We had special options our toddlers could chose ONLY during school time. I had to put the worry of a mess out of my mind for the time period. Water play (with brushes and sponges) on the chalk board was great, painting, their own playdough station, sand and water table with lots of mixing-cups, a bar of soap, (even sometimes) vinagar and baking soda, with lots of mixing/pouring/measuring items. Once they are past putting everything in their mouth, we offered beading, before then, we bought toddler safe beads with shoe laces. Change it up often, you can fill a kiddy pool with balls, set up a tent, and give them flashlights, make a fort together with blankets & chairs, have the older kids help construct a 'house' out of boxes, and let the toddlers color and play in that...Ask the older kids for ideas, they love to help! Also, we only had the toddlers watch T.V. if it were a 'school show' and only during school time, and not every day. Mainly, things they love, that feel like a 'special treat' and always rotate, so all choices seem new and exciting. Keeping my lessons with the older ones limited to 10-15 min each subject really allowed for me to transfer the toddlers to another 'idea' between subjects/lessons. Also, on tough days I would give a favorite snack/meal to the toddlers for one 10-15 minute time block (and get in one lesson at that time). For example, I may save their favorite watermelon, animal crackers, and string cheese for such a time as this. This worked for us during the 1-2 year stage. Around 2 1/2-3 years old it began to click, that they were to 'do' school, focus, and not interupt another child's lesson (then our lessons could be a bit longer)...then around 4, they began to take a real interest in the older lessons, and join in on things such as pic and music, and soon began there own (always fun hands-on) lessons. The literature portion of our day, is normally enjoyed by all ages. The little ones do know they may quietly go to their activity if they loose interest. Consistancy is the key.
Hope that helps!!
Sorry for a million type-O's!! ...Majorly multi-tasking!