What to do with babies while homeschooling

With four kids who are school age and three littles who aren’t, one of the most frequent questions I get about homeschooling is “What do you do with the babies?”

My short answer? Have a plan. Everybody’s plan looks different, but in order to make it through the day, you need an easy routine that ensures all of the needs get met.

A few hints to help you plan:

1. Give your smallest children attention first.

I read this somewhere so I can’t claim credit for this thought, but it’s true. Of course, the baby’s needs have to be met before any of us can function in the morning. He makes sure of it.

But I also try and have a cuddle with my toddlers before school. Ten mintues to read a book makes them feel secure and attended to. This breeds contentment when I need to focus on their siblings.

2. Assign an older child not doing school to play with a younger child.

Of course, this only works if you have more than one older child, but the “older” doesn’t have to be much older. We begin our mornings all together and then as I split off to work with individuals, I make sure there’s at least one child not doing school that can play with my Littles.

The change is good for my older kids as well as the toddlers. Different siblings play different ways and can change up the activity for everybody. Meanwhile, you’re secretly fostering relationships between all the sibs, you sneaky Mama, you!

3. Include your Littles as much as you can.

We start our day as a complete group, with prayer or some discussion of the day ahead. Then I put the baby on the floor with toys and let the little girls play with their downstairs toys. (Pick quiet toys for the room you do school in. I use Little People.)

I only insist that they stay in the room with us. They do not have to listen to the book I’m reading or participate in any way, unless they seem interested. Sometimes, they get sucked in to the story or are curious about the videos we watch on my laptop.

I also let them play with the math blocks during lessons. It gives us a chance to practice our Clean-Up skills when we’re done!

If they are too loud when they play, I ask them to be quieter until we are done. If they have trouble being quiet, I have them stop playing and sit right at my feet. Sometimes this turns into a battle of wills, of course, but perhaps that is the true lesson we all need to learn that day.

I try not to banish the Littles from the room while I’m teaching my older four all together. They like to be where the action is and I can supervise their activity.

4. Pack ‘n plays and baby slings were made for such a time as this.

There’s no shame in using some pack ‘n play time so you can have your hands free for a math lesson. It’s a safe, established boundary for your baby. You don’t have to leave them there long if you divide your day into short sessions.

When we adopted our daughter, I couldn’t use a pack ‘n play so I strapped her on my back. (I love my Ergo.) She was usually pretty content, although I have taught a spelling lesson or three at a full YELL because I needed to drown out the noise of an unhappy baby. (This would be a good time to keep your lessons short and end with a hug for everybody.)

5. Utilize nap time.

If the subject matter requires your complete attention to teach, naptimes are your friend. I ask myself, “If I teach this while the babies are awake, will I end up yelling?” If the answer is yes, then it probably needs to wait until there are fewer interruptions (and maybe I’ve eaten a bit of chocolate.)

A word of caution: if nap time is YOUR only break, make sure you don’t fill it completely with school. With our children home all day every day, we need to factor in a mommy break somewhere. This makes us better teachers and better parents.

I strike this balance by doing any teaching with my kids in the morning and then during nap time, they do all of their independent work. I’m still available if they need me individually, but I go to my room and take a break.

6. Retain your sense of humor.

There is no greater comedic relief than a toddler. Don’t forget to enjoy your Littles, laugh with them, and revel in the knowledge that your older kids are getting to enjoy them with you. This is such a gift, to laugh together and enjoy the babies. What precious memories you are giving your children when they spend the days with their siblings!

Homeschooling is a choice you make for your entire family for your current season of life. This means you’ve chosen homeschooling for your school age children and your babies.

Do not view the Littles as a deterrent or an interruption. They are part of your family and part of your school. A day spent with Littles is, perhaps, the most interesting and diverse “curriculum” you have to offer!

How do YOU keep your Little People entertained during school hours?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.


  1. Oh I have found keeping little people happy during school to be the best possible fun. Far easier than seeing that my older kids are actually doing what we had planned for the day!!! You are so right that a sense of humour is the ultimate tool!!! Here’s our post on what my little people do all day: http://www.se7en.org.za/2010/11/12/homeschool-question-what-do-little-people-do-during-school
    se7en’s latest post: Sunday Snippet: The Jungle Doctor and the Whirlwind… A Review.

  2. This is an incredibly timely post for me. I have a 5, 3 and 1 year old, and I don’t feel like anyone is learning right now. I’m always interrupting my time with my kindergartener to go break up little tiffs between my younger two in a different room. I appreciate your suggestions…looks like it may be time to invest in some Little People!
    Jeni’s latest post: Creating Content Pinterest Users will LOVE

  3. Great suggestions! We are just beginning school and really, everything we do so far is fairly hands on stuff that we all participate in. I have however wondered what it will be like we have more “school” looking days.

    However, your current suggestion of giving the Littles time before starting is helpful whether school is involved or not. I find that if I give my kids some individual attention first thing in the morning they play independently better throughout the day.
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Caterpillars and more

  4. I do not homeschool and this is the reason–I could never figure out what my youngest would do while I was doing school with my middle child (the oldest is doing great in public school). These are great suggestions for homework time, though–always a struggle around here. I need to plan for that time better.
    Tera’s latest post: Bubby’s Batty Birthday

  5. When they are out of the putting everything in the mouth all the time, but you don’t yet trust them with small things unsupervised, (maybe 18 months or so), mine loved playing with buttons, beans, tokens, etc. with lots of bowls and bottles to put them into and pour out of. My 3 yo still plays with all these things but now sorts them by color or however she wants to. You do have to keep an eye on them but it’s a good thing to do when everyone is seated at the table.

  6. Kathleen K says:

    Our days of “littles” is over, as my youngest recently turned 8. I do remember those days with fondness, however. I believe I did incorporate every one of the suggestions you’ve given, as well as one more:

    Train your child to sit still, with nothing to do, for a set period of time. Begin early (5 or 6 months, yes, you read correctly) for only a minute, and work your way to longer times (up to 1/2 hour by age 3). This skill will come in handy for you (think dr’s office, church, the bank, license branch, etc) and for your child (for the rest of his/her life).

  7. I just wanted to thank you for the reminder that we have chosen homeschooling for our whole family. I often struggle with having a good attitude about little ones during school time when they are fuss and interrupting.

  8. Thank you for the tips! All good, except for using naptime for school. Nope, uh-uh, nada. That’s Mommy’s time.

    (Not that I’m defensive about my selfishness or anything.)

    • Rachel: Obviously, you missed my “word of caution” which is my way of justifying my need to crawl under my covers while clutching a bar of chocolate every afternoon. 🙂

  9. it’s not so much keeping my 3 year old busy while the 6 year old and i do school–it is keeping her focused on doing her school work when she is distracted by whatever her brother is doing, and wanting to do that with him.

  10. Boy, did I need to read this today!! Thank you 🙂

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