Toddlers, Babies, and Your Homeschool

He’s 2.

He’s busy.

And if you are reading this, then you probably have one too and I’m preachin’ to the choir!

When I mentioned my curriculum for my younger crowd, I also mentioned our Toddler Box.

This box is something I put together specifically for my 2 year old to keep him busy during school hours. He is only to get it out when we are having school and only in the same room.  Once his brother is finished with his school work (about 30 mins), he puts it away (with a lot of help from me…yeah, we’re working on that) and they go in the adjoining room to play.

What’s in the Toddler Box?

  • puzzles
  • pipe cleaners
  • alphabet stamps
  • paper
  • crayons
  • cloth tape measure
  • magnifying glass
  • books
  • anything I think would catch his interest for 30 minutes at a time

Your toddler box doesn’t have to be full of new and exciting stuff, it just has to be full of stuff! You could put cookie cutters and cotton balls, blocks and cars, sewing cards or a deck of cards in there or you could get really motivated and create something like:

Clothesline Busy Bag from Money Saving Mom

Ice Cream Shoppe from Spell Outloud

Farm Yard & Dino Land from Tired, Need Sleep

But truth be told, your toddler doesn’t really care, so don’t live your life feeling guilty for not creating uber-cute Montessori inspired playthings for him. Just throw some things in a box that he can only open during school hours and call it done.  {If you can manage more, then go right ahead and have fun while you do it!}

And guess where the Toddler Box goes?

Right in line (by age) with the other kids’ crates!  That really makes Micah feel like he’s “doing school” with the big kids.

Now, I know some of you are thinking,

“There is no way MY toddler would sit still for 30 minutes no matter what cool stuff you stuck in a box and called school.”

Mine either.  That’s why he opens the toddler box on the floor right beside where I am.  That way I can direct some of his play.

Pipe cleaners are great for this!  When he starts to lose interest in his books and other things, I say,

“Micah, make me a tree!”

And he makes me a…

TREE!

Or I say,

“Micah, investigate that book over there.”

And he…

INVESTIGATES!

And this creates a minimal amount of work for me and can be done quickly between math problems or phonics lessons.

But what about Baby?  My baby is 9 months old now.  {How did that happen?!}

I really try hard to time his nap with school hours (at least the teacher-intensive school hours).  He typically goes down for a nap around 10am, so that is often when school begins around here.

If his nap isn’t going to coincide well with school, I just take him down with me and he plays nearby or I hold him or if he’s really squirmy, I have one of the older kids take him for a bit.  My 6 year old daughter is also really good with him, so if she’s done with her work, she’ll take him to the play room and play with him there {again, school only takes her about 30 mins).

When there are babies in the house, you have to be creative and not hold too high of an expectation for yourself or your school day.  It’s not going to look like “school at home” (nor should it), it will look more like home with a little bit of school mixed in. {The Christian Home School by Gregg Harris and Educating The WholeHearted Child by Sally Clarkson are books that do a great job of “fleshing out” this concept.  I highly recommend both books!}

You do not need everyone in the same room doing school at the same time.

You do not need to do every single subject the public school does.

You do not need to make your family conform to school, but rather conform school to your family.

Let it meet YOUR needs and not the other way around!

So, how do you handle babies and toddlers during school hours?

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37 thoughts on “Toddlers, Babies, and Your Homeschool

  1. Thank you for the reminder that home is not school. That’s one of my biggest obstacles to jumping in with both feet. Currently our son goes to public school where I can pull and homeschool him as needed, up to 2x a week. I still think we’ll homeschool some day, but I’ve been so nervous. Your posts are always so encouraging.

  2. I’m going to be starting K with my oldest this fall, and we’re having our 5th baby in about 1 1/2 weeks! I’ve been wondering if I would struggle with the ‘juggle’ of school and young children. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not striving for perfection! And for the great ideas to help keep the younger kids busy!

  3. Amy, thanks so much for these suggestions! Our oldest will be in 2nd grade this year, and we will have a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn to juggle as well. Thanks for the suggestions – hopefully it will help make things go more smoothly this year!

  4. My husband and I are hoping to homeschool in the future. I enjoy reading your practical advice about homeschooling and parenting. By the time we’re able to homeschool we will have a 6, 2, and 1 year old. It’s nice to see how this would work. Do you use a particular curriculum that only takes about 30 minutes a day? Or do you just pull things from different sources?

  5. Oh how I needed this! I LOVE your toddler box and will be making one for the new school year. I finished my first year homeschooling and I think I have learned a lot! But one of my biggest issues has been what to do with those little ones. Our new school year starts next month and I will have a 5th grader, preschooler, and a toddler. I never thought of the toddler box-she will love it!

  6. Well, the short answer is, I don’t do a very well job of handling my baby and toddler and preschooler during lesson times.

    I read the 2nd Edition of Educating the WholeHearted Child and just got the 3rd Edition. I am slowly chewing away at it and allowing some of the institutionalized thinking dissipate. The one subject that I cannot see to do another way other than sit down and do the book work is Math. Especially with my older child who is 9. I am not math inclined, so I can’t think of creative ways to learn it. I already use manipulatives for my younger children. Perhaps I will do a bit of research on that. :)

    Thanks for the helpful hits!

  7. We are heading into our first year of homeschooling. We’ve pulled our oldest out of school after he finished grade one, and our second, a daughter, will begin Kindergarten with our homeschool next year. I have been wondering what to do with my VERY busy two year old during school time, and my newborn too! Yes, we’re going to be busy, so I wanted to thank you for this idea! My two year old loves to do what her big siblings are doing, so I know she’ll love the idea of her own school box. Thanks for the great ideas!! I have just recently found your blog and have been thoroughly enjoying reading through it!!

  8. I like your perspective: “home with a little bit of school mixed in” instead of “school at home”. I find when go into a day with a long agenda of all the school stuff I want to get done, I am almost always disappointed. That is just life with little ones. When I change my perspective, I am pleasantly surprised to see how much learning really does happen. I’ve written a lot about occupying my super busy, active, climbing toddler on my blog as well. He has his own “work box” which is very similar to your “toddler box”. It has worked quite well for us. Sadly, he no longer naps. I’m still trying to accept that. ;-) And now we are adding a kindergartener to the mix, too.
    Thanks for this great post!

  9. Thank you for the book recommendation. I have not read that one and it sounds like I need it. With a husband who teaches public school, I find myself drifting back to that rigid line of thought.

    I do think I handle our baby and preschooler well while schooling our 2nd grader and Kindergartener. I just keep special toys locked away that the preschooler has access to during school time, something different each day. The baby’s schedule is irratic right now but we are trying to get her nap at school time. When she schools with us, she has a Bumbo chair or I put her in her highchair with toys.

  10. I too use a Bumbo seat. It helps so much when I have a baby. I confess I don’t have much of a system when it comes to occupying a toddler. While I’m schooling the older ones, I send my 2,4 and 5 year olds to the playroom. I keep the baby with me and try to school with him. Of course it doesn’t take long for a dispute to arise or for the baby to get fussy, so I have so much pressure to finish all the subjects as quickly as possible. I wish I had more freedom in my homeschool but living in NY, that’s just not possible. :( We plan on moving in the next couple of years to a more homeschool friendly state. It’s difficult, because we’ve always lived here and we don’t know anyone outside of NY. But I know God will lead us. : )
    blessings,
    Jill

  11. Thanks for the ideas! I’ve been thinking about doing something like a toddler box for my 16 month old. We will be starting full school back up in the middle of July. She usually has a “nap-time” in the morning, but I’ve been thinking about the time that she would still be needing a little something. My 3 year old loves to participate with the older kids when she can and this year we will be doing a pre-k program with her. It takes about 20 minutes a day, this is her special time with me.

  12. Oh yes. The toddler! Lol! Mine is almost 3. He likes to lean over the book and take over the reading lesson for my daughter while she’s doing her lesson. I’ve taken to letting him repeat the first two lessons in the “100 Easy Lessons” book each day before I go on to do my daughter’s lesson so he feels happy that he got to do school too. When I feel he’s really starting to grasp the concepts I’ll move on and let him do lesson 3 and so on. For now he’s got the first 3 letter sounds in those first 2 lessons memorized and likes to butt in and read them over sister’s shoulder when she encounters those sounds in her own lesson. Little turkey. ;) Most of the time though if I do his lesson first he’s content to let us alone for long enough to get big sis done.
    Like you I try to get it done when the baby naps. Sometimes I get lucky and both the toddler and baby nap at the same time. It’s rare though. :)

  13. This is the first year we’ve run into this, but since my older two are about 3.5 and 2, I’ll just do stuff with both of them. So far we are doing Bible coloring sheets and stories, taking nature walks (we collect stuff sometimes and plan to identify different trees and pick up leaves later, and also identify edible/medicinal herbs), doing little science experiments (like putting a plant with roots into colored water to show how plants drink), cooking projects, blocks, letters, numbers (various games), etc. We have no formal schooling time, we just do these things as the mood strikes on a semi-regular basis and it’s driven by their desires.

    I’m due in a few weeks with a new baby, though. I intend to use my swing and Moby and keep going with them as much as I can. We’ll do stuff during baby’s naps. (Both my older kids do still nap though!) When baby is older I’m sure we will do some activities with him/her on the floor or in a bouncer, watching us from a safe distance, and I’m sure they will hand baby various safe toys so s/he can “participate” too. I think it is easier for me because all of mine are still little so that is just my focus.

  14. So how old are they before you start using the toddler box. D just turned 1 and I feel in between. He really doesn’t just sit and hang out anymore, but not quite big enough to sit and play with most of my “toddler box” activities yet. Your post has me thinking about what I can do to occupy him. (when he is not napping)

    • I wonder if there are still some things you could put in a box that would keep his interest for a little while. I know Garin would sit for a while with certain toys. It would at least give you a little bit of time where he was occupied.

  15. Great post! Many homeschooling posts are for curriculum and older children. The preschoolers and pre-K need something too! I am getting ready to begin my 1st year of homeschooling this fall and I have a 4 year old. He’s reading already and we’re practicing his writing and math concepts. However after he’s finished with his schooling, I’ll need him to stay occupied while I work with my 6 & 8 year olds. Although my toddler is a little older than yours, I still think some of these activities would work for us. Thanks so much!!!

  16. Hi, Amy. I have been reading your blog for almost a year now, but have never commented. I just want to let you know that your posts are so informative and encouraging to me! I have one daughter and am newly pregnant with my second, but I still get so many great ideas from your posts. I have always dreamed of a large family, but infertility has changed those plans for now. Anyway, thank you for the variety of subjects you cover. Your blog is great!

  17. I have 7 children, the older four just finished 6th, 5th, 3rd and 1st grades. The younger three are 4, 2, and 1. Like most everyone, we do a lot of school during nap time. We also used a very similar idea, only I made up about 15 different plastic shoeboxes, each with a separate activity. Some of the things we used that were lots of fun was a box of various large metal hardware pieces (bolts, nuts, washers), another with 1″ pvc pipe pieces with various elbows and connectors. One had dried beans, scoop, paper cups. One with shoelaces and really large colorful beads. One with homemade white play dough and plastic cookie cutters. Another I cut sponges into squares, rectangles and triangles to be used for building blocks. Another had pieces of different colors of yarn and a piece of sandpaper, to make art by the yarn “sticking” to the sandpaper. Just throwing some additional ideas out there for you. The reason for making so many separate ones was to keep the toddlers from becoming bored with them, the other was to coordinate them with specific activities – such as dinner prep time. Anyway, I do really well if I plan and assemble these things during the summer. If I waited for school to begin, it would never happen!

  18. Great ideas as usual, Amy! Thank you very much! This school year will be busy with a 5th grader, 4th grader, 3 yr old, 2 yr old & an infant (born 2 wks ago tomorrow!) Finding ways to engage little minds so that I can help or guide the bigger kids is very important! Last year I often felt as if the bigs were getting the short end of the stick as I spent most of my time trying to keep the little ones quiet while trying to make certain the bigs “just got it done”! Prayerfully this year will be better! :)

  19. This is very encouraging. I have a 9,6 and 5mth old. We were homeschooling and have decided to put our older girls back in school temporarily. Our 5mth old does not take very long naps during the day and is a high need baby. Its been very hard. I am just heartbroken about having to put the girls back in school and trying to figure out a way to make homeschooling work for us. I feel guilty about putting them back in school but then also feel guilty that they may not be learning much at home. Our current situation with the baby makes it hard to get anything done. Your blog is encouraging and I hope to find a way to make it work. Thank you.

  20. Amy,

    I got up early this morning trying to get a bit of alone time to do some browsing for ideas and some planning for the upcoming year ;-)

    I just wanted to tell you, that your blog is SUCH a blessing to me. So full of inspiration and encouragement. THANK YOU for doing what you do and putting yourself out there for the rest of us to peek into your life.

    from a sister in Christ half way around the world ;-)
    Maria

  21. Wow realy like your organization. I am new at homeschooling. Only on day 2 and trying to find ways to keep my almost 2 year old busy.

  22. How do *I* handle having a toddler and hsing three other children?? Hmmm…honestly? The toddler (15 months) gets into everything and I pick up after we’re all done with school. Is it a HUGE mess? YES! I am frustrated by it at times (I hate messes), but right now, it’s the season that I am in.

    Thank you for you post. The toddler box is a great idea! I will see what I can whip-up to implement it. Hugs to you!

  23. Thank you so much for your inspiring words of wisdom. This is my first year of homeschooling a 5 and 6 year old and i think still at the stage of questioning myself-at the back of my mind-is this enough. im really glad i happend upon your website, will be checking in more frequently. God bless you and your family.

  24. What a great post! With a two year old and a baby coming this September, I am doing everything I can to try and be ready for next school year. Your posts have helped tremendously and have me so excited. Thank you!

  25. Thanks for this article! I know it is an old one…but with a baby on the way and four kiddos to homeschool this year I am kind of getting a bit of the overwhelmed feeling. You know the one I’m talking about?? It’s my first time homeschooling with a baby so praying all goes well :)
    Thanks so much for all the ideas, Rach :)

  26. While some of your ideas seem sound, I am appalled that you feel 30 min. Per day is enough school work for your children. I think you are doing a disservice to your children and their education