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Certainly one of the biggest challenges facing a homeschool mom or dad is trying to teach with little ones underfoot. You might have laid out the best plans in the world, but those plans might never become a reality if you fail to consider the preschoolers in your home. They can be quite distracting to both mom and the other children who are trying to concentrate on their studies!
Don’t get me wrong: preschoolers are a great blessing! They just add another dimension to your planning. Here are five great ideas, compiled from several homeschool moms, for homeschooling with preschoolers in the mix.
1. Spend time together first.
Make sure you do something scheduled with the preschooler first. After breakfast, while the older children do their chores, spend time one-on-one with your preschooler. Read together, talk, snuggle, play. Fill up his emotional cup. Once that preschooler feels like his tank is “full” of mom, he is much happier and willing to do other things while you spend some time with his siblings. This is so important, and it will set the tone for the rest of the day.
2. Keep lessons short.
Short lessons are a key component of the Charlotte Mason method, and especially crucial when homeschooling with a preschooler or two nearby. A little one can learn to play quietly for 15 or 20 minutes, but the longer you stretch that lesson the harder it will be for him. So help him develop the habit of not disrupting a lesson by keeping the lesson time short.
3. Include your preschooler whenever possible.
Even young toddlers can sit in on hymn study, Scripture memory, and picture study. They can participate in handicrafts and art and would love to accompany everyone outside for nature study. If the three-year-old wants to do math when his older brother is doing math, get him some simple objects for counting and let him “do math.”
4. Assign “baby breaks.”
For those subjects that would work better if the toddler weren’t involved, have the older children take turns interacting with the little one. They can read books together, work puzzles, play games, watch educational videos from the library, or play with something in their school-time containers (see #5 below).
As you set up that schedule of who will watch the preschooler, here’s a great tip that a mom told me and I thought made a lot of sense. She said pair the toddler with the younger children earlier in the day, then as the day wears on and the little one becomes, shall we say, less cooperative, pair him with the older ones or the ones who are better at entertaining and distracting him.
If you don’t have extra older siblings, you might try doing the subjects that the toddler can join in the morning, then do individual work during nap time. Or you might check at your church to see if there is a college student or older woman who could come spend a couple of hours in your home, keeping the little one occupied while you focus on the teaching.
5. Create special school-time containers.
Set aside some special activities that are allowed only during school time; for example, play clay, crayons, scratch paper, building blocks, lacing cards, rice with measuring cups, self-adhesive foam shapes, stickers, construction paper, aluminum foil to mold into shapes, items to sort, ring-shaped cereal to string on yarn, magnetic letters, or other special things the little one doesn’t usually get to play with. Your local dollar store is a great place to find items for these containers.
Put the special toys in special containers and bring them out only during school time as a special treat. Don’t give all the toys at once, but dole them out one at a time, taking the old activity away when you give the new. And make the rule that the child must put all the items back in the container before trading it in for a new one. If a container loses its appeal, set it aside for a few months then put it back in circulation.
It can be a challenge to keep those little ones occupied and happy while teaching the older ones, but it can be done and has been done successfully by many, many homeschooling parents. So lay out a plan for your family with a healthy combination of attention and love mixed with benevolent authority and boundaries, and you too will be able to, not just survive, but thrive with preschoolers in the mix.
Charlotte Mason’s Ideas for Preschool
In today’s hectic world, your preschooler needs a quiet growing time to develop at his or her own pace. The Early Years Bundle gives you lots of helpful ideas to encourage and inspire you to nurture your preschooler with Charlotte Mason’s wonderful methods. The workshop DVDs provide an overview of what Charlotte said were the two duties of parents, plus plenty of practical tips including a demonstration of Charlotte’s method for teaching reading. The Early Years book gives you Charlotte Mason’s own words about preschool in a complete reference handbook. Get both together in the bundle and save!