We always seem to have this combination of toddler plus preschooler plus older kids in our house and sometimes keeping everyone occupied can be quite the task! Living in a small space at the moment certainly presents extra challenges, especially since the older kids are officially homeschooled and need a little peace and quiet while getting their book work done. How we homeschool with babies in the house is probably the main question I get asked so I thought I'd share a few tips!
First off, it's not as hard as it sounds. One of the nice things about homeschooling is being able to set up our day around our own schedule... if there are times when the little ones are napping, that's a great part of the day to get in some lessons with the big kids. If there's a time where everyone is kind of rowdy, we plan to be outside then. Of course, there are always days that throw us off and if someone is sick or the baby is fussy we might postpone lessons and the big kids will work on their own or grab some nature books and go read in the yard. Or we'll all hop into bed and watch a nature documentary together. We can be flexible! This also teaches the kids some great life skills... things like patience and nurturing. They learn the world doesn't revolve around them. because it doesn't!
All of our babies have also been pretty happy playing on their own, which means it's not unusual for us to be working at the table while the little ones roll around and play on the floor. I'm a big proponent of independent play in childhood and make sure our kids get a lot of it. Just free, unstructured time to play however they want. We sort of begin this at birth, by not having a lot of baby "gadgets" like activity gyms or light up mobiles or musical bouncers... basically if it takes batteries, I think long and hard about it. By not being constantly stimulated, they learn to engage in their surroundings more and be imaginative in their play. Watching the leaves blow in the wind, or listening to the other kids laughing, or shaking a toy around and hearing it rattle. It's all so interesting at that young age!
It also helps that homeschooling is sort of a frame of mind here, so we always have "homeschool" activities for the little ones to do as well and they feel included. If we're at the table, we can set them up with play dough or coloring. Or they can sit on the floor and play with cards or puzzles. And when we go on outings, the little ones almost always come along. There are some field trips that are geared more for the big kids and that's a little more challenging, but I just make a point of scheduling those when I can leave the baby at home (she's a little young to be holding a 6 foot albino python after all) or send the kids along with their friends.
Really, my biggest trick is, when I'm about to sit down with the older kids and get into some bookwork, I pull out a few activities for the little ones and set them in our living area. We joke and call it "setting up the baby zone"! Even the kids are good at it by now, going to the cabinet and pulling out a couple puzzles, a few books or set of cards and putting them in a circle on the rug... its like a little baby trap and before we know it, they've been lured in and are happily playing. After going through this toddler stage with 4 kids, I thought I'd also share some of my favorite activities and toys to keep the little ones occupied while we homeschool...
1. STACKING CUPS - we love these ones! and we can even play with them in the bath or with play dough too.
2. DVDs - I am not above putting on a movie for our little ones to get a little uninterrupted time! But I am selective about what they watch... two of our favorites are Baby Einstein First Signs and the Little Pim language series. If they're going to watch television they might as well know sign language and French afterwards, right?
3. ALPHABET PUZZLE - this is my favorite! Violet will do this puzzle over and over and over.
4. PLAYDOUGH - possibly the best past time for kids. ever. Eventually I got tired of all the colors being smushed into ugly brown so now I just buy bulk buckets of it and we play with ONE color at a time. We use this brand. Playdough plus a few wooden rolling pins, little measuring cups, and birthday candles and the girls are occupied for hours making playdough cakes.
5. MONTESSORI COLOR PEGS - all of our kids have loved these! They're great for hand eye coordination and they learn to identify a range of colors at an early age. The pegs are small so I always make sure the little ones play with them when I'm nearby.
6. LOTTO CARD GAME - these older style lotto card games are hard to find, but we love them! We've had two sets both made by Ravensburger. I love that they feature real pictures which is great for toddlers learning to identify objects, food, and animals in the world around them.
7. MEMORY GAME - classic wooden matching game but with abstract animal pictures!
8. GEM CRAYONS - gem shaped crayons for the little ones, I even catch the big kids using them because they're so fun! available at Target stores.
9. PAPER - a must have! I love rolling out a huge sheet of paper on the table and letting the kids loose with crayons and stickers.
10. FLASHCARDS - a great past time for the little ones to flip through! I love these ones because we don't end up losing any :)
11. WOODEN MONTESSORI BLOCKS - ok so this one is more for the preschool and up crowd. We're big fans of wooden blocks around here and this pink stacking tower is one of my faves... my kids love stacking and lining the blocks up according to size. It's a great simple activity for them!
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