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.
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?