You’re in the middle of helping your fourth grader through a word problem, but you’re not getting anywhere because your toddler’s making a racket. You’d love to give all of your kids individual attention all the time, but there are several of them and only one of you.
How do you keep the little ones happy when you’ve got lessons to teach and learning goals to meet? How do you keep their minds growing and imagination working, too?
Here are a few strategies that don’t take a lot of time, special materials, or artistic brilliance.
Start by answering a few questions.
Does your toddler do better when you give him your focused attention before starting lessons for everyone else? Would it work for you to tackle the harder subjects during nap time? What snack breaks do you need so that everyone stays well-nourished—and less cranky? Can one child entertain your toddler while you teach another?
Once you’ve figured out your plan, experiment until you find what works best.
Create a safe spot.
We’ve probably all seen the meme, “Silence is golden, unless you have a toddler. In that case, silence is very suspicious.”
When your toddler is next to your school area in a play-yard with quiet toys or books that engage his mind, silence can be golden again.
You could also try blanket time, where you put a few toys on a small blanket and teach your toddler to stay there and cheerfully entertain himself. That’s a valuable skill!
Put together quiet boxes or bags.
Sort your little one’s toys into different boxes (small plastic ones with lids), small storage bins, or zippered pouches—one for each day. Pick toys that are quiet but fun, maybe adding some simple crafts.
Try using themes: animals on Monday, colors on Tuesday, shapes on Wednesday, etc.
You could even throw in a glitter “calm down jar” made using directions from Pinterest.
If you have several little ones, rotate the boxes so each child gets a different box each day.
What about when toys have worn out their entertainment value? Switch out with other moms so your kids (and theirs) are constantly getting “new” toys.
Give imagination room to thrive with cardboard boxes.
We’ve all seen expensive toys ignored in favor of the free box… so capitalize on that!
Go to your local grocery or home improvement store if you don’t have any boxes around that will do. Get several, while you’re at it, and tape them together in fun configurations.
Stock the box with crayons, stickers, markers (if they won’t end up all over your child), and you’ll keep your little one happily traveling to make-believe worlds.
Assign a “job.”
Younger kids love a sense of accomplishment, too! They want to feel like they’re learning with the big kids.
Get out a muffin tin and a bowl with different colors of buttons. Have them put all the blue buttons in one tin, all the white in another, etc. When they’re done, they’ve got something to show off! And they’ll have practiced with their colors, too.
Make a race track with painter’s tape.
Turn your floor into a wild, winding race track. Build roads, bridges, parking lots, or stores with tape—or put your older kids in charge of the construction.
Toy cars have tons of room to race, and you didn’t have to buy any expensive toy tracks.
Your older kids might even get jealous of the fun and work harder to finish lessons.
Depending on where you put your track (like in the basement during winter), it could last for months. If you’re short on space or time, try getting a rug with a race track printed on it.
Fill the kitchen sink with bubbles.
If you school at the kitchen table, this one is especially great.
Fill the kitchen sink with just a little water and a lot of dish soap, then pull up a bench for your littles. Show them how fun it is to make more bubbles by shaking a cup full of the soapy water. Put in a few dishes to wash.
While you knock out practice with spelling words, your little ones are having a ball with bubbles and—bonus!—creating a fun association with doing dishes.
Make an alphabet collage.
This one is really simple, but it leaves so much room for creativity. You could start with an A cut out of construction paper. Then that’s the blank canvas for drawing things that start with A, putting on stickers that start with A, cutting out and gluing on pictures of things that start with A.
Feel free to do the letters out of order or give them themes, like T for thankful, with each thing on the T being something they’re thankful for.
Turn the collages into adorable decor by hanging a string on the wall and attaching each letter’s collage using a clothespin.
Pitch a tent.
What’s the secret for making anything more fun for a kid? Putting up a tent. Make one using sheets draped over chairs in the living room. Throw a sheet over your card table to make the underside a “tent.” Or get a popup tent that’s easy to put up, take down, or take outside.
Whatever you decide to try, have fun! Take time to join in the imaginative play that little minds create. Remember you’ve got the flexibility of homeschooling, and these crazy days will be here only once.
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