One of the biggest questions some people have when thinking about homeschooling or getting started homeschooling is, "What do I do with my littles (toddlers and babies) when I am trying to do school?" This is an area that I have had a lot of experience with. The first year I started homeschooling, I had a 3rd grader, 3 1/2 year old, 20 month old, and a newborn. I had no idea what I was going to do with my younger children during school, but I have learned a lot along the way not just with those children, but also the three more that were soon to follow.
The first thing that has always been VERY important to me, is that I did not want our little ones to feel pushed aside or unwelcome during our school time. My caption on my Facebook page says, "Homeschooling is not just what we do, it is a part of who we are." To me, homeschooling is just an extension, another part of our life, and I always, always want all of my children to be part of that, an not feel cast aside. That is another reason why we intentionally seek out outside activities that allows the whole family to be a part of. We are a family and I will not have my younger children feeling like they are a nuisance or a distraction to anyone.
That all sounds good, but seriously what do you do with your younger children?
First thing after breakfast we try to get outside for a little while when we can. It helps our school day go better when they have had an opportunity to get outside and burn off some of that early morning energy.
Our school day is split into morning work and afternoon work. Our morning work is our "together" work and includes things like: Bible, History, Science, and a read aloud. The afternoon work is individual work and includes things like: Math, Writing, Spelling, Reading, and Latin.
In the mornings we all gather into the schoolroom which is also our playroom. All of the children are expected to listen quietly while we do a short Bible lesson and learn our Bible verse. Even small children can be trained to be quiet for a short period of time (I'm talking 5-10 minutes tops.) In the beginning when this is new you will have to remind them what is expected before you begin (and probably once or twice in the middle too.) After that short lesson, the children do a little bit longer lesson that has coloring pages, and the baby has her own coloring page and crayons to color with. While I am reading aloud, my younger children are aloud to color, draw, or play quietly with toys. Again, there are times when they will need to be gently reminded that they need to be quiet and listen. Here is a story that happened in my homeschool yesterday:
I was reading aloud from George Washington: True Patriot. The chapters are quite lengthy. But the children know they are supposed to sit and listen. Anthony was playing with a toy quietly but then he seemed to forget the "quiet" part. He started making vrooming noises with the plane he was holding. I reminded him he needed to play with it quietly. A few minutes later he was making noises again. I reminded him again that he needed to be quiet while I was reading and told him if he disrupted me again he would just have to sit there. He began playing quietly again. When I finally he finished Anthony looked at Christian and said "She's done! Ka-boom! My plane just blew yours up!"
So what were my little girls doing while I was reading? Playing quietly with their doll house and climbing up and down in my lap. My "baby" is 2 1/2. When I had children that were even younger, I would keep them busy with some juice and a snack, or nurse them while I was reading.. Or put them on the floor beside us to play. My children are used to working in an environment that does not have complete silence. I would never expect an infant to stay quiet during school and your older children can get used to hearing the cooing and squealing in the back ground.
Afternoon work is a little more challenging, because I need to be able to work one on one with each of the children. I need about 1 1/2 hours to do this. This used to happen when the baby was napping, but my 2 1/2 year old is no longer taking naps. During this time it is a great idea to have some things you can bring out for the younger child that they can do by themselves that is just for "school time." Letter magnets, lacing beads, lacing cards, puzzles, playdough, a special coloring book, special blocks, shapes, water color paints, etc... Any special activity that they can work on quietly while you work with your other children will work. I store these things in those $1 plastic "shoe boxes" that you can buy at Walmart and bring them out during afternoon school work. Also, those small white boards that are around $2 are great if you also have big kids that have them. When my 1st and 2nd graders are doing spelling on their white boards, the baby can do her "spelling" on hers.
Emelia does not last 1 1/2 hours with these activities. Usually 30 minutes or so. I allow her to play some games on the iPad for 15-20 minutes, and because our playroom is right next to our family room, I make this time of day her "TV time." She can sit and watch one of her favorite shows in the room next to where we are working, but because the other children can't see it, it doesn't distract them at all. It works out great for us to have TV time during this time of day. Again, that doesn't mean she doesn't ever interrupt, she does. She will run in climb in my lap for a few minutes and run back out. Or run in and ask me a question and run back out.
Sometimes she will bring me a book to read or want me to go do something with her, but I explain that I am working with Alex right now and as soon as I finish I will read to you. When I get finished with the other children, I spend time everyday reading, coloring, or playing games with her and Lily.
It is not hard to homeschool with littles! It requires flexibility, a little creativity, some child (and parent) training, and an understanding that there WILL be interruptions! But, your younger children can and should feel included in your school day. I plan a writing a blog post specifically on this topic, but it is amazing how much your younger children will learn and absorb just by being in the same room and listening as you read and teach your older children! It's a winning situation for all!