How to Homeschool with a Baby or Toddler (& Enjoy It!)

When I was first considering homeschooling, it overwhelmed me to think of teaching multiple children. How do you orchestrate the day so that everyone gets enough attention?

And what if you find yourself blurry eyed from lack of sleep because of a sweet newborn? Or in the races as you daily chase a never-stay-put toddler?

Is it possible to successfully homeschool with little ones underfoot?

If you’ve ever wondered the same, here are a four ideas to keep your smile and your sanity while juggling littles and learning.

1. Practice strategic timing.

Having babies on hand requires doses of both strategy and flexibility to ensure a successful school day.

You may want to plan your most important school subjects for when your little one is napping, so you can focus on your older children. Likewise, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you schedule an intense science experiment right as your two-year-old is getting cranky for dinner.

So look at what you need to accomplish in a given day and plan around the needs of your littlest students.

2. Trade off with older children.

Photo by www.nicolesfromtheheart.com

If you have slightly older children in your home, they can be assigned a daily 30 minute block of time to care for or play with your littlest. Older children can practice their reading skills with a picture book as a young child listens. This playtime can take place in an adjoining room, allowing you to supervise if necessary.

This pairing off creates family bonds, allows siblings to develop deep relationships, lets your older child learn responsibility, and provides the practical break you may need to help another child with his spelling.

3. Plan activities.

Rotate a list of activities for your baby or toddler–something he or she can do to feel part of the action during school time.

When my boys were babies they had “Playpen Time” everyday. For 20-30 minutes, they entertained themselves with a few toys in their playpens. This enabled me to accomplish a short task–while knowing they were in a safe place. A homeschooling mother could use this time to work one-on-one with an older child.

Babies may enjoy time in a high chair or exersaucer (or in a snuggly attached to you!). Older toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy a variety of play tasks. I suggest a different box or bag for each day of the week. Bring it out only when you need to work with another child.

Make sure you pick activities that your little one can do without direct assistance (Some ideas: playdough, pouring/sorting beans, crayons and paper, lacing beads, blocks, and so on.)

4. Remember that flexibility is the key.

Photo by Ashlee

The only thing you can predict when you have little ones is that things will be unpredictable.

That’s why you must remember that family relationships are just as important as the other three “R’s.” Through spending extended time together each day, our children develop a closeness and security that will provide a stable foundation to their relationships as adults.

As this lovely article reminds us, the baby is the lesson. So don’t wish your little one away.

Instead kiss those little toes, chase and tickle that chubby toddler, and be thankful for the richness they add to your homeschool.

How do you orchestrate school in your home with a baby or toddler on the scene?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Jamie! Another timely post – This is the second time where I have gone to bed with a particular question in mind, and woke up to an answer from you! I have been struggling for a successful system, with 5 children ranging from 2 to 13, and 2 with special needs; I began feeling like a failure as a homeschooling parent. We’ve only been at this for 6 months but it seems as though the homeschooling blogs I read paint a picture of perfection. I am left wondering why I can’t homeschool for consecutive hours & do the types of intricate projects that they can. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall and see how other families integrate school into their day, to get some real-life practical tips, rather than an idealized scenario.

  2. jackie says:

    Great post! I always say that the hardest part of home schooling is the fact that I have a 23 month old running around while we’re trying to get major tasks done! And I find myself feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my toddler.

    We are definitely doing some of our tougher subjects while Amelia is napping in the afternoon. I also try to squeeze an important subject in the morning before she gets up!

    I’ve also started spending 20-30 minutes after lunch focus directly on Amelia (reading books with her, playing with her shape sorter, building blocks, etc.). This has definitely helped my guilty feelings! :)

    I love the idea of getting out a different box activity every day! I’m sure we’ll incorporate that next year when I’ll have two kids in school. So simple, but I bet it works like a charm…at least for 20 mintues or so! Most of the time, that’s all you need to get that 1 big task done!

    Thanks so much for sharing!
    .-= jackie’s last blog: chicken.manicotti =-.

  3. Beth says:

    My son works on the things that he does well or needs not a lot of concentration for when Katie is awake. When she goes down for a nap, we work on the areas that require more one-on-one interaction. So, right now, he’s working on fine motor control, so he’ll do mazes, cutting/pasting activities and coloring pages while Katie is awake. When she goes down for her nap, he’ll work on phonics, math, and science.

    But we also do a lot of teachable moment stuff, so when the opportunity arises, we work on it. Yesterday, he sat and watched an ice cube melt because we’ve been talking about states of matter. For that, it doesn’t matter if Katie is asleep or awake.

  4. Kika says:

    Certainly we used many of the suggestions listed: reading aloud to older kids while nursing (although my baby would always try to get her toes into the book), pairing my two older kids for 30 mins each with the youngest to do ‘educational activities’ with her, working on more involved projects while youngest was napping, etc. I have to admit, though, that with my third, I brought a little TV and VCR into my living room so she could watch 30 mins of Blues Clues each morning while we worked too. For a season that felt like a life-saver to me! As she became more independant, the TV was stashed away once again. I would (and do) also start parts of supper early in the day – a pot of rice or beans, make the salad, whatever… by getting that done early in the day we don’t feel a stressful crunch late afternoon. “Read or Rest” times were important to me when my kids were younger; I desperately needed that quiter time and it allowed me to put my feet up and read or snuggle on my bed, nursing my youngest – but basically ‘forced’ me to slow down and breathe:)

  5. Jill T says:

    I flip-flopped my days…I think most homeschoolers do their schooling in the morning and then have afternoons to have free time. Because I still have afternoon nappers (and I wasnt ready to give that up!) we have free time in the morning- I do my cleaning, sometimes even prepare dinner-my son has music lessons, we do playdates, museums and playtime and then after lunch I my youngest takes his nap while I school 2 at the table- then my 5 year old takes a nap and I have 1 on 1 w/ the older child- he needs that 1 on 1 w/ reading and math…sometimes we dont end our school day until 4pm- but we had the whole morning off! I love our schedule now but once the naps end I’ll give mornings a try…

  6. Hannah says:

    I no longer have a toddler (my youngest is 4), but I still feel the stress of juggling different ages and needs. When I feel like there’s never enough of me to go around, I remind myself that my children are still getting far more attention than they would in a full classroom!
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: Two Cups of Coffee =-.

  7. Kim says:

    Thank you for this post. My husband and I have determined we want to try homeschooling (our oldest is 4 so we’ll start next fall) and I’m still in a stage of fear and trepidation when it comes to even admitting it to people for fear of what they will think and feeling like I have to defend myself. This blog is awesome and so timely, the posts always set me at ease and reassure me that I CAN do it. We have 3 kids 4 and under, and hope to have one more, so this post was another that set my fears to rest.
    .-= Kim’s last blog: 98: Bathwreck =-.

  8. Kara says:

    Oh, how I relate to this post! Last year I had a first grader, a toddler who still took naps, and an infant. My oldest and I did most of our school work during the naptime and it was fine.

    This year, oh boy! So different! My 3 year old doesn’t take naps anymore and my infant is now a toddler herself and only naps once a day. Add in the fact that my second grader needed more one on one time with me and the first month or two of homeschool was pretty dicey. ;-)

    I started using structured play ideas (thank you, Jamie!) and giving the younger two special activities for school time as well as giving my school aged child more activities that should could do independently. That got us through the rest of fall and winter. Lately I’ve noticed my toddler and 3 year old will play pretty well together, so that helps give the oldest and I some time. (for now, at least) I can only imagine what next year will bring :-)
    .-= Kara’s last blog: Weekend Showcase: Link Love =-.

  9. Ellen says:

    great post! I am just looking into homeschooling now (my son is only 11 months right now but for the future!)…I really like the idea of the bags for different days. I can use that idea now to rotate his toys and keep them exciting!

  10. These are great tips. Moms in our homeschool group ask about this all the time, and I personally have no experience with it. We started homeschooling when my youngest was 5. I’ll link to this on our forum :)
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: Family Fun Night Link-Up! =-.

  11. prasti says:

    very helpful, thank you! we are still considering whether or not homeschool is the right fit for our family, and the topic above is definitely something i’ve thought about if we do decide to homeschool. it always seems overwhelming thinking about how to manage school and a baby at the same time, but the ideas you provide are encouraging! thanks :)
    .-= prasti’s last blog: top ten tuesday =-.

  12. Great post and tips! I think more and more about homeschooling when we bring kids into the picture (fingers crossed it’s sooner rather than later!). However, I have about a million questions and concerns, and this was one of them. I just found this site through the Simple Moms…love it, bookmarking it now!

    http://thepursuitofmommyness.com/
    .-= The Pursuit of Mommyness’s last blog: 5 Blog Post Mommy Must Reads =-.

  13. MomStarr says:

    Planning and yet being flexible have been hard for me but as we homeschool with little ones running around it gets easier. I have to keep the flexible side in mind always!! Some days fall apart completely and we just go with it and some days flow fine. Thanks for the reminder to just enjoy these little ones and not let the distractions and unpredictability get us down!! I have 7 children: 18 months up to 12 years with one on the way.

  14. se7en says:

    I love that the baby is the lesson!!! I think when we homeschool we can get so caught up in teaching “the basics” and “ticking the boxes” and we forget that one of the main reasons is so that we can spend time together and be the whole flexible family unit learning together as one. Thanks for a great reminder, I love it!!!

  15. Thank you so much for this post. I am due to start preschool from home next year and will be continuing through with homeschooling due to logistical reasons. I have been very anxious about the thaught of having babies in the schoolroom at the same time as having to teach older children. I think the beauty of homeschool is that it is so flexible! There is no need to panic and worry about such scenarios as you simply take a step back and find a way for it to work around you and your family! Not to mention that homeschooling is a lot about life learning rather than just the basics as another commenter has mentioned. Some great pointer in this post, well done for settling my nerves!
    Sophie
    http://wakegirls.blogspot.com/
    .-= sophie wakefield’s last blog: A beach wedding….how beautiful! =-.

  16. Homeschooling with preschoolers underfoot is all I’ve ever known! I someday think I’ll need to read a blog post on how to homeschool when there are only older children ;)

    Anyway, lots of ideas specifically for moms homeschooling older kiddos alongside little ones at http://www.preschoolersandpeace.com

    You CAN do this!

    ~Kendra

  17. My youngest is in middle school now, but when the kids were younger, I was a nanny so that I could stay at home with them. We did the intensive things (like math and phonics) while the baby was sleeping and the things they could do on their own or with me in the room with a baby on my hip, they did.

    When the kids are younger elementary ages, it’s so great to be flexible. Kids learn best in small chunks and teaching moments, anyway. As they get older, they learn to self-teach, always with mom there to guide, hand-hold, and answer (a million) questions, but one of the beauties of homeschooling is that they develop lifelong learning habits.

    So, when they’re doing their math practice sheet alone at the table while you’re feeding the baby, don’t feel guilty–you’re teaching them a very important skill!

  18. Christy says:

    Thanks for this post! I forgot about the rice/beans play. I need to get one of those going. I have an 8 year old and twin 3 year olds. I originally loved the spacing because when the twins were born my oldest was 5 and able to do a lot of things on her own. But now it feels tricky as they have such different interests/capabilities due to their 5 year age difference. It is a struggle giving my oldest the experiences I would like to while still staying sane with my little ones.

    • LaRee says:

      When I read this I thought I better tell you that age gap would have come either way no matter how far apart they are. I have several children and they were all born about 1 1/2 years (18 months) apart. I noticed when they were all 4 and younger they would all play basically the same things, one set of toys out, they were fine, when the oldest turned 5 1/2 she became disinterested in what everyone else was having a ball doing. Now we always have to get ALL the sets of toys out and just hope they all get back into their right boxes at the end of the day. Course its not all wrapped around toys but everyone is on such a different level of development that each girls needs have top be considered :)

  19. Thank you for this wonderful post.
    I have thought about homeschooling many times!
    But never thought I could do it! Love your ideas and thoughts
    it makes me think that maybe I CAN do it too!

  20. Bonnie says:

    I am not a homeschooler and hats off to you all, I couldn’t possibly do it!!

    But when I was small (the youngest of 3) my elder siblings did correspondence school for a while. When their activities arrived there was also something for me – story tapes, craft activities. And I still remember it (and I don’t remember much from my childhood!). So maybe something just for toddler would work. Wrap it up, pretend it came in the post (or have it posted!) just for those times when you need the space.

    Oh I guess I could use this idea for all my kids just to get the meals cooked!!!

  21. Bethany says:

    Oh this is so good. This year I have been homeschooling with a 3rd grader an EARLY 1st grader (that needs lots of hands on attention) and a two year old and then to top it off gave birth in September to my fourth….right when it was all getting started. I have concentrated on the three R’s that is where my focus is. The newborn is pretty easy, I can hold and nurse him while I work with the two older boys. However, my two year old daughter is the one that makes it hard. I have finally figured out a routine. She goes on a playdate one day a week with her cousin and we concentrate on getting a lot done school wise that day. Plus focus on the hard assignments then. I do Math after lunch when she is napping so that she isn’t ripping up the boys stuff and they can concentrate. She listens in when we do reading and history. I let go and let her make a lot of messes in the house. One really funny thing that entertains her that I found out by accident is moving furniture around. One morning I had our dining room table near the wall from a party we had….she spent the whole morning under it playing. I have moved other pieces of furniture for the day and oddly it entertains her.

    The boys go to special science, choir and PE classes one day a week and that give me time to really focus on her and the baby and make them feel special. Plus when they go down for a nap gives me some much needed catch up time myself. We have an umbrella school that we are a part of that offers this. If you all don’t have that look for local art classes and such or to trade with a friend so that your non school age children have a little one on one time with you built in to the week.

    I also try to do book time with her when I have gotten the older boys started on things. She just needs attention. I am sure next year will be exciting with another toddler in the mix. I had an older woman tell me to relax do my best when the year is done know….your kids aren’t gettin any stupider. HA HA. By God’s grace somehow we have made it through this year and are on target to finish everything early or on time. It is a miracle or an answer to many prayers. Somehow we survived. I honestly was very worried and a little worn out at the start of the school year.

  22. I don’t have kids old enough for school yet, but my 3.5 year old has been very keen on playing pretend school. This question comes up for us because we have a toddler in the house too. I’m struggling to keep them both engaged during this playtime.

  23. Sandy says:

    Awesome post just the inspiration I need as I am in the mist of homeschooling a 6 yr old and a 2 yr old. I am struggling with this and reading this post gave me a nice tips to manage my boys. Again thanks and I will come back for more motivation.

  24. Susan Lemons says:

    Hello,
    Great post! Your readers might also enjoy my article that appeared in Home School Enrichment Magazine titled, “Keeping Little Ones Busy” (while your school your school older children). You can find it on my blog http://www.susanlemons.wordpress.com click on the tab, “My Articles.”
    Blessings,
    Susan
    .-= Susan Lemons’s last blog: Why Preschoolers Need to Play =-.

  25. Rachel says:

    I’m currently homeschooling my six year old in first grade and taking care of my four year old and one year. Things get crazy at times. But I try not to rush us too much in the morning. I’ll assign my four year old to take care of the baby, like watching a baby einstein together or playing upstairs together. My baby still takes very long naps so I try to do math and reading during that time. Now that the weather is nicer we may head outside for school. The baby seems much more content when she’s outside on a blanket. She hates grass so she actually stays put on the blanket. LOL

    Awesome article! Flexibility is the key! I used to feel guilty because I did not do school like my parents did when they homeschooled me. We were very formal and traditional doing our pledges at 9:00 sharp. We finished around noon. It was very structured, etc. But my brother and I are 18 mo. apart so that schedule was actually possible for her. Not so much for me though.

  26. Anak Inya says:

    Wow, I never thought of this before and I know it is not easy. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Anak Inya’s last blog: When to introduce solid food to your baby? =-.

  27. Wayne Baker says:

    Great post. My wife currently homeschools our seven- and eight-year old daughters while also looking after our six-month old son. I often wonder how she does it. It turns out she uses a lot of the methods you describe and this helps her to keep her sanity. You have packed a lot of wisdom into this article. Thanks for that!
    Wayne Baker’s latest post: The Time Is Right For The Kidco BabySteps Electric Food Mill

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  29. Lysa W says:

    We limit computer time for our kids each day and I’m not a huge fan of setting little ones in front of the computer/TV too much, however….. I have started allowing my 3 1/2 year old small amounts of time on starfall.com while I work with my older 2. It teaches her about letters/sounds/reading and she feels like one of the big kids with her own computer time.
    Great website for pre-schoolers through early readers!

  30. Marie says:

    I only have a 3 and a half year at the moment and I could not imagine what it would be like to have two kids to look after, let alone homeschool. Thank you for this, this has been helpful for me to work out how I will juggle things when we have another baby and my son is older.
    Marie’s latest post: The Benefits of Baby Wearing – 6 Pros to Buying A Sling

  31. Barbara Boss says:

    Well said Jamie. It has been fun homeschooling my kids and the juggle is always what to do with the darling ones under foot. I so very much agree that you should just take time to enjoy the fact that they are there instead of wish they weren’t interupting your school time with the older children. Thanks for the good advice. It’s always nice to see others successes and try them out:)

  32. educator says:

    Thanks for the awesome tips. A link to your article is going out in my next newsletter.
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  33. Patricia Stubbs says:

    I know this post is a couple of years old, I have 18 month old twins that I’m planning on homeschooling if even until they’re 4 (I’d like to do longer but I don’t know if it will be feasible).

    Where do I start? Yes, we read books and go over colors and I count when I’m buckling them in their car seats. We go out side a lot, if I turn on the TV (doesn’t usually happen, especially during the day) they look at it for 30 seconds and run off to play (I am proud of that). They play with magnetic letters, sort beans (not a lot). I feel like there is something else that I could be doing. Writing it out makes it seem like a lot but during the day I think “what now?”.

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