The challenges of homeschooling can be overwhelming by themselves, but by adding the erratic behavior of a toddler into the mix can make it even more difficult. Here are a few things that I have done to keep my toddler busy, quiet or occupied so I could focus my attention on teaching an older child. I do not see any of these things as required, but as a list of possible resources that have helped us along the way.
The “Only For School” Cabinet
Just as my older children have a shelf that holds all their school books and materials, so my toddler has his own shelf, and I keep all art supplies in a cabinet (here’s mine) that I can child-lock, if needed. This helps them to categorize and separate their work from play and helps keep things nice and organized. It also makes those things seem special, causing the kids to value the time spent using them.
Coloring Sheets and Books
On the toddler shelf is a variety of coloring books and picture books. I try to keep these things for use while I am teaching so that our toddler sees those things as his school. He has the privilege of using them all by himself. I do not instruct him in the use of these things. He just explores and learns on his own. By giving him this freedom, he can express himself readily on paper, and over time, he can teach himself basic drawing skills like coloring in the lines.
Usually, our children are allowed to use crayons around age 2, and by age 3, they recognize a handful of colors, have chosen their favorite.
Over the years we have collected a large stack of puzzles that are mostly educational. Animals, shapes, colors, letters, numbers, vehicles,..the list goes on of the variety of puzzles we have for little ones to play with. Most of them are made with chunky wood and our children often take the pieces and play with them independently and then put them back into the puzzle when they are done.
Occasionally, I will sit down with the child over a puzzle and will go over shapes, animal sounds (if applicable), colors and count pieces with them. Before age 3 they recognize letters, numbers, shapes, colors, animal sounds and can spell their own name.
They enjoy this time and see themselves as important and smart, but if I do it too often, they get bored or annoyed at my testing.
I keep the art supplies and the Play-Doh in the school cabinet. Keeping the play-dough locked up, makes it a reward for the child who has behaved especially well. As my husband is filled with dread and trepidation at the thought of play-dough, finger paint, glitter and a variety of other messy things, we have certain rules that pertain to their usage.
By going over these rules each time our child feel responsible and appreciative of the privilege.
In our house, play-dough stays on top of the table, usually on a place mat. It is not eaten or placed inside anyone, ever, for any reason. Even if it is the edible kind, I discourage eating it for the rare time they come across the kind you shouldn’t eat. Lastly, in our house, play-dough is not mixed with other colors of play-dough.
Blocks, Cars, Trains and Other Toys
While he always has a variety of toys at his disposal, I keep a few for the special time when school is in session.
He may always get to play with the train set, but when we are doing school, he can also add the little wooden town to his train set. He always has some play tools, but when we’re doing school, he can also use some wooden nuts and bolts to aid in him fixing up the place.
So rather than being frustrated with a toddler that disrupts his siblings, I can observe, enjoy and encourage my toddler while he plays independently.