It is very easy to neglect your toddlers or preschoolers while trying to carry out your home school responsibilities. Younger children without a doubt, create a challenge for any mom, especially the home school mom. We are torn between guilt and frustration as our younger children wander aimlessly about through their day, trashing the house and interrupting our teaching efforts. This post is to remind you that you are a family first, and a school second.
If you have read my earlier post on LESSON PLANNING, you will find that to be a great start in being able to make more time for your young children. School-aged children with a weekly lesson plan in hand have far more direction and need far less of Mom’s constant attention. In addition to making out a plan for your students, make out a plan for your pre-schoolers (even toddlers) as well. How detailed you want to make this is up to you, but it should have at least these two things: Every day you should have at least one special play activity scheduled. You should also schedule at least one older child per day to spend an hour of playtime (or reading time) with the younger ones. (Write their assigned time right on their school lesson plans.) These two items alone could well give you two hours a day to focus on school without neglecting the little ones. In addition, schedule time for you to spend with your younger children. If you don’t consciously schedule it, it often gets forgotten. I know it may not be possible to spend a large chunk of time, and maybe you can’t even get it in every day, but at least a few days a week plan an activity alone with this child. It could be as simple as reading a book, playing hide and seek for 15 minutes, or letting them help you put groceries away.
Make sure each of your older children has at least one hour a week (each having their scheduled day/s) assigned to playtime with their younger siblings. It would be best, but not necessary, if these hours were scheduled at the same time each day. Little ones thrive on routine. It might also come in handy to give students a ½ hour assignment to play with the baby at those times when their brain needs a break.
Now, about those daily special play activities – Pick at least one item each day that is done only on that day of the week, during school time. You can even call it their “school” if it helps. A sample schedule might look like this:
Monday: stringing beads
Wednesday: pattern blocks
Thursday: popcorn play*
* By Popcorn Play I mean buy a 25# bucket of popcorn seeds from Sam’s Club and set it aside just for play use. Dump it into a large, wide container (We’ve found a plastic toboggan to work particularly well, otherwise and underbed storage container will work nicely.) and let them play with it like sand — measure, pour, make roads, bury things.
You could even plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon. The child should be where you can keep an eye on him, but try to plan activities that he can do without much assistance. By allowing these activities only on the assigned days, it keeps the interest level high and your child will play at the activity much longer, thereby developing a healthy attention span. Also introduce you child to daily chore assignments, and allow him to sit in on school when possible. My 3 year olds loved to cuddle up on the couch when we were reading aloud even if they had no clue about what was being read. It’s just a nice “belonging” thing to do. If my boys were playing phonogram Bingo, we gave the preschooler a card and they’d tell him where to put the marker chips. If they were using math manipulatives, their younger siblings were right beside them building things out of the same manipulatives. Always let them sit in on fun stuff like science experiments and art projects. And finally take full advantage of their naps!
I will write what could be a sample schedule, and then I will list lots of activity ideas.
8:30 chore time (some simple but contributing tasks)
9:00 free play or joining in on school activity
10:00 assigned morning activity (This would be the special activity chosen for that day of the week.)
11:00 play with sibling
12:00 lunch and recess (Get fresh air!)
2:00 assigned afternoon activity (a second activity done only on this weekday)
2:30 Mommy Time!
3:30 free play
4:00 play with siblings while Mom makes dinner
You will note that I have included “Free Play” periods. It’s very important that children are allowed some freedom in their day. There should be times when he can explore, learn to entertain himself, or play as he desires. The opportunity to do so is sadly lacking in today’s overly structured, schedule-packed society, and it’s not fair to the children. Also, PLEASE, don’t plop that tot in front of a screen! Granted, there are lots of wonderful things to explore TOGETHER on the internet — caterpillars morphing into butterflies for example — but really, REALLY limit the time your young children sit in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, tablet or phone. And as much as possible do screen time along with your child rather than using it to babysit for you. That being said, I will now go ahead and list suggestions for things to do during the scheduled part of the day.
IDEAS FOR ASSIGNED ACTIVITES:
- pattern blocks
- popcorn play (like sand play, only with popcorn kernels)
- play with water (much like the popcorn – Place a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen floor with a plastic dishpan full of water. Supply the child with a baster, funnel, cups, strainer and small toys to strain and let them have at it — under supervision, naturally. When they are done, grab the mop and you’ll get a cleaned floor out of the bargain as well!)
- sorting activities (sort by color, size, texture, category, likes/dislikes, …)
- drawing / coloring
- cutting, pasting & stickers
- Fisher Price Little People, Imaginext, or Adventure sets (These collections are easily built via rummaging.)
- rubber stamps
- digital books (This is one of my few suggestions for being in front of a screen. Make this the exception and not the rule for reading time.)
- listen to music (dance with streamers or bop a balloon to the music)
- blocks (At about 1 year old, my boys particularly enjoyed dropping cube-shaped letter blocks through the hole in a plastic cereal container. Eventually they moved on to building towers, then zoos and cities.)
- toy animals (the hard rubber type – great for sorting, setting up a zoo, or playing “survival of the fittest”)
- matchbox cars
- play food / dishes
- practice cutting skills with old magazines (I am told by enrichment teachers that a number of our 7-8 year old students still cannot handle a scissors properly. You need to give them practice in this skill. There are plenty of “safe” scissors available.)
- roller-skating in the basement (assuming you have slow kid’s skates!)
- chalk on basement floor (a wet mop will take care of it)
- build a blanket tent and look at books or camp with stuffed animals inside
- wash windows (a spray bottle full of water and a rag)
- math manipulatives (Pattern Blocks, Unifex Cubes, balance, Cuisenaire Rods, links, counting bears, dominoes, geoboards, fraction circles, etc.)
- special videos (use sparingly)
- obstacle course
- decorate graham crackers with frosting and sprinkles *
- make snack kabobs with toothpicks, mini marshmallows, pinapple chunks, cheese cubes, raisins, etc. *
- magnetic letters or other magnets
- look at photo albums
- rhythm instruments
- paint-with-water books
- bean bag toss
- weighing and comparing items with a child’s balance
- practice dropping clothespins or pennies into a mason jar. Count how many you get in. Do it from a standing position with the jar on the floor or kneel on a chair and balance your arm on the chair back.
*allow them to serve the snacks they’ve prepared to their older siblings – if they dare eat them!
Okay, that’s enough to get you going. Choose five or ten activities and assign each to a day of the week. You may use additional activities for Mom or Sibling time.
Don’t cast that child aside. He will grow up all too quickly and is at a very precious age right now. Be sure your home school doesn’t leave him a casualty. God Bless your efforts.