“How can I find time to teach the older child when the toddler needs my constant attention?” That is The Big Question that prevents many families from beginning homeschooling — in my mind, it is probably even a bigger concern than What To Do About Socialization! It kept me from diving in for several years. I had known about homeschooling and known many homeschool families before our first child began school, but it was the dreaded Active Toddler who took center stage and made me fearful of my ability to juggle all the homeschooling responsibilities. Once my youngest was also in school, I had no more fear — for some reason, it finally looked do-able, and we finally began homeschooling.
If I had bothered to think things through better, I would have realized that I had many options for homeschooling around a toddler. For some unknown reason, at that point in time the homeschoolers we did know were not willing to share their techniques for getting through the daily grind. They seemed to think I would be better off inventing my own wheel than to adapt their prototypes to suit my needs. Therefore, I now willingly and openly share my trials, tribulations, successes, and failures for your benefit. Learn what you will.
Spend some time with Junior first, then teach the others when Junior gets bored and leaves to play on his own. Indulge the preschooler with his own set of “school supplies” — Laurie puzzles, workbooks of pre-writing skills, washable markers, etc. and allow him to “do school” along with his older siblings. Also provide safe, quiet toys nearby for when he gets bored with sitting still. Nevertheless, be encouraged: Junior will be learning HOW to sit still and be quiet and pay attention for those short periods when he does stay with you. He will also be learning how to entertain himself when he leaves the table. (Keep those “school toys” as a special treat to be used only during lesson times, otherwise they will lose their appeal.)
Use Baby’s naptime for working with the older children. “School” does not have to take place during the same set of hours each day. (see Every Day is a Learning Day) Lessons can even come in spurts — do one or two subjects in the morning, take a long lunch and play break, then do another subject in the afternoon. Teach the older children to work by themselves when they can, giving you more time to attend to Baby’s needs. Save especially-Mom-intensive subjects for Baby’s naptime.
Apply skill-level discretion to teaching tasks: does this need Mom’s personal attention, or is someone else capable of handling it? Older children may practice their reading skills by reading to the toddlers or by listening to beginning readers. A great-grandmother shared with me how she was raised in a large family where each older child was always responsible for a specifically assigned younger child. Child #1 cared for Child #3, Child #2 cared for Child #4, Child #3 cared for Child #5, and so on. That system removed the possibility of anyone “slipping through the cracks” — no one could claim, “I thought YOU were watching him.” A similar approach can be adapted for scheduling the homeschool lessons: student-works-alone time (perhaps for math), group lessons (maybe a family read-aloud book), read-to-the-toddler time (as reading skills reinforcement), help-the-kindergartner time, etc. Remember, the best way to learn a subject is to teach it to someone else, so pairing up older and younger learners helps them both. If the lessons are scheduled so that Student #1 always spends the same time slot working with Student #3, and so on, all students will benefit, and Mom gets to be in more places at once through the added helping hands. The young ones will also learn to respect individual lesson times, knowing that their share of time is coming, too.
Now let’s all repeat the Guilt-Free Homeschooling motto: The “right” way to homeschool is the way that fits my family best — our schedule, our needs, our desires, our abilities. You are free to adapt your schedule to whatever fits your family’s needs. If you need extra time to tend to Little One, you may take it. If you need to wait until 1:30 to begin lessons each day, who cares? If you need to breastfeed while teaching math class, go for it! (Let’s see them try that one in government school!)