A common question I hear from moms is, “How do you homeschool with toddlers?”
Sometimes it’s moms questioning whether or not they should even consider homeschooling, because the idea of adding something extra to the job of raising little people who are still in diapers, can’t dress themselves, and are constantly requesting snacks (on very specific plates) sounds ridiculous! You may be just trying to survive till naptime…I get it!
Sometimes the question comes from moms who are currently homeschooling, but now feel inadequate because life feels a bit in a state of…well, messy. Trust me—I get that too!
I wish I had some genius advice to give…a fantastic secret to share. But I think the secret is this: Things will be messy, things will be in flux, things may look a lot more like home and less like school. So we have to get okay with this…We have to embrace our families and our lives where they are.
Which is all fine and dandy in theory—but really…what does that look like? How is that lived out?
Here’s what it looks like for me…
It Looks Messy
If you are leaving toddlers or preschoolers to their own devices for more than five minutes (always in a safe/secure place—obviously)…they will make a mess. They have wild imaginations, short attention spans—and no concept of putting something away before moving on to the next thing. Also, they have no concept of not “mixing,” their toys! This can be hard for us Type A moms (after 6 kids, I consider myself a Type A in Recovery—I’ve learned to let a lot of things go…)! I will still spend hours organizing toy bins…But without fail, I end up with Legos in Barbie’s bath tub, Elmo in the Barbie House, Dinosaurs in the purse, Darth Vader in the Cinderella shoe…
So not only is my toy room a mess 80% of the time—toys are completely in the “wrong,” places. Which means, it takes twice as long to clean up! You may be thinking, “Jen, just throw the toys in a basket and get on with your life.” And sometimes I do that—when I am in cleaning crisis mode. But normally, if I’m taking the time to pick up toys, I really want them to be organized and put in the “right,” place. Ultimately, I think organized toys make it easier for kids to find what they want and be open to creative play. Basically, organized toys are just more inviting.
Here are pictures of my toy room/basement in its current state! Yikes! It was spotless about a week ago—but I’ve let it go most of the week, and definitely let it go over the weekend. This is pretty much my limit…cleaning the basement will be on my to-do list tomorrow (whether it gets done…that is a whole other story).
Creativity and Childhood Are Messy
One last note about being okay with the messes…Even as they grew out of the toddler stage, my kids made wild, large, creative messes. It was part of the beauty of homeschooling…creative play with siblings. My oldest kids would build huge cities for Legos, Poly Pocket, Barbie, Thomas, and Little Critters…and they did it together. Not to mention libraries, hospitals, and grocery stores. I know some of their favorite memories are of the elaborate play senarios they created together.
At the time, I was always torn…I could be mad and make them pick up the mess, or let them keep the “world,” they created intact for just a little longer. Usually, I let them keep playing. And invevitably, I would help them clean it up too. I don’t regret any of that…Now, my older kids are really close, really creative, and actually really tidy and organized!
I wish I could remember, (but goodness—I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time) the last time the three of them made a huge elaborate mess with their toys. One day it just ended.
Just like one day will be the last time they hold your hand walking through a parking lot. Or it’s the last bottle, last sippy cup, last diaper, last time they sleep with blankie or climb into bed with you…There are 1,000 small heartbreaks in motherhood.
So yes—my answer is accept the mess…This too will pass. Try and set aside 15 minutes to tidy-up, and once a week have everyone help do a thorough clean-up of the toys.
Rotate Your Toys
We have quite a large amount of toys—mostly a result of having 6 kids (I’ve got a post about my all-time favorites toys for toddlers and preschoolers). I do not have an organized system for rotating them in or out…But when I notice my kids haven’t been playing with something for a while, we put it away in storage. A few weeks or months later (depending on the toy)—I bring it back out, and suddenly it gets lots of love and attention. If you don’t have many toys—let your friends and family know you’d be happy to take their beloved old toys that are no longer being used (trust me—you’re probably doing them a huge favor)…or shop thrift stores and sales!
Be Flexible With Your Schedule
It sounds really nice to have a set homeschooling schedule—but that isn’t always practical with toddlers. Instead, try working through a list—prioritizing core subjects like math and reading. Sometimes, you may not get started until 10 a.m. Some days you might not get started until the little people are taking a nap. Consistency doesn’t mean math has to happen at 9:00 am every day—it just has to happen.
Also—teach your older children to be independent. This is especially true for homeschooling middle school and high school kids. If that is you, my homeschooling middle school post might be really helpful!
Be Flexible With Your Vision for School
The longer I’ve been homeschooling, the more I’m convinced that all of life is education. For example, embracing your first grader’s love of snakes—reading snake books on the couch, visiting the nature center to see snakes—this is elementary level science. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy–or an official curriculum.
Keep things simple when you have toddlers in the mix. Focus on foundational skills—math, reading, writing—with your elementary aged kids. If you have older kids, they can actually get a significant amount of work done without you (but hold them accountable)! And many things your kids love to do—actually count as learning time!
So About Those Toddlers…
Love on them,
Read to them,
Let them play,
Accept it will be a hot mess…
Some of your littles will be ready to start trying to join in school activities—awesome! But some will not—that is just as awesome! I’ve had kids who could read and run the household at age four. I’ve also had kids who only wanted to play and refused to even try counting to ten. I’ve had art prodigies and I’ve had stick-figure artists. I’ve had whiners and I’ve had effortlessly happy little love bugs… They are all so different! Love them where they are—accept them where they are. Don’t rush—you will get there, they will get there!
I’d love to hear your best tips for homeschooling with toddlers! And please, always feel free to ask questions—I’d love to help and encourage you!
P.S. The only reason I don’t drown in a pile of dishes and laundry is because of the FLY Lady (and my 18 year old son, he does the dishes without asking—he is my dish fairy!) She will help you get your house under control (don’t let my toy room scare you away from her advise—it would be way worse without her!!)