Without a doubt, the question I am most frequently asked regarding homeschooling is:
“But what do you do with… HER?”
The questioner skeptically raises one eyebrow and motions toward the whiny toddler who is wrapped around my left leg with the force of thirty boa constrictors.
I smile and attempt to pry her away. The friend grimaces as Baby C screams, “Up! Mommy! Up, up….hold you, Mommy…UPPPPPPPP!”
And when I respond, “She just kinda hangs out and does what we do.” They politely smile and nod and think to themselves, “LIAR. LIAR. BIG PANTS ON FIRE.”
And I would be lying if I said all this was easy. In fact, I expect that Baby C is currently the most disruptive she will ever be to our homeschooling life. I love her. I do. She’s hilarious, and clever, and brings tremendous joy to our family. But she constantly has to be right.there.with.me. And those who know her wouldn’t hesitate to agree that she is also incredibly high strung and VERY temperamental. That demanding little booger wants what she wants, and she wants it the way she wants it, and by golly, she wants it ten minutes ago.
To all the fellow parents who are wading through the muddy trenches of toddlerhood with me (or the terrible 2’s or dealing with mouthy threenagers), I raise three fingers to you, Hunger Games style. I salute your valiant efforts. We will persevere!
I have come out on the other side of it twice before, and I’m about 48% certain that I will again.
Parenting Baby C is difficult right now, but homeschooling with her… well, it really isn’t so bad. In fact, she is much more trying on the nerves on non-schooling days because of the lack of structure. Children thrive on routine.
She knows our daily rhythm and the majority of the time, she’s doing her thing right alongside us.
In this post, I will share how I keep her engaged throughout our day. I will share with you the tips and tricks that have helped to preserve at least a portion of my sanity throughout the past seven years. I will also share ideas and activities that your bigger kiddos can learn from and enjoy in the event that your tiny terrorist decides to derail your whole day.
It Was a Regular Tuesday…
I think the easiest way to explain how I (attempt) to manage the chaos of homeschooling with a toddler is to give you a quick-run-down of one of our days.
Actually, I fibbed. It won’t be quick (as days with children never are)… but it will give you a glimpse of what it looks like on a regular ole’ Tuesday inside our home. This is what homeschooling a first grader, preschooler, and dragging a toddler along for the ride looks like. As of this writing, Baby C is a few days shy of two years old.
If you couldn’t care less about how we spend our day, that’s okay. You can still find a list of suggestions and activities at the end of this post.
For more information about our daily routine (known as a homeschool rhythm), please see my post “Omlettes are for Sundays, son!” Also, many of the other concepts I will discuss can be further explained in my “All the Nutella” post.
The Rhythm’s Gonna Get Ya…Through It.
6:45 AM: Early Morning Frontloading
My older students are still sleeping soundly, so it’s just the two of us. We cuddle and peruse through a stack of board books. We retreat to the breakfast nook to “cook” with play food. I enjoy my second cup of coffee while I pretend to munch on a plastic eggplant. The only kind of eggplant, mind you, that you’ll ever catch near my lips.
7:20 AM: Settling in for the Day
Big brother and sis make their way downstairs and dole out morning kisses. They turn on Netflix. Planet Earth is this morning’s selection and everyone waits for breakfast. Baby C whines for “diff-rent-tv”, and I oblige. She watches Nursery Rhymes on the iPad while I throw together their breakfast.
I also double check over my daily do’s materials (the things that occur every homeschool day) and I check to make sure our loop-de-loo supplies (for the subjects we rotate) are ready to go as well. Don’t y’all know giving something a cutsie name increases its appeal by 500%.
Inside my head, Scar bellows in his most villian-y voice, “Be prepaaaaaared!”
But really though, your homeschool day will fall to absolute pieces if you don’t have yourself together.
7:40 AM: Breakfast and Books
In my previous post, I discussed just how important it is to utilize meal time for instruction and read alouds, taking advantage of your captive audience. And so, breakfast and books was born.
I crank through our infographic (today’s happens to be frogs vs. toads), we read two Shel Silverstein poems, discuss our daily scripture and complete a quick devotional text. I then give them a quick overview of what our day will look like (my kids always fare better if they know what’s to come). As they finish munching, I read a short picture book about spring.
All the while, Baby C is just happily stuffing her face and watching the cows outside the window. She interrupts with some occasional moo’ing, but overall, a successful start to the school day.
*On days when she finishes her breakfast too early and becomes disruptive, I hand her a notebook and crayons to buy us some time. And they’re right there at the table, ready to go, because this momma heeds Scar’s advice.
8:10 Tablework Begins
The kiddos help clear the table and tidy up their areas. They retrieve their pencil boxes and Explode the Code phonics books. They know what’s expected and get started. I know they will be able to complete most of their morning work independently, so I continue to front-load with the babe. I fill up the kitchen sink, and pull a chair over for each of us. She stands while I sit beside her chugging my morning smoothie.
She emphatically screams for “mow bubbles!” as she washes bowls and random plastic figurines. The older kiddos come ask for help as needed.
8:30 AM: Morning Routine
I don’t even really know why we call it that. Not very original… it’s basically morning chores, but whenever possible, I try to avoid THAT word.
First, we start off with a “bed pawty”. We all wildly jump on the bed and get the sillies out. It is basically C’s favorite thing in life.
They retreat to their own rooms to make their beds, put away the laundry we folded the previous afternoon, and then general morning hygiene.
Baby C sticks with me. She “helps” me make my bed by throwing ALL of the pillows around the room. She brushes her own teeth alongside the big kids. Don’t worry, I make sure to take care of the sugar boogers before bedtime each night.
8:55 AM: Free Play
8:55: Free time. The big kids do their own thing. They know they’ve got about 20 minutes and often go outside, but on this rainy day, they pretend to live in a cave and have barricaded themselves under an ottoman.
Charleston and I do a ten-minute Cosmic Yoga and then work a chunky, wooden puzzle together.
9: 15 AM: Morning Meeting
I intiate this part of our day by singing. It’s a variation of a song Thatcher learned in KinderMusik years ago. Anyway, when the little people hear this song, they coming running to the “classroom”. It’s an auditory signal that business is commencing, and singing is a lot more satisfying (for me at least) than yelling for them to get their hind ends moving.
So we sing…
“It’s our time to sing together, our time to sing together, our time to sing together, sing hello, hello.”
Everyone is now in the classroom, and the next verse brings on ALL KINDS of aggressive hugging…
“It’s our time to love our neighbor, our time to love our neighbor, our time to love our neighbor… love your neighbor now.”
And we dance around for the last part…
“It’s our time to learn and PLAY, our time to learn and PLAY, our time to learn and PLAY… let’s start school today!”
I’m not going to be winning any Grammys (seeing that I basically stole this song and then mutilated it to serve my own needs), but it works for us.
All three of them sit criss-cross-applesauce on their cute little tushies. Baby C stays seated for about 7 seconds.
The meeting begins. We practice counting by evens, and odds, and in Spanish. We say our pledge and sing songs about our continents, days of the week, etc. Baby C occasionally joins in but mostly just wants me give her an array of markers. And I oblige. I toss some Expos her way. Hand her a brightly colored eraser she hasn’t seen in a while. She marks all over the lower half of the board (and consequentially, the wall beneath it). A small price to pay for peace, my friends.
We continue with our meeting time with sight words and review games. I teach a quick mini-lesson on punctuation. I occassionally have to pause to appease our tiny class clown. And it’s really no different than when I taught in the classroom. You always have that ONE.
I have an aresenal of random household objects and rarely-used toys in a basket nearby. You’re bored, Baby C? Here’s a spatula and a ball. I hear whining again, here child, play with this toilet paper tube collection and Ziploc bag. Fascinating stuff.
And we wrap it up with a quick dance party… isn’t that how all meetings should conclude?
9:35 AM: Language Arts
I won’t go into great detail regarding the actual seat work and activities we do during our language arts block because our focus here is on how I’m dealing with the baby.
I work independently with both kids during this time. It’s important stuff because when you are working one-on-one with a student, you are really able to cover a lot of ground. And it typically works because while I’m working with one child, the other sibling is entertaining Baby C. Then, we switch. And we’ll switch again. And again. Small bursts of intense learning for both bigger kids and C is entertained with all the hustle and bustle.
When they’re playing with her, it’s usually just free play. However, if it’s not going great, I will get out something more structured for them. Magnatiles, Bunch-Ems, safari animal figurines, etc.
If it’s REALLY not going well, I will stick her in the high chair with a few cans of Play-Doh, a play knife, and rolling pin. If the wheels completely fall of the wagon, I’ll plop her on my lap and teach while she scribbles. And if the wheels all fall off and she sets the wagon ablaze, there’s always the iPad.
10:35 Outside, Outside, Everybody Outside!
On this particular day, we observed and graphed the different types of birds we saw in a 15 minute period. Then, they practiced their sight words with sidewalk chalk.
Baby C was down for all of it.
She was right in the thick of it, scaring birds away and drawing murals on the sides of my van. The big kids spent the rest of the time swinging and climbing and running. I walked laps in the driveway while Baby C chased after me. We stayed until the bellies started to rumble.
11:00 AM: Snacks and Stories
‘Twas a pretzels and cheese kinda day. Again, I always take advantage of the audience that full mouths and busy hands provides.
I quickly introduced a new math concept and read from our chapter book. After a quick clean up, the big kids each completed a math review page. Baby C was still stuffing her face as I swept up the floor.
11:30 AM: Structured Play
I used this time to basically facilitate play with an underlying academic purpose. I encouraged the big kids to go play “store”. I hand them a sack full of play money, some markers, and paper from which to make sales tags, and send them on their merry way. I tell them to prepare everything, and I’ll visit their store in about 20.
I needed to switch over the laundry and put up a few dishes. Normally, I’d also prep clothing and the diaper bag for our afternoon extracurriculars, but all of that is cancelled right now. Deep breaths.
I ask Baby C to help with the tasks at hand. After removing the knives, I hand her the utensils basket from the dishwasher. She hands me spoons and forks to put away. I gave her a rag to wipe down the cabinet doors while I put everything else away.
I find toddlers love the illusion of responsibility. And same with the laundry, she helps me toss handfuls of damp clothing into the dryer.
We do a quick reading of Goodnight Moon and go find the big kids. We shop in their store for a several minutes (and I review and reinforce a few math concepts along the way).
12:15 PM: Preparing and Serving Lunch
I normally wash and cut the fruit the night before, but I didn’t, so I commence fruit prep. All three kids are playing Hide and Seek.
After the fruit, everything else is cake. Well, not literally. I mean cake for lunch sounds amazing, but my dietitian sister might frown upon that choice.
After assembling their plates, I serve it all up with a side of Audible. A lot of days I will continue to read or teach during lunch, but today, I just need a minute. So a Meryl Streep reading of The Velveteen Rabbit it shall be. You’re welcome, children.
I pull C’s high chair into the living room with me and turn on Mickey. Wouldn’t want her interrupting The Good Mrs. Streep.
I get in a 15 minute yoga session, and then serve myself a quick lunch. We all clean up, and I smile, because I know what comes next.
12:50 NAP TIME / HAMMER TIME
I plop Baby C down in her crib, tuck her in, and dance my pretty little way down the stairs. Love you, Boo… see you in two hours!
Now, it’s hammer time for the big kids and me. Anything that didn’t get accomplished earlier is completed. Then, we curl up together on sofa and take turns reading to one another. It’s my absolute FAVORITE part of our homeschooling day.
Our afternoon is peppered with literature, science, and history. We do experiments on the porch and have a quiet poetry tea time (although, I’m the only one drinking tea). We study types of soil and collect samples from our yard. We watch a Homeschool Pop video. This part of our day is where the student-led learning, the magical rabbit holes, and the wonderment happens.
On the extremely rare occasion that C doesn’t nap well… I breathe deeply and remember that the hubs will be home in a few hours, and we can always complete it in the evening. That’s one really beautiful perk to schooling at home… all that flexibility.
My kids are emerged in a life where we’re constantly exploring questions and ideas, and sometimes it’s hard to know where school ends and regular living begins. Although, I like to think (and hope) that it’s not really that regular at all.
Lawzy! That was a lot. I’m nearly as tired after writing about my day as I am after living it.
But I wanted you to really get a mental picture for how this can work. I wanted you to see what I do with HER. And I’ll tell you something, she can be a 10+ on the pain scale, but she sure makes our days a whole lot cuter.
Homeschooling with little ones is never easy, but it is possible. And speaking from experience, it’s not only possible to get through it, it IS possible to actually enjoy it.
So friends, I’ll end with this: Try to look for the bright spots in these tough times. Less running around means more hunkering down.
So hunker down for the snuggles, and the read alouds, and the laughs. Hunker down and stay safe.
Sending you my love.
Until next time… Happy Learning.