I am the proud mom of 7 children ages 14 down to 3months. I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a toddler or preschooler around. I’m often asked what I do with the toddlers or preschoolers while the others are learning, or how could I possibly have time to teach the toddlers when I have to teach everyone else. Here are some of my strategies for teaching toddlers in a large family:
1. Change My Expectations
With babies, toddlers and preschoolers around, it is rare that I get a long chunk of time for lessons with my older children without having to help one of them out with something. I had to readjust my idea of a perfect homeschool day and come to grips that our learning times would be different with little children around. Little children need to move, play, and explore with their senses. So sitting around quietly for a long time is not a realistic expectation. I had to make sure that I wasn’t seeing my younger children as nuisances in our homeschool day–but rather as little blessings who are very eager to learn with us. I learned early on to restructure our day in such a way that would set my toddlers up for success. One of the key things that helps is to have some 1 on 1 time with them early in the morning. Rock them. Read to them. Sing songs together–when I take time for them early in the day, they are less likely to seek your attention in negative ways later. I encourage you to read Do Toddlers and Well-Ordered Days Mix?
2. Create Multi-Age Learning Opportunities
Many times my younger children want to be right in the middle of things with us. They often will pull out paper and crayons and join us in our lessons. I also have a closet of age-appropriate activities that I will let them play with quietly next to us. Many of our toddler/preschool science activities have occurred because they wanted to do what their older siblings were doing. I just paired it down to their level.
3. Provide Independent Activities
I do not do formal teaching of my toddlers. When I do want to incorporate learning activities, I add them to our day as art activities, reading activities, nature walks, games, and pretend play. I don’t expect my toddlers to sit longer than 15 minutes. Many of our activities are completed within that time-frame and don’t require sitting still. I wrote a post awhile ago about the Art of Winging It. This is one strategy I use with my younger children often. I have independent activities such as Play-Doh activities, various fine-motor activities, and special educational toys that I will set out for them to choose to do for the day.
4. Play is Learning
Play is learning for young children and I try to encourage them to do that–and spend a good portion of their day playing. This often results in a mess, but also provides an opportunity to learn how to care for things and clean up after themselves (we are still working on this.)
5. Teach with Technology
Yes, my young children already know how to navigate an iPad as well as me! There are times when I have to work with my older children and I need to know for sure what my younger children are doing. I will have them read a book, watch Sprout, listen to music (we have our scripture songs and toddler songs loaded on the iPad) or play one of their special games on the iPad. If you are looking for a list of apps, check out some of Carisa’s iPad App Posts.
Honestly, these techniques work with any size family. My house is just a little more used, a little louder, a little more chaotic than smaller families. Have realistic expectations of young children, set them up for success, combine ages when possible, keep them near, let them play, and include them in everyday activities. For more practical tips and ideas about homeschooling with tots, be sure to stop by 1+1+1=1’s blog and read her tot series.
Do you have any toddler tips? Share them in the comments!