How to manage a toddler during homeschool

Quite a number of people have asked how I manage a preschooler, toddler and baby while homeschooling, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, cooking and cleaning without any “maid” around, and still enjoy time with Sweet Man.

What exactly does “enjoy time with Sweet Man” mean?

Anyways, I guess it’s about time I begin tackling the Long Answer in stages. Maybe once a week. We’ll see. For a start, I don’t know if I’m managing as well as people might think. Everyone has different standards. My “clean” house could be your war zone. Secondly, I’ve been homeschooling for just over a year, so I’m no pro. Some things could definitely be improved!

This week’s “How To” installment is: How do I manage a toddler during homeschool?

Here are some things that have worked for our family. If they help you, fantastic! If not, ditch it! I’m always on the look out for fresh ideas, so please share what works for you.

1) Have a consistent schedule.  When we are consistent with getting up times, nap times, bed times, snack times and meal times, my preschooler and toddler are more manageable during “school”. They know what to expect and are more peaceful. It’s great for me too, because I need a certain level of consistency and predictability in order to function well. Sometimes, I need to be flexible and switch lessons around during school time depending on the level of attention or readiness to engage in a particular activity, but all this is set within a larger, fixed framework.

2) Have one location and be focused.  If Piglet isn’t napping, I keep all the Bunnies in one location. Lamb is not yet 3 years old and it’s natural for him to want to be near me most of the time. He has his own seat and table to do his “work”. “School” time in our home is really “Mama” time – a time when the Bunnies know that my attention is fully on them. (No phone calls, text messages, emails or anything internet related until school is over!) The kids love that I spend this special time with them. When Sweet Man has to work on Saturdays or Sundays, they beg to “do school”. I have to remind them it’s the weekend!

3) Include the toddler.  The best way to occupy a toddler while teaching an older child is to include him. Never underestimate what a toddler can learn or do. I plan for Lamb just as much as I do for Puppy. It makes him feel “big” and important. Besides, he really does learn more than a thing or two.

Our homeschool shelves are organised specifically with both the preschooler and toddler in mind. Everything is at their height so that they can get to things easily. There are Math manipulatives, colouring, craft and language activities suited to a 5 year old, as well as to a 2 – 3 year old. Whenever I teach Puppy something, phonics for instance, Lamb always gets to participate if he’s willing. He can’t do spelling yet, but he can trace alphabets with his finger. While Puppy does addition using objects, Lamb can watch and count them.

4) Attend to the toddler first.  This keeps the toddler more content. During “read-aloud” time, we all snuggle together on the couch, preschooler on my one side, toddler on my other side. If the baby isn’t napping, he might be on my lap, nursing. Lamb can’t sit for too long, so I start with books suited to him first. Then, after I’ve moved on to more complicated books with Puppy, he can start a free choice activity such as a puzzle or toy cars. While playing independently, he still gets to listen to our read-aloud. I try to prioritize the morning time to make sure that Lamb gets maximum learning time. When he is napping in the afternoon, I can work through more difficult lessons with Puppy. This way, Lamb never gets left out.

5) Change activities before boredom sets in.  Very young children have a short attention span. I keep a close eye (and ear, if I have to dash to the kitchen) on how they’re progressing on an activity. I change activities about every 20 minutes. Sometimes I cut it short, sometimes I stretch it longer if they’re really into it. It’s also important to have variety each day to keep things fresh. They don’t have to play with blocks everyday, putting different shapes together to make a pattern, cutting and pasting shapes are equally fun manipulative activities for little hands.

6) Be flexible.  I don’t have a definite “program” for Lamb that’s fixed in stone, but I have a general idea of developmental milestones. I know what he has been learning so far, and I have some ideas on what he is capable of learning. Don’t simply stick to basic shapes. When Puppy learns that 2 triangles make a parallelogram, or that 2 trapezoids make a hexagon, Lamb is hovering about and learns the terminology (at least).


Lamb (just after his 2nd birthday), strings big beads on a wire while Puppy makes a bead necklace.


7) Get the older child to help.  I get my 5 year old to play at being “teacher” sometimes. This gives me a few minutes to get a mid-morning snack ready, or put lunch to roast in the oven. It also promotes sibling bonding and (hopefully) positive attitudes such as patience, perseverance and serving others. Since 95% of what we teach is remembered, Puppy benefits by teaching, and Lamb gets a fresh breath of air listening to someone’s voice other than mine. The preschooler can teach the toddler ABC’s, numbers, shapes or colours, read him a story she has learned, or sing and dance together.

8 ) Give the toddler freedom to explore and do things. When Puppy is working independently, Lamb follows me about. He tags along while I do chores, learns the names of vegetables in the kitchen and how to wash them, practices folding laundry, or works on a puzzle with me. It can be very challenging at the toddler stage, but the patience and training pays off. Lamb has learned most of the foundational life skills, mostly by following me about, asking questions over and over again. He absolutely loves it when he gets to “do it” himself.


Lamb (2 years 4 months), washes veggies while Puppy does colouring and I cook lunch.


9) Make sure there is sufficient outdoor, physical activity.  Increasing evidence demonstrates the many benefits of nature on children’s psychological and physical well-being, including reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity and improved concentration. I find that my preschooler and toddler are more well-behaved and attentive during “school time” after they’ve had an opportunity to play outside for at least 20 minutes every morning. They can ride their bicycles or scooter, sweep the driveway, water the plants, pull up weeds, organize obstacle courses with hoola hoops and brightly coloured cones, play make-believe games, blow bubbles, and use chalks to draw on the driveway. They can play with sand – only when I have the energy to supervise and clean up! In the evenings, they go swimming with Sweet Man at least 3 times a week. I wish we had better access to a safe park.

10) The occasional DVD.  Sometimes, I am too tired to put together a craft activity. Or perhaps I’ve had a challenging time with a baby that’s had an unexpectedly short nap and won’t go back to sleep. That’s when I put on a DVD while I get lunch on the table. It’s almost always educational, and very SHORT. Too much screen time is bad for little eyes and does extremely little to encourage creativity. In a 5-day school week, there might be one day when we resort to the DVD for 30 minutes or shorter, two at the most. Sometimes, not at all. I’d rather they go out and play! If I’m having a difficult time in the afternoon when Piglet refuses to sleep but for 20 minutes (that has happened!), Puppy listens to an audio DVD and reads on her own.

11) Address attitude and behaviour problems.  It is important not to overlook these things in both the preschooler and toddler whenever they arise, even if it means stopping a lesson. I have cancelled “school” for the entire morning, just to take advantage of the moment to train. Often, the event that makes my blood boil presents a perfect opportunity to have a heart-to-heart chat with Puppy on what makes her angry, teach her why her toddler brother behaves the way he does, and discuss positive steps on how to handle a dispute. That is, if I haven’t lost my cool first! “Managing” flies out of the window …..


It’s challenging, but not impossible, for us to all “do school” together. The Bunnies are learning some, and I’m learning more about myself! Sweat. Blood. Tears. Treasure.

My next “How To” installment – after several ramblings (permit me) – will be on safe, age-appropriate hands-on activities to keep preschoolers and toddlers happy at home “school”.



  • Ingrid Wilson
    June 17, 2011 12:07 pm

    Thankyou! I love all your posts! Wish you were closer! I particularly struggle with housework – hope there is a post on that coming up! (I’m pretty sure this house would be your war zone!) Gotta cull the clutter!
    Point one of this post would def help with that, but I promise we will get back into routine (or try) after the winter bugs have passed! LOL!
    Some great reminders ideas and encouragements in here! Thankyou! Isn’t having the kiddies home wonderful!!!

  • Mama J
    June 17, 2011 11:36 pm

    Thank you to you! I wish we could meet up every week! Yes, having the kiddies home is great. Now my foot’s itching for an adventure trip to the wild outback – somewhere not in our tropical jungle! Anywhere where I don’t have to clean up after ourselves … ; ) Believe it or not I have some notes on housework somewhere – what kind of a human being has NOTES on that?!? I have issues!! Maybe it’ll turn into a post one day.

  • huey
    June 17, 2011 11:39 pm

    your issues, our gain 🙂

  • Meriam
    June 17, 2011 11:48 pm

    Am very humbled and in awe when reading your posts. It certainly encourages me on days when I am just tired and challenged. Thanks for sharing..

  • Szuster
    June 19, 2011 3:10 pm

    OH, I’m encouraged again! I love your activity ideas. Can’t wait to visit again!

  • mom2kiddos
    June 21, 2011 9:16 am

    These are really great tips. I’m amazed how you handle it all (sorry I know you’ve heard this too often already); and now to add blogging to that list. I have considered homeschooling but I’ve been very impatient with my son when I try to teach him something – especially when he cannot grasp the simplest things (I feel like a bad mommy because of that). So I thought for his benefit and my own, I’d better not venture into it. But I believe in the homeschooling system and wished I was a different kind of person to handle that. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Mama J
    June 22, 2011 2:07 am

    Thanks, Huey, I don’t mind being the sacrificial lamb. Really!

  • Mama J
    June 22, 2011 2:14 am

    Thanks for reading, Meriam, and leaving a note. It really means a lot to me. Knowing that someone’s reading my blog and is encouraged – even if it’s one person – helps me feel my struggles aren’t in vain. Can’t wait to catch up with you in person.

  • Mama J
    June 22, 2011 2:16 am

    What are you waiting for?? I have steamed fish on the menu this time …..

  • Mama J
    June 22, 2011 2:28 am

    Thanks for dropping by and encouraging me with this note. It means so much to me. I had an awful day yesterday, so your timing couldn’t have been more perfect! Patience is a tough thing for me too. Sometimes I just want to pull out my eyelashes with an eyebrow tweezer! Sweet Man is a teacher and he’s pointed out to me some great periodicals on early childhood education. I try to read them whenever I can because they help me understand the kids better and how to teach them. Also, the homeschooling program I follow has very useful teacher helps and resources. I’ll share some of what I learn on the way! Gonna check out your blog now …

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