys, or by the laundry buzzer, I give her the checklist and she gets to work.
This has been hugely helpful because our day can keep moving forward even when I step away. She loves the responsibility of keeping track of "homework" on her own, too. If your child is too young for a checklist, you probably can find a line of copywork or a sand tray to keep your homeschooled child engaged while you care for your little ones.
Is homeschooling with little ones around possible? Absolutely.
Is it easy and peaceful? No way.
But if we remind ourselves that our little ones need us, just as our older children do, then our perspective will shift a bit and we'll be able to see our young children as included members of our homeschools and not as distractions.