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Just an ordinary day. Just an ordinary homeschool day. Everyone sitting quietly around the dining table working on math, English, or science. Our toddler sitting quietly on the floor playing with blocks. Yes, just an ordinary day.Well, we can all dream, can’t we? In 20 plus years of homeschooling, I’ve found that the only thing ordinary about a homeschool day is it’s not ordinary, especially when you have a toddler or preschooler.

Before trying to determine how to homeschool with a little one around, it’s necessary to know why you are homeschooling. Before you skip down to the activities section, bear with me a moment.

It’s easy to get caught up in “doing school” when you’ve forgotten why you are teaching your children. It’s easy to think in terms of school rather than learning. It seems easier to give everyone a book to do while you quiet a fussy baby.

Why Homeschool?

Is that why you’re homeschooling? To make life easier? To do school? Or, are you homeschooling to teach your children positive character, to raise godly adults, and to love the Lord with all their heart?

If you have infants, sometimes several days, even weeks, will go by when your baby needs the most attention. Formal schooling may need to be laid aside for this season.

As you set aside the immediate of a math lesson or science experiment to tend to and comfort a little one, your children are learning much more than a book can teach them. When the eternal is set before the immediate, your children will learn lasting lessons in love, service, and even patience. Are you teaching your children that the little ones are an interruption or a blessing?

The past couple of decades we’ve seen a move to formal programs for preschoolers, even among homeschoolers. Sitting the little one at the table with the other children can seem like a good solution. Everyone is busy and grouped up in one place. And, isn’t everyone learning something?

More Problems?

Maybe not. Although the media has touted “evidence” that children benefit from formal programs, the facts don’t bear that out. Rather than having educational benefits, studies show that early formal schooling can have negative effects such as increased social and behavior problems and little long-term academic gains. (Read Michael Smith’s article “Early Education Shows No Benefit.”)

Remember your home school doesn’t have to follow the traditional day-school model. It’s your school, do it your way. There’s no more reason to separate your children for learning than to separate them for eating meals. So, lay aside formal teaching methods, at least for the preschool season.

Each activity for a toddler or preschooler is a learning activity. By providing learning tools (see the list …), your child will discover more information than can be learned from sitting with a workbook. Dr. Louise Bates and Dr. Frances Ig said in their book Your Five-Year-Old, Sunny and Serene, “Keep those pencils out of their hands and workbooks off their desks as long as you can.”

Informal education methods benefits all your children. Your older children will become more independent in their learning. They will learn how to learn, when to seek help, and where to find necessary resources.

Teach one topic to everyone at the same time—each according to his own level. If you have a secondary student doing a science experiment, allow the younger children to watch. The preschool and elementary students can ask questions and the experimenter can answer, thus learning even more. Every family member becomes involved in learning. Instead of being tied to textbooks and teacher’s manuals, everyone will be more relaxed.

Learning to Be Quiet

Even preschoolers can learn to work independently. I have worked from home for years. It has required even my preschool-aged children to learn be quiet, not demanding attention while I worked.

I have a table in my office with paper, scissors, paints, crayons, books, and other “school” items. Even though we didn’t use formal preschool programs, this has been the place for the younger children in our family to play school. Even my grandchildren have learned they can be work in my office with me.

You can use the same idea with your preschooler while you work with your older children. Whether it’s a special table, corner of the room, or a box, your child will not be left out of school.

Read, read, read.  As you read, all of your children are learning good vocabulary and language skills. Little ones can play quietly during family reading (more character and social training). Remember that children have a higher listening vocabulary than speaking vocabulary. And don’t forget, your older children can read to younger children.

Don’t think that you have to read toddler books only to toddlers. Your older children can also learn from picture books. Let them make up a story for younger siblings. Or, use a picture book to introduce a topic that the whole family will be learning.

Older Teaching Younger

Older children in the family can become the teacher to the younger children. There is no better way to learn something than to teach it. Even a six- or seven-year-old can help a preschool count, say color or shape names, or even read a simple book.

Naps are good. Don’t you feel better after you’ve had your nap? When you babies are very young, you need rest time as much as they do. Older children can lie on their beds and read while you and baby rest. After I was rested, I was better able to help my older children individually while baby continued napping.

I’m giving you permission to relax during the whirlwind early years. Maybe later, as your young child grows, you may want to return to a more formal type of schooling. For now, in a more relaxed learning atmosphere, your toddler or preschooler will fit into your learning program.

When your youngest child reaches the milestones, first double-digit birthday, teen years, driver’s license, you will be glad that you made relaxed memories of those toddler and preschool years.

© 2010 Susan K. Stewart. Used by permission.

Susan and her husband Bob began homeschooling their three children in 1981, graduating all three from high school at home. Susan speaks and writes on homeschooling for CHEA as well as for other organizations and publications. Susan is also the author of Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science at Home for All Ages. She has served as CHEA’s Communication Manager and Membership Director, and is currently CHEA’s Prayer Chairman. You may contact Susan at susan@skstewart.com