By far the question most homeschooling moms ask me is:
How can I homeschool with babies and toddlers?
And, it’s a good question, because there are days when, to be honest, it seems like babies and toddlers have only one ambition:
Mass + Force + Velocity = Laughter
Yeah, they think it’s really funny when they can eject any kind of fluid like little human pressure hoses. It’s hilarious. Or, if they can throw things, like cereal or glass.
Ha, ha, ha!!!
Anyway, it actually is possible to homeschool with babies and toddlers…even if you throw in your own morning sickness on top of all of it!
I hear you with baited breath waiting for the answer to this question that plagues all of you! I know, I know, you have already tried everything already written on blogs way more fancy and official and well-read and cooler than mine. Maybe it has worked, maybe it hasn’t. Maybe it is just that you are too tired to plan all your meals ahead and think of AMAZING! FUN! EXCITING! activities for your three year old.
If that’s where you’re at, then you may appreciate these tips:
#1 How Old Is Your Homeschooler?
I have gotten at least 3 million emails (well, maybe only about 27), wherein moms say, “I am at the end of my rope! I am exhausted, we aren’t getting our homeschool done, my toddler and my newborn are impossible to take care of while I’m trying to do science experiments and geography lessons. I really feel like my oldest is suffering!”
Then, upon further investigation, I find out the oldest is six.
If your oldest is under the age of eight, very little is needed for homeschooling.
I promise. I pinky promise.
I remember when my now college junior son was was eight years old and still not really reading. I was so horrified of him ever being asked to read in public. I stayed up late at night worrying. I cried. I wondered what I was doing wrong as I looked at my lesson plans for Latin being pushed aside for yet another frustrating day of not getting through “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Mockingly Easy Lessons.”
When he was sixteen, he was reading college level textbooks for fun. Sometimes even higher level–for fun. He philosophizes about historical data and I can’t keep up with all the books he has read. For fun, he took the ACT. In logic and reasoning, he scored a 32. Without evening trying. Without studying. Without ever having taken a standardized test before in his life. He just woke up one day and took it. He is now a 3.5 GPA student majoring in history (of course), and is doing just fine.
I look back now and wish I hadn’t wasted all that time being worried.
If your child is under the age of eight, he or she needs:
- To be taught to read
- To learn to write
- To learn basic math (I mean, you can teach this with a piece of paper, a pencil and some Legos.)
- To be read aloud to in whatever subjects you were so gung ho about spending a lot of time teaching him (for example, read aloud about ancient world history, read aloud in spanish or latin, read aloud about mathematic, etcetera.)
- To be loved, cuddled, and loved some more
- To be taught to do family work and learn parenting skills like caring for a little one
If you feel like that’s not enough, add flashcards. Really. It’s enough. Then, if you have free time, like if by some miracle of Kind Heaven the toddler AND the infant are both sleeping at the same time, do the science experiment or study the globe FOR FUN.
Get it? It can be just fun. Not a curriculum. Not a structure. Just accidental fun. In your free time. After “school.” Do you see how that works?
Whenever you have time to fill them up–maybe on a holiday weekend in some random September?
Okay, so you see where I am going with this–it’s okay to loosen the structure and content a little here. Don’t overdo it. Trust me. More and sooner is definitely not better in this instance.
Except for the reading aloud. Always try to find time to read aloud. It’s magical.
#2 Baby Proof Your Home Periodically
Yes, you thought it was baby proofed, but you have to revisit that every few weeks, you know. Who left the miniature china tea set where the two year old could get it? No one seems to know, but now instead of a 10 piece, it’s a 453 piece set.
Use a baby play yard. I don’t mind using them to keep my fifteen month old occupied in a safe space for 20 minutes while I try to get a few things done without worrying about him flushing apple cores down the toilet. Sometimes it’s better to have them safe in there than wandering around out there. Especially if you are on the couch lying sideways because if you move even 1/4 of an inch, your morning sickness will take over your life.
#3 Bento Boxes and Other Fun Stuff May Need To Wait
In other words, simplify. Paper plates are your friend.
Also, it can be fun to have the children with you while you prepare food. My two and a half year old and one and a half year old always pull up a chair when things start to sizzle in the kitchen, and I basically feed them “hors d’oeuvres” while I cook. (Pickles, apples, whatever’s in the fridge…) They are hungry, and they don’t want to wait for whatever I’m cooking that has too much flavor for them to enjoy anyway. (They still can’t appreciate Thai Curried Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles. What’s wrong with them? They are so not foodies.)
Sometimes I give them some cooked cut up chicken before I “ruin” it by making it into Chicken Tikka Masala. Toddlers and littles really like less flavor. They just don’t know what they are missing. And they don’t want to know. Not yet.
During this time, my older children who still need a little direction from mom with staying on task with their learning can sit at the kitchen table. Thus, everyone is occupied. If the baby is up, hopefully she is happy in the bouncy seat.
(Google “healthy homeschool lunches” and you can come up with some pretty great ideas!)
#4 Make Your Curriculum Do Its Job
I was reading this scholarly article for first year teachers written by experts and it said this about curriculum:
Half a century ago Bruner (1960) wrote, “Many curricula are originally planned with a guiding idea . . . But as curricula are actually executed, as they grow and change, they often lose their original form and suffer a relapse into a certain shapelessness”
That Bruner! What a genius! Did it really take a study to figure that one out?
I also relapse into a certain shapelessness after toddlers/infants/morning sickness/pregnancy and homeschool. But, I digress.
Think about all you have invested into this curriculum. You have really given it your all. You have researched. Prayed. Poured over books, studies, research. You have paid money. You have sacrificed a lot already. You have invested in it.
Don’t you dare do all the work, now.
Let the curriculum do its job. It is supposed to work with your child. You are the wise guide in the background.
Sometimes you need to give a little extra help. Most of the time, you should be able to be near, but not right next to, the student. You are mimicking the Master Teacher, whose Presence is often felt but never overbearing.
He doesn’t do our learning for us, He doesn’t pound it into our heads.
He teaches using stories and example, He gives us the textbook and access to the answer key, and then He steps back and lets us learn for ourselves. Sometimes He lets us struggle, so we can learn something about ourselves–so we can realize we can do it.
But He is always available.
Your curriculum should be such that the student can learn with very little interference from you. Notice I used the word interference, not influence. Your influence is needed and required. Your interference, not so much.
Influence can be felt while you are changing a diaper, nursing a baby, or cleaning an overflowing dishwasher full of liquid soap suds (from when the kids were helping with the dishes!). It’s something moms are actually naturally very good at, you know.
Let your curriculum work for you. If it doesn’t or won’t, then you don’t have a good curriculum. A good curriculum will be what your child needs to learn–a bad curriculum requires mom to do this, mom to do that, mom to prepare every night for an hour. Nope. That’s not teaching.
That’s busy work.
And moms are already busy.
Students aren’t as busy as moms. Let them do the busy work. Let them find 16 pinecones and some dryer lint for something the curriculum is saying. You don’t have to do that.
Let the child learn! Stay out of his way! Go play with your babies and be the influence. If the babies are sleeping, read a book!
#5 Don’t Forget To Dance In the Rain
I love homeschooling and I love having lots of toddlers and babies around. I remember when my daughter, Joy, was two. I kept getting the feeling that I needed to quit being so involved in homeschooling.
I am not that kind of person, to just take oodles of time off of Being The Teacher.
But, my instinct said to do it. So, I did.
For months. I started to get nervous. Through the late winter and into spring and on into summer, I quit trying to “get the toddlers busy” so I could take care of homeschooling the older kids. Sure, the kids were reading and getting some math done, but we were doing an awful lot of playing and frolicking and shenanigans.
It felt like way too much fun for learning to be happening.
I was feeling like an epic homeschool failure.
The children were doing math on their own, and reading things like “Ben-Hur” and “Oliver Twist,” and none of them were even twelve. They were writing poetry and short stories and essays. They were practicing piano. Learning was happening. I was just too uptight and too set in my ways to see it.
l felt bad that I was following my instinct and listening to this voice that was saying to slow down and not be so teacher-y and busy and hover-y.
But I kept listening and doing shenanigans and playing and pretending and not being so bossy and worried and overbearing.
One day, in the spring, after months of winter, it rained. It was the first time it had rained in months and months.
The sound on the tin roof was magic. And the smell! It was heavenly!
We all jumped up from what we were doing and we ran outside, laughing.
Joy was laughing and dancing and singing and we ran around in happy reverence at the miracle of the first rain of spring.
I’ll never forget that.
And when she went back to heaven a few months later, I didn’t think, “Wow, I wish I would have done more math worksheets,” or “Gosh, I wish there had been a way to keep her out of the way more so I could do school with the older kids.”
And my children are no less educated now because we stopped to enjoy the miracles.
They are no less educated now because I learned that the toddlers were God’s way of telling me to interfere less and influence more.
I thank my lucky stars that I remembered to dance in the rain.
And I will always be so absolutely full of gratitude that we were homeschooling that year, because we got to spend every minute with her…and we got to do it our way…and life was sweet and we could hear God.
I guess that’s the biggest tip I can give you if you are a homeschooler with little children and trying to make it all work–always make sure you can hear God and then listen to what He says.
And if you can and do, you will be able to dance in the rain and teach your children and His grace will be sufficient for whatever you feel you might miss!