I was asked this question the other day, so of course I had to turn the answer into a blog post! Our first year of homeschooling I had an 8 year old, 3 1/2 year old, 20 month old, and a newborn. 20 months later we had another little one. 22 months later we had another, and almost exactly 24 months later we had another. So I am no stranger to homeschooling with babies and toddlers. In fact this is this is the first time I have ever had a 3 year old without having a baby too (but I don't want to talk to much about that because it makes me sad missing babies.)
But that is a question that a lot of people want to know the answer to. How do you homeschool with little ones underfoot and what do you do with them during your school day? I have always wanted my younger children to be a part of our homeschool. I have never wanted them to feel like they were in the way or not welcome. In our house, most of our school work is done downstairs in either the family room or the playroom/schoolroom. If we are reading in one room, children can be playing in that same room or right in the next room, and when we are working at the table they can be playing on the floor or doing an activity with us at the table.
To be honest, Emelia has always been the most disruptive child I have had as far as our school day goes. From the time she got out of the sleep all the time phase she has found a way to wreak havoc on our day. I spent most of the 2011/2012 school year teaching standing up holding her. Then when she started becoming mobile, I would assign one child to keep an eye on her while I was working with the others. She is the baby and really enjoys being in the center of everything and being involved in everything we do.
She is now 3 1/2 and does quite well playing independently. We keep a variety of toys in the playroom including a doll house, little people princess castle and accessories, a play kitchen and accessories, and other play pretend toys that she can play with. She often comes in and listens when I am reading and I always keep crayons, paper, and pencils she can draw with close by. She climbs in and out of my lap (and sometimes Nick and Alex's too) as she wants to.
She participates in the activities that she is able to such as science experiments, cooking in the kitchen, and projects Lily is working on in her My Father's World Curriculum.
She also loves to sit and listen to me read Christian's literature books.
Painting is always fun, and when you are done you can stack the containers for more fun!
Magnet chips and wands are a great way to keep busy and have fun during the day.
We have all kinds of math manipulatives that Emmie plays with during the school day.
She also gets to take a turn on the iPad.
Puzzles, playdough, stringing beads, lacing activities are some other things that keep Emmie busy during the school day.
What about interruptions? There will always be interruptions in life and that is true in the homeschool as well especially if you have more than one child. When you have babies and toddlers there will be more interruptions then when you have older children. Some things I tried to do when I had babies and toddlers was to keep things handy that I could possibly need (snack, juice cup, wipes, diapers, tissues, favorite baby toys) so I wouldn't have to take the time to hunt down those things during the school day to minimize interruptions. We are blessed to have a bathroom off of playroom/schoolroom which came in very handy while potty training. Our one on one school work took place in the afternoon while the baby was napping and I could focus on the child that needed me.
Now that Emmie is older, she understands when it is school time and she is not supposed to interrupt when I am reading. That doesn't mean that she never does. I do gently remind her that she needs to wait until I am finish and as soon as I come to a stopping point will take care of what she needs. Since she no longer naps, I try to make sure she has some things set out to do when we are doing our afternoon school work so I won't have to stop and get what she needs. There are times that Emmie and Lily will get to fighting over a toy or Emmie will throw a fit because she wants something that Lily has. When she throws fit I take her to her room and tell her she has to stay there until she can stop. When she can stop she can come back downstairs. Then I go back to teaching and she returns when she is ready.
There are some times that those interruptions will take over and that's ok. When your little ones are sick or get hurt and need some extra snuggles and attention from mommy, school can wait. Also, if you have older children that have finished their work and a toddler that is extra needy you can have the older child help your other children while you snuggle the toddler.
I know how crazy and busy the school day can be. There is always something to do and things that are always left undone. But, find time during the day to do something one on one with your little ones too every day. Read a favorite book, play a game, make a snack, play toys. Just spend some time with them during the day that is on their level, even if they are involved in other things that you do during the school day. They don't stay little very long :)