We have four kiddos so far, but only one has reached the age of compulsory attendance. That means we have three others who don’t have to do school but do need to stay occupied so I can work on things with my oldest.
There are so many homeschoolers with larger than average family sizes, so I know this is a somewhat common issue in the homeschool community. Babies and toddlers can be a handful all by themselves; throw in a preschooler or two and it’s easy to sink into chaos.
Keep Them Occupied
Let your spunky toddler hang out close to you in a high chair or gated off area so you know he’s not going to get into too much mischief while you’re working with your older children. Quiet books and busy bags are excellent ways to keep little hands occupied. Blocks or other building toys are also great to stretch their imagination in a quiet way.
For infants, a swing or play mat close by works wonders, or consider baby wearing. The newborn days can be a challenge with the near-constant feedings, but it’ll sort itself out in due time as baby grows. For the time being, lots of snuggles from you or a cuddly spot like a swing can get you some quiet time for homeschooling. Your other children might enjoy occupying the baby for awhile also! Siblings are built-in playmates, after all.
Take Advantage of Nap Time
This almost goes without saying. You may wish to coordinate your one-on-one time with your older children with the times your younger kids are sleeping or having quiet time. We try to enforce a rest period each day for each child, no matter their age, and even mama tries for some down time as well. You might find your students are most productive during this time frame when the youngest are napping or doing quiet activities away from the school area. Seize the opportunity to teach without distractions.
Let Them “Help”
Include them in some way that makes them feel like they are helping or able to participate and not just be left out of all the action. This is not always possible, but try to include them when you can. You might be the kind of mom who doesn’t like the kids to make too many messes and that’s okay! But every once in awhile won’t hurt. Art lesson? Messy science project (that is safe if your toddler puts something in her mouth)? Culinary creation? Let her have at it! You can always give her a bath later, but I would suggest timing this to the end of your school day or when your older kids can do some independent work afterward so you can get your little one cleaned up.
If you’d rather not go the route of letting the mess happen, let them participate in a way that is more self-contained. Give him his own “school” stuff to do! Let him draw on a note pad or give him a big calculator or a magnifying glass to play with. Pull a high chair alongside you and let him look at a book of his own, or give him some learning time with an activity book like the preschool series from Rod and Staff.
Adapt to the Chaos
Let’s face it, some days are just chaotic no matter what we do. With a larger family that consists of lots of littles, I’ve learned to adapt to higher noise levels than I would normally prefer, more mess than I’d like, and someone needing me every so often throughout each day. While all of that is not necessarily conducive to learning, you might be surprised if this is what the child is used to. Some children aren’t distracted by those things! Or maybe they only need quiet time during certain subjects. Background noise and movement can even help with concentration in some children. In this case, homeschooling with littles becomes much easier. But if your child really does better with fewer distractions, the first three strategies should definitely be in your tool kit.
Staying on Top of Everything Else
Anything you can do to keep your home running smoothly will help ensure you have enough time to spend with your olders even when your littles are so needy. I have found that meal planning helps me stay on track with our meals, grocery pickup is a huge time saver, and sticking with a practical cleaning schedule means our home isn’t a mess all the time. Life can be physically and mentally exhausting when you have young children, so give yourself every advantage possible.
A big thank you to Andrea Townsley of Townsley Times for writing this article.