Other homeschooling moms often ask me how to keep younger siblings busy while homeschooling older kids. I received this question not long ago:
What advice do you have for including a younger child when you need quiet time with an older one? -Natalia H.
In this post, I want to share some different ideas that have worked well for us in different seasons of our homeschooling.
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The first thing I want to explain is how much easier it is to juggle multiple age kiddos when you first consider how much you can possibly do together as a family.
How can you include everyone? Maybe instead of separating everyone as much, it’s time to consider how how you can embrace more of a family-style approach to homeschooling. Sure, there will most definitely be times when you need to offer one-on-one instruction to your older children, but woven throughout my ideas in this post, you will see ways where I encourage you to bring everyone together.
How to Keep Younger Siblings Busy
Ideas that Might Work for You:
At the start of the morning, provide the younger children with plenty of hands-on attention (lap time, hugs and kisses, etc.) with the intention of filling their “love tanks” – making it easier for them to play independently while you’re working with older learners later in the morning or in the afternoon.
When it’s time to come to the table, whether for breakfast or snack or lunch, gather everyone – yes, even the babies. Eat together. (Making sure everyone is fed well is going to be key throughout your entire parenting journey. ha!) Talk together. Read together. Learn together. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is seated (and not allowed to get up) or strapped down in a highchair.
It’s amazing what little ones can learn during mealtime.
Here’s where you can read your Bible passage, a science book, or a history read-aloud – yes, with those little ones right there with you. When everyone is done eating, the older ones could draw [about what they’re hearing] in their sketch books while the younger ones play. What if the baby starts babbling and the toddler keeps dropping things and one of the other kids keeps making noise with their pencil? Just keep on reading, mama! It’ll be fine.
Do you have an itty bitty baby that still takes a midmorning or afternoon nap? Use that time to engage in one-on-one instruction or learning activities with your older children. We have had seasons where we’ve found ourselves doing this type of thing in the evenings – after the littlest ones go to bed or on the weekends when we find ourselves with more down-time together as a family. Sound crazy? Remember, you are not chained to a school calendar or a school schedule.
You have the freedom to design your schedule around your family’s unique lifestyle and current season/stage of life. Embrace it!
What is your naptime/quiet time/bedtime routine like for your older kids? Could you stagger those in order to have one-on-one time with a specific child?
Have you ever considered using a “Mommy’s Helper”? Maybe you could work with an older child while your helper plays with your other little ones. Maybe your older children could work on an activity or project with the mommy’s helper while you engage with your younger kiddos. When I have an extra set of hands in the home, it opens up a whole new world of options!
Brainstorm about a similar approach to use while Daddy is home or the grandparents are visiting. How can you tag team to provide a profitable experience for everyone?
- Is there a one-on-one activity or adventure you would like to enjoy with one of your children?
- Would dad enjoy the opportunity to be the teacher? Art projects, science experiments, stem activities – these kinds of things can be so much fun for the kids to do with dad!
- Is there something the grandparents would like to take one of your kids to do – something on which they might be able to offer a unique perspective?
This might be the perfect opportunity to breathe life into these ideas.
Work with your older child while the little ones enjoy screen time. Yes, you heard me correctly! There are some fantastic educational cartoons (Super Why is the top pick around here.), YouTube channels (My kids have loved Super Simple Songs.), apps, etc. out there, and I do not hesitate to work them into our homeschool routines.
Our Favorite Educational Apps:
Have you considered putting together a variety of “Busy Boxes” to keep younger siblings busy?
If you search (on Pinterest, of course) busy boxes, busy bags, sensory bins, quiet time boxes, etc. you will find a wealth of ideas. As always, I would encourage you to keep things simple – using resources you already own. Rotating these bins (and only making them available at a certain time in the day) can be a great way to keep kiddos engaged while you work with their sibling(s).
Do you have a child who enjoys coloring or playing with stickers or building with blocks? If so, let them do their favorite activity while you are working with their sibling(s).
Other Items Little Hands Might Like Playing with During this Time:
- nature items – rocks, small sticks, acorns, leaves, seashells
- Silly Putty / play dough
- dry beans or dry pasta noodles and kitchen utensils
- water and measuring cups
- poms and tongs
While working with an older child on a hands-on activity or project, is there a related “job” you could give a younger sibling to do? Maybe something they could hold, or count, or scoop, or pour? Is there a task they could do that would make them feel involved in the process?
As often as possible, I try to set up our learning activities in such a way that everyone can feel included.
This doesn’t always work, but with my kids being close in age, there have been many times when this has been just the ticket! Can everyone be included in the science experiment or art project? Sometimes – even if this means the baby is watching from the high chair. Can the whole family come along for the field trip? Absolutely, and if Daddy or the grandparents come along, the additional help will definitely come in handy as everyone learns together.
Assess and reassess your strategies.
If things aren’t flowing as smoothly as you’d like, reconsider the process. Could making one or two simple changes allow you to accomplish more than one thing at time?
Could an older child read to younger child while you play a learning game with another child? Their working together, learning from one another, will benefit everyone involved!
Is there something you want your child to listen to or memorize? Instead of struggling with how to set aside extra time to practice with them, have you considered playing a recorded version of it while you’re riding along in the car or in their room as they’re resting at naptime or going sleep at night?
Do these scenarios spark any creative ideas you could use in your home?
It’s definitely a constant game of prioritizing and reprioritizing, but I want to be as resourceful as possible with our time, and sometimes one simple shift in my approach can make all the difference!
For example, we’ve been through seasons when for safety and sanity’s sake, these pop up play yards have been a life saver!
*Similar one linked here.
Encourage independent play and find small ways for your littlest ones to “work” unassisted as well.
These play yards have been great for working on these things. This can sometimes be a difficult skill to encourage in the home, but it’s an important one. It will be a gift to your child as well as to you. If you have a little one who struggles in this area, start with small increments of time and gradually increase them. Not sure you can handle their boredom? Or their whining? Oh, the whining! Mamas, I have been there! I know how frustrating this area of training can be, but I have to remind myself that intentionally providing my children with time to play without my constant guidance is the key to their learning how to create on their own – something I greatly desire for them.
When I was an elementary classroom teacher, I enjoyed setting up a variety of activity stations where students would work independently allowing me to lend a hand to another child or address a small group of learners. As my children have gotten older, we have implemented more and more of this approach into our daily learning routines.
What is your bedtime routine like? After everyone is bathed and dressed in their pjs, we have family time. The key for us is making sure we get started early enough – yes, before the meltdowns begin!
We have used this time together in a variety of different ways.
This may be a great opportunity to do your read aloud time…or your family Bible time. You could use the end of the day as a chance to gather together as a family and read through an age-appropriate [read-aloud] chapter book (a chapter each night)…practice Scripture memorization…sing nursery rhymes…play a game…anything goes. When the lights go out in our house, we play soothing classical music, Scripture memory songs, or an audio book of stories or fables. This has proven to be the perfect time for our kids to listen to a variety of things while encouraging them to relax and fall asleep.
Do you spend time waiting in your vehicle with your kids? Or in a waiting room? Maybe the whole family runs errands together on the weekends? Or you find yourself together in the car while you’re waiting to pick up an older child from an activity? I cannot tell you how many times we have practiced our letters, numbers, sight words, math facts, Scripture memory, etc. while Daddy has been in the hardware store and the rest of us have been waiting in the van.
What a fantastic way to put that wait time to good use – keeping everyone engaged while we wait.
The minivan is also a great place to listen to music or audio books. In fact, if you spent much time around us, you would hear lots of music. During playtime…during mealtimes…while in the van…at bedtime. Sometimes it has an educational purpose, and sometimes it’s just for fun!
These options and ideas have been helpful for us, and my hope is that your creative wheels are spinning as you consider what might work well for your family. How can you naturally (not in any kind of forced way) weave learning opportunities into day-to-day life?
Learning can happen anywhere at any time in whatever way works best for your family.
Simply embrace the gift of flexibility and enjoy the ride! Are there ever moments when I feel frustrated or overwhelmed? Yes, and in those moments the best thing for me to do is stop, take a deep breath, and consider a fresh approach. Sometimes this means I literally stop whatever I’m doing with my children and let them know we are going to come back to it later…and by later that may mean tomorrow. This approach works every time. It gives me the space I need to regroup and consider how I can adjust the situation to flow more smoothly next time – keeping in mind that the number one goal is not perfection. The number one goal is to foster a love of learning that will last a lifetime.