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Homeschooling Babies and Toddlers

Moms of preschoolers often ask about coping with homeschooling babies and toddlers while teaching older children.

Featured in The Learning Home, June 2004, a quarterly magazine published by the Cape Home Educators' Association, this article was written when Shirley was homeschooling one child, with three younger toddlers in the home. It may help you cope with the challenges of little ones!

In July 1997, when I first considered homeschooling my five year old step-daughter, I had no biological children of my own. One of my greatest concerns was how I would manage with tiny tots when I did have babies.

Almost miraculously, I discovered, on the internet, articles about homeschooling with little ones, written by a mom of six children. I realised that if others could manage, then believing that this was God's will for our family, I would manage too.

Within a month of starting homeschooling in the last part of Meghan's pre-school year, I fell pregnant and my first baby was born half way through her first formal year (Grade 1) of homeschool, so for us 'homeschooling with toddlers' is all we know!

I think the first thing to realise (whether you have babies and toddlers or not) is that homeschooling is not 'school at home'. We can be flexible - and with little ones, you just have to be! Homeschooling toddler

In my case, not knowing what sort of experience motherhood would bring, I planned to do as much formal schooling (the 3 R's) with Meghan, before my baby was born and then allow up to 3 months, if necessary, for us to get into whatever new routine having a baby might require. We would be academically 'relaxed', until such time as we felt ready to resume a more structured schedule.

I felt this would allow Meghan to enjoy time with me and the new baby, which would be a learning experience of a different kind! To my surprise, we were able to continue much the same as usual, as our newborn slept so much of the time. We would usually sit together and do reading on the couch when it was feeding time for Lucy.

Now, after two more babies, I think we need articles which give tips on how to survive homeschooling when you're pregnant - that was always tough!

Homeschooling baby

The other most challenging time is when the little ones can crawl and are mobile, but not yet old enough to play independently ...but this stage creeps up on you gradually and you adapt as it happens. At worst, the older child/ren may have to postpone a lesson that requires your undivided attention or no interruptions until a more convenient time, like when the little one is having a nap. This teaches the older children to be patient and considerate too. In our case, Meghan is now old enough to get most of her work done on her own anyway.

It is important to me that our toddlers learn the routines we have in our home and begin to be trained to help with chores around the house from a young age and of course, they should also be stimulated to explore and learn about the world around them, but not at the expense of their play - at this age playing usually is learning.

In our home, to ensure that I did not only concentrate on Meghan's schooling, I introduced the little ones to a daily Bible study routine using Babies' Bible Class. Later, on we used another Bible-based homeschooling programme for preschoolers, but very loosely and now we use Little Footprints and ABC Fun & 1-2-3.

Lucy is almost six and she is starting the 3 R's and so often the other two little ones also join us at the table, either with pre-school activities or just scribbling in Kayleigh's case (almost 2).
However, if the younger two are occupying themselves, I most often leave them be. Their formal years of homeschooling will be here in the blink of an eye, so I give them freedom to play and explore if that is what they choose.
When they become restless or bored, that is the time I will read them a story or bring out educational games and activities that are kept locked away to be used under supervision or as a special treat.

My advice, in a nutshell, with regard to homeschooling with toddlers is to have a relaxed and flexible approach to your school activities, but lay down firm rules of discipline in the home from early on. Instead of wishing away the challenges that little ones present, embrace their presence and delight in their ages and stages.

Update 2011

It is July 2011. I have spent two months renovating and 'rejuvinating' this website - giving it a new look template but also updating things I have written here and there that have since changed.

In the time since this article was originally written 6 years ago, my step-daughter, Meghan has left home. I now have six children of my own at home, the eldest three of which are in Grades, 3, 5 and 7. My two preschoolers are aged 6, 4 and our baby is 10 months old.

So how does it all work now?

Reading aloud with preschoolers

The eldest three have a weekly schedule in which I set out the work we should cover each week. Most of their written work, like Maths and Languages they are able to do on their own. They just ask for help if necessary.

Science they most often do alone too, but our social studies programme, Sonlight, requires lots of reading aloud together. I enjoy this as it forces me to stay in touch with what they are reading. The older two are quite capable of doing the reading alone, but I don't allow it!

The preschoolers sometimes join us at the dining room table where we do school, but most often they amuse themselves during our school day. They love showing off their recitation skills as we are all working through a poetry memorization programme together. Sometimes they sit and listen to our read-alouds, but their special time with me is a story at bedtime, as our days can get really busy.

They certainly do get less planned and structured preschooling than my first two children did, but they get plenty of stimulation in our busy home and I realise that they are learning anyway.

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