If I’m being honest, the title of this post should have been “TRYING to Keep a Toddler Entertained While Home-Schooling.” When we decided not to send our four-year-old to school this year, I really had zero reservations about keeping him home. I used to teach preschool, so I was confident in my ability to educate him.
My one hesitation?
What in the world I was going to do with the other child during our school time.
Have you ever heard that quote “Cleaning with a toddler is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos?” …….Well, that’s about the best way I can describe my days trying to wrangle the wildest almost-two-year-old on the planet and home educate a four-year-old.
Having a background in early childhood education, I’d like to think I pretty well know what I’m doing when it comes to the teaching aspect of my day.
I’ve also been a babysitter/nanny/teacher/mom for two-thirds of my life, so I’d like to think I also have a pretty decent grasp on how to manage a toddler. For some reason though, trying to mesh the two talents is similar to balancing on a tight rope while carrying a fire stick in one hand and holding an egg on a spoon in the other.
My toddler is THE fastest land mammal on the planet, second to the jaguar.
I can look down to help my son glue something to a paper, and look up and the toddler has made it all the way to the other side of the house, snuck out the dog door, and is eating dog food on top of the patio table.
We can read one sentence in a story and the tiny human will have made his way into the kitchen, scaled the cabinets by using the drawer pulls as a ladder, and helped himself to a cookie that he had to open up a cabinet and a jar to get.
I’m sure at this point you’re all thinking “well, we definitely won’t be taking ANY advice from this lady”….. but hear me out. Because I have a child that is so wildly curious, I’ve come up with a few ways to keep him busy and entertained, so I can get actual work done with my older son. See below:
- Create an activity for them that mimics the big kid version – When we do painting activities with acrylic paint, I’ll set up a similar painting activity with finger paints or watercolor. This way, they’re using safe materials and they feel like they’re included in the activity. Same with markers – I’ll pull out the color wonder markers and paper for the tot.
- Give them a job – If your older child is working on an activity that requires some adult help, ask the toddler to do simple things for you like “can you please hand brother the glue stick?” or “please give me that blue piece of paper” – this actually works on following directions and incorporates other skills for said toddler.
- Keep snacks & hugs handy – Sometimes, my toddler just wants my attention more than anything. I can give him a snack and set him in my lap while I work with my big kid, and he’s perfectly content. Just make sure you have the snacks set up prior to your school time, so they’re ready to go when you need them.
- High chairs are your friend – I know some people will disagree with this because they don’t like to restrict their child. However, if you have to worry about your little one quietly sneaking off to your bathroom and coming out covered in mascara and foundation looking like war paint, you just do what you have to do. There are plenty of puzzles, coloring sheets, sensory activities, and stacking toys that can easily be played with while happily sitting in a high chair. And again – snacks!
- Sensory Activities! – Are they messy? Yes. Do they supply several minutes of quiet, uninterrupted playtime? Also yes. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend a few minutes cleaning up a mess later on if I’m able to spend some uninterrupted learning time with my big kiddo. Taste-safe playdoh is also a great option that can keep toddlers entertained for a good amount of time.
- Set up everything first! – This is probably my greatest takeaway. I was in the habit of prepping activities as we went along, and the house was basically going up in flames behind me each time I tried to prepare something new. I find it’s MUCH easier if I set the boys up to play with an open-ended activity for a few minutes while I set up EVERYTHING we are going to need that day. Cut all the papers, gather all the supplies, print what you need, etc. This also gives the kids a chance to play freely before settling in for more structured learning time.
Honestly, some days we do a great job knocking out lesson plans and following these toddler tips. I’ve actually been very surprised how quickly my youngest is picking up on things that it seemed to take my first forever to understand. (Always a silver lining). Other days, it’s all I can do to set up some play stations and keep Wreck it Ralph from tearing the house down. Either way, we are always learning. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to take things in stride and with a grain of salt – or several grains, on the rim of a margarita, at the end of a home-school day.