Are you struggling with trying to homeschool or do homework with your older kids when you've got babies or toddlers running around? As a veteran homeschool mom and former nanny, I've got some simple and enriching activities to keep babies and toddlers busy. The main idea is to be sure the smaller ones always have something to do so that they will feel included and won't have a reason to distract you.
Make the kids a special place. If your older kids do work at the table, make a spot for the younger ones as well. They will also need a schoolbox with safety scissors, glue sticks, and sharp pencils. Keep this box at the "school" spot. Be sure to also keep on hand, and within reach, construction paper, crayons, finger paint, washable markers, puzzles, write & wipe markers, and workbooks. Stay tuned for a handy workbook trick.
Paper crafts can be very entertaining for babies and toddlers. The general rule with paper crafts is to have everything ready ahead of time. That way, when the time is right, the craft can be easily placed in front of the child without causing a bunch of commotion and excitement from trying to cut out everything. Make sure that a glue stick is handy as well. Glitter is pretty, but a bad idea for little ones. It will be a never-ending clean-up job for mom. I suggest using sequins instead if you must have something shiny. Here are a couple of my paper favorites.
Pre-cut three white circles of 3 different sizes, 1 scarf of your child's favorite color, 2 black boots, 3 button holes, 2 black eyes, a carrot for the mouth, a button for the nose, 2 sticks for the arms, and some clouds for the sky. Create one yourself, so the child will have something to look at. Place all the supplies into a baggie or plastic tote with a lid. When you are ready for your child to use it, you can take it out at a moment's notice. All you need to do is hand the child the kit, a blank paper to glue it onto, and a glue stick. Note that there are alot of pieces to put together. This makes the project take up time. The child will not feel the need to ask you for help because all the supplies are there and there is a picture for reference, so there is nothing to ask.
Cut out tons of shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle, octagon, etc...) in many different colors. Place them all in a baggie or small plastic tote with lid. When you are ready for your child to do this, simply take out the baggie, hand the child a large piece of construction paper and a glue stick, and tell the child to make you a city. I recommend making lots of these shapes and keeping them in a larger container, as they can come in handy for other ideas you may have. You can put a small container of them in front of your child to minimize the mess.
Busy toys will keep your babies and toddlers entertained for hours on end. These will vary from child to child, but here are some that are usually universal.
Dolls with lots of accessories
Cars with tracks or play stations
Doll Heads (the ones that allow you to comb and style the hair)
Keep your babies and toddlers busy with schooling as well. If the child is under a year old, scribbling on paper will do just fine. It will keep the child busy and make the child feel included. If the child is 1-2, tell the child to draw a particular thing. Depending on how advanced your child is, at this age, shape, letter, and number tracing can also be done.
Make schoolwork last longer to keep younger kids occupied
1. Make reusable practice sheets. Buy a pad of manuscript writing paper and write and wipe markers. Draw a shape, number, or letter on each one (both sides can be utilized) until you have all 26 letters, the numbers from 0 to 10, and square, triangle, circle, rectangle, and diamond. Draw a dotted version next to your version. On the letters, make sure to represent the uppercase on the top half of the sheet and the lowercase on the bottom. Now tear out all the sheets and laminate them. You now have practice sheets for your child to use over and over again. These can be placed in a binder if you wish or kept in a plastic tote or baggie.
2. Make reusable workbooks. Buy various preschool and kindergarten workbooks or one thick one. Make sure you get the ones with tear out pages. Laminate all the pages and put them in order from easiest to hardest. Punch holes in them to fit in a binder and place them all in a binder. You now have a "forever" workbook that can be used with write & wipe markers. Your child gets lots of practice and it's ok if the workbook gets done in one day or scribbled on. It can be erased and done again. (fun for the kids, less stress for mom) I also suggest keeping a small amount of baby wipes or a wet cloth handy for the child to wipe away the writing.
More Handy Tips
1. For smaller babies (0-4 months), a bouncy seat with toys can be fun. Try placing it on the table in the center of everyone, so the baby feels like he/she is part of the action. This will make the baby feel more secure and there will be less crying to distract the teaching. If you are doing "circle-time" (group reading), place the baby in the center of the family circle. The baby can listen to the story and watch everyone pass around the book while she/he sits in a comfortable seat. Sometimes if you turn on the vibration motion in the seat, the child will fall asleep during this time (an added bonus).
2. For older babies (6 months to 1 year), a favorite blankie with toys on it is entertaining. Always place the baby near everyone else. If you are doing "circle-time" (group reading), place the baby's fun blankie in the center of everyone. Add a soft book to the toy collection. The baby can listen to the story and watch everyone pass around the book. The baby will also feel like he/she is part of the "game".
3. Laminate a bunch of the paper shapes from above with thick laminate. Keep them in a plastic tote. Give them to preschoolers (over 3 because of choking hazards) for some busy fun. They can also be used to make patterns with for preschoolers who are learning about patterns.
4. Design the younger kids' activities around whatever the big kids are learning. Maybe the big kids are learning about dinosaurs, so the little ones can build a Lego dinosaur or make a dinosaur collage.
The basic idea is to take out an activity your child enjoys during the time you will be lecturing your students. Save the not-so-engaging toys for the non-learning times. Don't forget that your younger ones still need attention and lessons, too. Just because they are not school-aged, doesn't mean their learning isn't just as important. Sometimes the babies and toddlers can get ignored or stashed in the playpen for too long because of the hard task of teaching the older kids. Just remember to always include the the younger kids in everything. Even if they are not doing the same exact thing, they will still feel important when they get their "work" or they get to do their activity because they're doing it with you and their siblings just like the big kids.