One of the best things about homeschooling is that your child isn’t forced to only associate with peers in their own age bracket. Instead of limiting their interaction based on the year they were born, they can meet and learn with a variety of people—and it means you, the homeschooling grownup, can typically include multiple siblings in the same activity.
Of course, that doesn’t mean this doesn’t come without it’s own challenges, especially when the sibling who wants to be included isn’t even preschool age yet!
But if you’re homeschooling with a toddler in tow, don’t despair! Here are a few tips and tricks to help everyone feel involved without sacrificing the integrity of the lesson.
Be patient with your child—and yourself.
When you first start homeschooling with your younger child around, try not to set expectations too high for any of you. Your older child is likely still adjusting back into a school rhythm, you are adapting to a new lesson plan, and your littlest may never have experienced anything like homeschool before! If things feel chaotic initially, that doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong—it just means you are all still getting used to something new.
Remember: You are NOT a school. You can deliberately start your first few weeks slowly, adding in just one thing at a time until you’re all comfortable with your homeschool rhythm.
Work with the rhythm you already have.
In traditional school, your child has to adapt their needs to the framework established by the school. But this is homeschool! And you can tailor your day to your child’s needs—even if the child in question isn’t the actual student. If your younger child still takes a nap, use that time to do lessons with your older child that require more of your time and focus. If your child likes a slow start to the morning, make this the time you do your reading for the day in preparation for activities later on. If everyone is most cheerful right after lunch, use that time for art projects or experiments your younger child will be equally fascinated by.
And if the schedule you initially attempt isn’t working, change it. After all, you are the boss of your homeschool!
Always try including the younger child first.
Your natural inclination may be to distract your toddler while your older child does lessons, but before you do, see what happens if you let them sit in on the lesson like any other student. It may feel silly to explain photosynthesis or the painting technique of Van Gogh to a 2-year-old, but remember: Children often understand a great deal more than we expect, even from a very young age. And even if the lesson doesn’t actually sink in, you’re establishing foundations and patterns that will continue to serve your family as your children grow—meaning less work for you now and in the future.
Plus, with many of our play-based activities, even very young children can play along successfully even if they aren’t grasping the deeper meaning of the lesson (yet!). They just might surprise you how ready they are to participate, even at a young age!
Try a modification.
Of course, there will be some activities that are simply beyond your younger child’s abilities. That’s where modifications come in. Most younger siblings like to feel like they’re doing the same thing that their older sibling is, so look for an activity that incorporates the same materials or theme, but tweak it to be appropriate for your younger child’s development. Here are a few play-based activities to try:
- stringing beads on a pipe cleaner
- placing dot stickers on a line
- playing with blocks while an older child works with a moveable alphabet
- coloring with crayons
- playdough sculpting or pinching
- cutting playdough with safety scissors
- using tongs or tweezers to pick up pom poms
- color sorting
- paper tearing or crumpling (a “tearing station” is one of our favorite hacks to prevent younger siblings from destroying an older child’s work!)
- pouring (a great skill for getting them involved in cooking + science experiments)
- sensory bins (sand, water, and beans or dried corn are great for digging, scooping, and pouring)
- pretend play + gross motor activities like running, jumping, and dancing
Create a “morning basket.”
We’ve talked on our Instagram about using a homeschool basket to organize your week and get your child excited about lessons, but it can also be helpful to create a basket specifically for your younger child. It can be filled with toys, books, and activities that are only available during lesson time to help occupy your toddler while also giving them meaningful work that they’ll appreciate. Montessori-inspired activities can be great options for these activities. We love this clothespin activity task for improving fine motor skills, and these sticker dot ideas.
When in doubt, remember that it’s okay to take a break.
Especially when factoring a toddler into homeschool, it’s virtually guaranteed that there will be stormy days. But remember: You are not running out of time. If you need to take a day (or several days!) off to care for the needs of your children, that’s totally fine. It’s much better to call off a lesson than to try to force it through tears and frustration—and it will set you up for greater success the next time you try. Not making it through a lesson doesn’t mean you failed, it just means you learned something about how your children learn best.