Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I've homeschooled for 11 years now with toddlers always part of the family makeup. We have eight children (ages 15, 14, 11, 9, 8, 5, 4, and 1) and I completely understand the challenge this can be. I may
not have solutions, but I have some thoughts and suggestions gleaned from experience:

First, RELAX! This is very difficult for certain personalities (like myself) but I've found it's critical if you want to avoid "burnout" and a lot of family frustration. I don't mean relax in your good desires, vigilance, persistence, etc., but in your expectations for yourself and others-- especially the toddlers themselves.

Second, consider approaching homeschooling like any other family undertaking: recognize your unique strengths and limitations, and be realistic. Many years I would spend the summer making lists, planning, buying curriculum, visualizing all the fabulous things we would do in our homeschool-- only to be in tears by the second day because our toddlers weren't "cooperating" with my plans. Think about
how you cook with toddlers around, or do laundry with toddlers around, or go to the library, or do yard work, or go on vacation, whatever.  You have to stay mighty flexible, don't you, and perhaps even bag your plans and do something different at times. I think we forget that we're not trying to "do school at home" but rather have "homeschool" which is going to look, feel, and be carried out in a completely
different way than what we usually think of with "school".

Third, it's very hard to do, but TRUST God that He will make up the difference in your efforts to educate your children. But be sure you're involving Him, too-- ask each day (or several times a day!)for His guidance and help. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn is that God will help me, but that He expects me to do things in His way and time, not mine. I cannot "require" it to be the other way around.

Fourth, of all the things you may teach your schoolaged children, how you respond to and act towards your toddlers will be a very lasting lesson. Is the unspoken but very apparent message to your older
children that the toddlers are in the way or are bothersome or annoying? Responding to your toddlers with patience, tolerance, understanding, and inclusion-- or loving firmness when appropriate--
will go a long way in teaching the children character qualities I'm sure you want them to have.

Fifth, accept that the toddlers have short attention spans and can't be expected to amuse themselves in acceptable ways for very long, so you're not likely going to get long teaching times in with your older
ones. This is just a fact, so stop trying to wish it away and just do your best to deal with it. (Sorry if that sounds too harsh or rude.) I once knew a mother who got her older ones up earlier than her toddlers woke so that she could teach them then. Others have held off teaching some things until hubby got home in the evenings and could either do the teaching himself or tend the toddlers. Otherwise,
prayerfully come up with your plan-- and several contingency plans, because you're sure to need them!

Sixth, I finally had to get over a few preconceived ideas; like that it was wrong to let my toddlers watch a Barney or Blues Clues video while I needed a few uninterrupted minutes to teach a math concept or
something. I've also set out a large but shallow plastic container filled with dry rice and let toddlers play with toy cars, dinosaurs, etc., while we sit nearby. Yes, there will be a mess, sometimes larger than other times, but the toddler is happy and the teaching gets done. Can you and the older child(ren) homeschool in the bathroom or hall while the toddler plays in the bath? Can you do schoolwork outside while blowing bubbles for the toddler? Get creative and lose the concept of a school classroom because this is your HOME.

Seventh, depending on the ages and abilities of your children, one could play with your toddlers (even for 10 minutes) while you work with another on academics, then switch later. If there is only one thing I
could encourage every mom to do, it would be to learn the value of five or ten minutes! It really is amazing what can be accomplished in short snippets of time if you jump right on them and don't expect too much. This also helps your older children learn that each member of the family shares in the job and blessing of helping the toddlers.

Eighth, for our family, I've had to set aside my desires for great unit studies or other group projects and learning situations. What works for us is as much independent learning as possible. This has
been heart wrenching for me at times because I hear, read and think about great things we could do altogether--well, all of us except the toddlers, of course. So in order to allow for the fact that we have
toddlers, older siblings have to do some self-teaching, some teaching of younger siblings, some tending of toddlers, and some moving on to something else until Mom can find time to come help them. Definitely not my ideal, but it what's been working for us. One day, though, when there are no more toddlers, the youngest homeschoolers in our family and I are going to do some fabulous unit studies and projects together!

Ninth, if the laws of your state are flexible enough, do as much homeschooling as possible through just living life. Practice math facts while folding laundry together; go over spelling words while driving in the car; ALWAYS keep books with you in the car, at doctor's appointments, etc.; plant the garden to learn about science, write Grandma a thank you note to practice handwriting, etc.

Tenth, it kind of goes along with what I've already said, but learn to do things with one hand for your toddler (rolling play dough, helping with a puzzle, etc.) while using the other to help teach an older child. While toddlers need our attention, they usually don't require it to be undivided. Our family has spent much of our homeschooling hours all sitting at the dining table, or all spread out in the living
room so that I could turn and work with each child at different moments, and still interact with the toddlers. Yes, this is more distracting for the children, but they learn to work through distractions, and then later they're old enough to work somewhere else that is quieter and then return to me when they have a question.

Well, this is probably far more than anyone wanted to read, so I'll sign off. Just know that there are many of us who've made it through the toddler years and still come out with children who have learned a lot academically!

Reprinted with permission from a

 Mom of eight in Washington State


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