While I am on vacation this week...You are in for a treat everyone as I share some great insights from my friend and mentor Rachel Watkins!!!
Keeping the little ones content
One of the biggest struggles homeschooling parents face is keeping the younger one content while the older ones are learning. While the older ones have goals to meet based on state requirements, lesson plans or curriculums, the only goal for a preschooler or toddler is to have as much fun as possible. The ‘rule’ of toddler life is to go, go, go and take as many prisoners (that usually means Mom) along the way! (While I know there are some fathers out there who are the ‘teacher’ I will beg their forgiveness and just use “Mom” here for simplicity.)
Most families make use of the following:
FLEXIBILITY - When thinking of making a school schedule think of the best times for you, your stamina and the needs of the little ones. If you write the schedule with those in mind you can get more done than you think. Don’t forget to plan a snack schedule as you can get a lot accomplished with an older child while the younger one is munching next to you. When you have more than a few little ones, you may find that going to a weekly or even monthly plan is better than trying a daily one. Not knowing if the baby going to start teething, the toddler who is potty-training is miserable, etc. make a daily plan is almost impossible in my house. Instead, I make big weekly plans and monthly goals. I know I can meet (or adjust those) is much less stressful than saying I must go this and that today and today only! In a family w/ babies and toddlers today’s quickly become yesterday’s so don’t be tied to a planner that doesn’t allow for flexibility.
Also, know that you are getting more done than you think. Remember to cover the 4 R’s – reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic’ and religion and you are doing fine. Check out the “What Every (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) Grader Should Know series and you will probably discover that your child knows more than you remember teaching them. And having stacks and stacks of good books – both fiction and non-fiction – will go a long way to teach your kids what you yourself can’t. The computer is also a given in most homes. Having some good teaching sites bookmarked as favorites make it easier to get your kids started on learning something when it’s a rough day.
This isn’t to say that other subjects are necessary and your own state may require real, concrete proof of all subjects taught. Rather it is remind you that you need to take school just one day at a time.
CREATIVITY - Be as creative with your schedule as homeschooling allows. Perhaps getting to some subjects will take place after Dad comes home. He can play with the younger ones or listen to the older one read. Consider doing a concentrated study session on a Saturday morning. Make the most of naps to take care of the more difficult subjects (in our house it is Math). And remember – with elementary aged kids they don’t need 5 or 6 hours of school. And once you get them reading successfully they can manage to get a good number of subjects done on their own. Developing independent learners is vital to success in high school and beyond.
Older children will take turns to help care for younger ones. Some mothers use assigned times or days while other moms just ask the child who is not occupied. For example, in my family, I assign one of the older kids to be my ‘go-to girl’ or ‘go-to guy’ for a given day. So, on Monday (and only Monday), my 14 yr. old is ‘Go-To Girl’ for the whole day. She is not expected to do any school work until little ones are napping. She helps out w/ keeping them occupied, folding laundry, helping w/ dinner, anything and everything. In a word, that is her day to be my right hand gal. On the one hand, some would say, she is missing out on schoolwork. Perhaps.
But on the other hand – she is learning at my side about running a household. She is spending some time w/ me as we are making dinner together, working side-by-side. She is Lunch Lady for that day (no, I don’t insist on hairnets) and more. It is a huge help to me and fun for her. She likes the idea of playing ‘hooky’ of sorts and we’ve had some great conversations this way. She is also helping occupy the little ones and allowing me some time to help the younger ones w/ their school.
To clarify – this isn’t to say that on other days, she doesn’t help but on this one day of the week, she is my primary helper. I do the same on other days w/ all my older kids from around 8 on up. (This then means in my home that I have a ‘go-to’ kid four days a week.) Good thing, we take Fridays ‘off’.
Remember even at 5 or 6, an older sibling can be asked to build blocks with the toddler as you help an older one get started on an assignment. There are also the times/days when it is all me. I get the older ones started doing subjects that need little assistance and the day begins. All of my kids are expert at doing school on the floor because I’m down there with the little ones.
SENSITIVITY – To everyone’s needs: yours, the older kids and the younger kids. Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, what those in support group are doing. Just keep your eyes on your house, God’s plan for you and be sensitive to the life He has in store.
Some concrete ideas:
Books on tape for younger children. Not the longer books but those with an accompanying book. You could even ask an older child to create some of these from books you have at your own home.
Books on the tape for the older ones. They can read along with the longer books or listen to the learning tapes for states, math facts and even science stuff.
Videos and TV. These can be used for just the little ones or with the older ones for an educational moment. A nature program, history and similar. The older one is learning while the younger one is entertained. Dust off the old family videos and let the little ones watch those, let them see what their big brother looked liked when he was a baby.
Standard ‘busy’ work for younger children include:
Toys in the home, coloring books and drawing paper, puzzles, play dough, lacing beads/buttons on a string, sticker books and such like. Put these favorites into boxes or baskets and rotate them in and out of the living room or play area to keep things interesting. You can get more out of a few, real, favorites rather than an overabundance of toys that end up just dumped on the floor and never really played with.
Make use of the high chair for more than food. Let little one try to learn to sit still. High chair games can include fun with an ice cube on the tray or painting with whipped cream (I do that only on bath days!). You will spend a good deal of time bending down and picking up but you could use the exercise.
-Magazine scavenger hunt
Open any magazine and ask your toddler to find something. Look for a color or an object such as a car. Make it thematic by finding all the people or instructional by looking for things that start with a specific letter. The “Where’s Waldo”, “Look-Alikes” and “I Spy” book series offer this same advantage.
Keep all those extra photos, even those slightly out of focus or duplicate shots. Every child loves to look at photos again and again. Create a basket or box full of pictures just for them.
Older preschoolers love giving and getting mail. Ask them to dictate a letter to you for Gramma in the next state or even the sister they share a room with. You can mail them for real or just pretend. As an older child to act as scribe and they can then practice their handwriting.
Letting them have the junk mail will create a mess on the floor for you to clean up but can sometimes give you the fifteen or twenty minutes you need to give a spelling test.
-Reading books in a new way
Every young child has a favorite book they want to hear over and over and over again (“Are You My Mother?” is a current favorite in our home.) An entertaining twist is to read the book backwards or use a different voice (baby, whisper, Martian). Read the book in your best (or worst) French accent. They will delight in hearing an old favorite in a new way.
More Active Games:
-Spin and Stop
Remember the game of Statues? In this version have the kids spin once or twice and then stop. Then ask them “Be something you see at the zoo”. You then watch and admire as they act out being a lion or bear. You can ask them to be something on a farm, in the ocean, or in the air. You can venture into inanimate objects if they understand and ask them to be something in the house, at a grocery store. How about being their favorite storybook or movie character?
While you need to be in the kitchen, allow them to play in the sink with bubbles and plastic cups. We sometimes avoid this as it often creates more work but when you really need time to work with an older child you can hover near the toddler and still get some work done.
Take some of those socks you have been trying to sort and allow the toddler to play basketball with them. A small pair being tossed about the living room can cause only minimal damage and give great fun.
Don’t forget to check out your local library for great books for games, activities and more for toddlers and younger children. One favorite is “365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child” by Steve and Ruth Bennett, (Bob Adams, Inc. 1995).