Every homeschooling mom of more than one child has faced the dilemma of what to do with younger children during school hours. Adding a paid job to the mix only makes the situation more urgent. While none of us wants to ignore the little ones or pass up giving them their own education, there are times when we just need them to occupy themselves while we do other things.
Here are a few of the ways I have entertained preschoolers over the last six years of homeschooling:
Having an older child entertain the younger ones is a good way to teach him to think of others. It gives plenty of practice for conflict resolution as well! If I am working with my oldest on a math lesson, for example, I can send my second grade son to play or do a chore with the younger ones. Having him there holds their interest so they are not as likely to wander in and disturb the math lesson.
I realize this is a controversial issue among homeschooling families. I am not comfortable with sitting young ones in front of a video without me, although that works well for some families. What I do sometimes with my 2 and 4-year-olds is let them use a toddler game app on my phone or practice learning to read using Starfall.
3. Let them learn to play independently.
If I need to do lessons with both of my older ones, I will sometimes leave one or both little ones to play alone in their room. As long as a child is out of the “everything-in-his-mouth” stage and is in a basically child-proof room, this is good practice for him to learn to play alone. For very young babies, a play pen or a baby gate at the door of his room are also options.
4. Allow them to” do school”.
When we did our schooling around the dining room table, I would set up the baby and toddler in their high chair or booster seat and give them “work” to do. If the older children were doing math, I would give them Duplo blocks. If the school work involved writing, they could color on paper. For alphabet practice, I would sometimes let them play with alphabet magnets on the refrigerator while I worked with the older ones.
5. Bring out the messy toys.
There is something about messes that particularly draws the under-five crowd. If I want to capitalize on my time with the older kids, I can bring out Play-doh, bubbles, glue sticks or let them “wash dishes” in the kitchen sink. The downside is clean up later, but even that can be a learning experience.
When the intense study time with my older ones is finished, I try to make sure and cuddle or read with the little ones. Those preschool years are full of learning opportunities, and they are so fleeting. I don’t want to miss out!
A little extra: For you crafty mothers, here is a neat idea for sensory play: Scented Rainbow Rice
For you, the reader: How do you entertain your little ones while you teach school to older children? What have you tried that didn’t work, and what works the best?