If you have a school-age child, I am willing to bet you have had to clear off the dining room table a time or two or niche out a dedicated space in a common living area to set up your own school room. Yours may look different than an actual school, especially if your space is also claimed by a toddler, eager to learn, destruct, and distract.
Herein lies a very real challenge of homeschooling, remote schooling, virtual schooling, or a hybrid approach…how do you keep a little one busy while an older child is trying to learn?
When we decided to homeschool our kindergartner, I was confident I could handle the basics for a six-year-old. But, the toddler? I needed an arsenal of tips and activities to keep my little one busy. Here are some of my tried and true methods & supplies for keeping a little one occupied long enough to teach a concept, answer questions, or offer feedback.
1. Chunky puzzles placed wherever learning is taking place. This is a quick activity a toddler can do independently, but also with purpose.
2. All the stickers you can find plus construction paper. We use the dining room table a lot for school work. Put the little one in their seat and help them peel of stickers to put on the paper. No rhyme, no reason (expect keep them entertained)
3. Play-Doh. We are a Play-Doh loving family. This means we use Play-Doh for fun and in school – most often in math. While we are building 3D structures or smashing rolled balls for subtraction, the little one has a great and easy sensory activity.
4. Paint with water. Small cup of water, a paint brush, and some construction paper will keep them busy just long enough to work on a concept before the inevitable spill occurs.
5. Build. Set out Magnatiles, Duplo Legos, or wooden blocks for construction.
6. Include them in the schoolwork. Grab a bag of Cheerios or marshmallows to use as counters for math so the little one can be part of the exercise. Read book they will both enjoy. Have a dance party break. Or play games together – our favorites are Hot Potato and Twister.
7. Crayons and large Post-it self-adhesive pages. We put these pages on the wall to do all kinds of school work – writing, math, art, etc. For the toddler, they like to draw (just watch your walls) or stick regular size Post-it notes on the paper.
8. Outdoor or Indoor Scavenger Hunt where each child fills up their own bag of designated items.
9. Encourage independent play. I will often set out a basket of cars, blocks, or stuffed animals and just let it go. Sometimes it works for a few minutes, sometimes times it creates a big mess. But, there are time where it creates time for learning all around.
10. Interactive books. I will put out a stack of books that engages the little reader. Our favorites come from Usborne or Melissa and Doug Poke-a-Dot books.
11. Cash in on some screen time. Let them watch a show of their choosing for a designated time and balance with physical activity.
12. And my all-time favorite – the highly anticipated afternoon nap.
I do my best each day to rotate activities and find the most simple ways to make homeschooling and corralling a toddler work. Some days are chaotic, but a set routine helps build in pockets of time for learning, playing, and running wild!