Last Updated on November 11, 2023 by Sarah McCubbin
When I first started homeschooling with babies and toddlers in the house, my son was 5 years old. I also had a 2 year old and a baby that was just a few months old. We had just moved into a new house with lots of unfinished projects and I didn’t know anyone else in our area that was homeschooling.
I had been homeschooled myself for a few years, but I didn’t have a group of other homeschool families that I was a part of. Over the next 10 years, our family would grow from 3 to 9 children. So we ALWAYS had babies and toddlers as part of the homeschooling mix!
Learning how to start homeschooling with babies and toddlers is partly based on your personality as a mom. Years ago, I did join a wonderful homeschool group. I still love these moms dearly…but seriously…most of us homeschooled completely different from the other.
There is not a “one size fits all” model for homeschooling with babies and toddlers. When you are planning your homeschool, you can learn from others, but ultimately your plan must fit you and your family!
With that in mind, I want to share some of the things we did over the years to make sure the big kids and teens got school work done and the little people stayed happy (most of the time) and alive!!
Table of Contents
Tips for Homeschooling with Babies and Toddlers
Alright, these are my best tips for homeschooling with babies and toddlers…in no particular order!! If you have ones that have worked for you, let me know!
1. Homeschool Year Round
When we first started homeschooling, I had no idea you could homeschool year round. But one year, when the math book wasn’t finished at the beginning of May (when our co-op finished), we just kept on doing Math until early June. Hmm…not bad.
A few years later, we started a tradition of just doing math and reading as our “summer school work.” It kept the school-aged kids busy…and it built margin into our school year. If life got crazy…or a new baby was born, we didn’t stress out because we knew that it would get done.
2. Choose Curriculum for Independent Learning as much as possible
I cannot stress this one enough. In general, with few exceptions, do not buy curriculum with a teaching manual. Why?
This is a curriculum NOT designed for independent learning.
I learned with many little people that I needed curriculum they could do with very little help from me. Of course when a child is not reading, they will need help, but even then, there are some curriculum and learning programs that they can do independently. A teaching manual signals that you as the parent need to sit with the child and “teach” them the subject.
That may be necessary for a few things, but in general, once they are reading, you can purchase curriculum or use resources so that a child can be “self-taught.” When you are homeschooling babies and toddlers, this relieves a huge burden…if all the work is not dependent on mom being available to help.
3. Join a Homeschool Co-op with Academic Classes
I know co-ops are not everyone’s favorite. They definitely have pros and cons. However, one benefit of an academic co-op for school aged kids when you are homeschooling with babies and toddlers is the consistency it brings.
I know some homeschool moms are scheduling machines…and that is wonderful. And I LOVE to write schedules…but somehow the extra accountability from a co-op really helped us get things done.
It wasn’t perfect, but for my junior high and high school students, it really gave them a little peer pressure and motivation to stay on task. For my elementary students, it made me feel good knowing they were doing the history projects and science lessons…at least once a week…even if we didn’t get to those during the week.
4. Make a List of “Busy” Activities for Your Toddler (list of ideas)
I find that it helps to have a list of activities to reference when I’m trying to suggest something for my young child to do. It could be something like:
- Look at books
- Run laps around the back yard
- Play in the sandbox
- Color a picture
- Listen to an audiobook
- Play Reading Eggs
- Play with Playdoh
- “Clean” the cupboards (spray bottle with water and a rag)
Somehow having the list made it easier to do these things. I don’t know about you, but when my brain is tired…I can’t remember my good ideas. I always say that my “planner” is my brain, and having things written down means I don’t have to remember everything!
5. Have a “bare minimum” school load for stressful times
Ok, let’s be honest, sometimes school just feels overwhelming. Maybe you’ve had a new baby. Maybe you are moving from one place to another. Maybe you have other “BIG” things happening in life and school doesn’t feel as important.
It is helpful to know what your “bare minimum” is that you will try to keep going. That could be 5 math lessons a week….notice…I did not say, “one math lesson a day.” Why? Because your elementary age child could easily do 5 math lessons in an hour or so.
And sometimes, you just have to “bulk” school…getting the work done in chunks. And that is fine. My bare minimum has always been math and reading…but yours may be different. This isn’t your ideal plan…its just what you default to when things are crazy…and keeps things moving a bit.
6. Use educational shows & learning games to fill in the gaps
If you are homeschooling with babies and toddlers, it is absolutely fine to use learning shows and games to buy yourself some time to do school with your older kids. Not everyone wants to do that, and of course, that is your choice, but I wanted to throw it out there as an option. I find that we use this more in the winter when it is really hard to “go outside and play” and when I just can’t handle another mess in the house.
My Favorite Homeschool Books!
7. Build in Down Time for Mom
Ok…this should have been number 1. Silly maybe but after 15 years of homeschooling, I realized that when I was planning our homeschooling day, I need to know when “my time” is. For me, this is early in the morning…and after lunch. Since I generally plan for my older kids to do independent learning, I do school with my younger kids in the morning…and if my older ones need to finish up, they can do that in the afternoon without me.
8. Take Lots of Pictures
When you are homeschooling with babies and toddlers, sometimes life gets crazy and your plans get off track. You may feel like you got “nothing done.” It’s not true…you just don’t remember what you did LOL 🙂 So, keep your phone nearby and snap pictures when your day takes a detour. If your kids helped prep lunch…snap a picture. If you went to the park or went for a walk…snap a picture. Not all learning is in a workbook…in fact most of it isn’t…and those pictures will remind you that you were still teaching and learning even if it wasn’t part of the planned learning!
9. Ask for Help
If you are finding it really hard to get things done, it is absolutely ok to ask for help. Maybe Grandma can watch your littles one day a week…even for a few hours. And if she does, you really focus on those essential subjects that need mom to help.
Maybe you wait to do the “hard” subjects until dad is home in the evening or the weekend. Maybe you sign up for an online class…so your child can ask a teacher for help. Teaching your kids to ask for help is a huge life lesson…and it is so important when you are trying to homeschool with littles!
10. Make a “to done” list every day
Many of us start the day with a to-do list. It may be the coursework we want to cover, the household tasks or even books we want to read. Whatever it is…that is great. But I like to add things to the list that I actually do…even after the fact. In the evening, I write down everything I did.
This helps with school work too. In your homeschool planner, keep a list of the extra things you or your kids did that you didn’t plan. That could include:
- meals prepped and served
- laundry washed folded
- other chores
- educational videos watched
- projects worked on
- friends visited
- field trips
- working in the yard
- taking care of animals etc
11. Use Pockets of Time for Learning with Older Kids
Babies and toddlers are notorious for having short attention spans! So when you give them something to do, they might only be happy for 10 or 15 minutes. You can have one child “play” with the baby or toddler while you help another. Or you can use those short chunks of time to help a kid with a subject.
If you have babies and toddlers at home, it is a good idea to look at your school work planning and consider how you can break it up into 10 to 15 minute intervals so you can actually cover something in small amounts of time.
And of course, if your littles take naps, then you can use that time to teach things as well. I personally always feel like I needed a nap or downtime when my littles napped, so that was not my preference…but many people do use their time this way!
Sometimes it helps to make a Visual Schedule to keep everyone on the same page!
12. Assign Older Kids to Help Younger Kids with Some School Work
If you have older kids that can read, they can be a great help with younger siblings. Older kids are great at:
- Listening to someone read aloud
- helping with basic math
- putting an audiobook on for a young sibling
- reading to a toddler or younger sibling
- playing with a sibling while mom helps another child….and much more!
I don’t mean to suggest that older kids should be bearing the brunt of educating their siblings. But having them help is often easy for them and don’t have to take much of their time. When you are homeschooling with babies and toddlers, it often requires contributions from the whole family to get it done!
Homeschool Activities for 2 Year Olds
If you have a 2 year old you are wanting to homeschool, the activities you choose to do will largely be what works for YOUR 2 year old. If you have a busy active kids that likes to run and climb, the activities you choose will be very different than if you have a quiet little one that likes to play by themselves.
At 2 and 3 years old, almost all of the learning kids should be doing should be through play. Homeschool for 2 year olds does not need curriculum or special books and resources to homeschool 2 years.
Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Read books to them
- Use an Aquadoodle water mat to practice drawing.
- Build With Blocks or Duplos
- Play with stickers
- Watercolor paint
- Playing with dolls
- Playing with toy food.
- Go for a walk and look at things in nature.
- Spray colored water in the snow
- Plant seeds in the ground
- Eat things from the garden
- Help take care of animals
Homeschool Activities for 3 and 4 Year Olds
Similar to the 2 year olds, most homeschool for 3 and 4 year olds should be play based. Below are some of the toys our children have enjoyed for many years at these ages. If you want to begin formal learning with your little ones, I recommend focusing on:
- Learning Letters
- Learning Numbers
- Learning their name and phone number
- Fine motor activities
- Large motor activities
- Spending time in nature
Recommended Preschool Toys for 3 and 4 Year Olds
Zoob Building Toys
My kids have LOVED Zoobs from ages 3 to about age 12. They are bigger chunkier pieces than some building toys. They come with great instruction booklets with step by step instructions to build cool projects…or your kiddo can build on their own.
This is one of the toys I always come back to when we clean out the clutter. We keep the Zoobs and someone gets a new set or two every Christmas. This one is a classic your kids will love!
Wooden blocks are a classic toy that let children use their imagination to go anywhere and be anything. My kids have enjoyed building all kinds of creations and often pair their favorite action figures from the toy box with their block creations.
Most toy manufactures sell houses to go with their figures but a set of blocks will let your child build their own “houses” over and over!
There is something about play food that just transports you back to childhood. My inlaws have 2 full play kitchens set up and tons of play food for the little kids. They love it!
My kids have wanted to serve me “dinner” many times in their kitchens. And of course our job as parents is to tell them how “yummy” their wooden and plastic food is. It’s alot of fun!
Play food can be enjoyed with or without a toy kitchen!
Do a Dot Markers
Do a Dot Markers are so much fun for preschoolers. My kids loved using them on their alphabet practice sheets to make all their letters. Of course, there are other activities you can use them with too. There are many themed worksheets on the market.
These markers are perfect because they don’t require great fine motor skills. They are a bit chunkier and easy for little to hold onto! Love these!
Duplo blocks are the perfect gift for children to work on fine motor skills. Follow the instructions in the set or build your own creations. Since the pieces are larger than regular Legos, they are safe for the smallest members of the house to enjoy.
These are classic toys! My mom still has the ones we played with from our childhood!!
There is nothing like a set of Lincoln Logs to transport you back to the “Wild West!” These are perfect for small children to build with and fun for mom and dad too.
These are also a great toy that can be added to with additional sets so you can make bigger and more elaborate structures and towns. This is another classic that stands the test of time in our family!
Educational Insights Design and Drill
Ok, this toy is so much fun….even for parents. This working drill gives kids pattern cards to follow as they drill their colorful plastic screws into a pattern sheet.
My kids have enjoyed this many times. It feels very real but is a great toy to use for learning patterns and shapes!
Melissa and Doug Floor Puzzles
Melissa and Doug floor puzzles are such a fun way to do puzzles with kids. The pieces are BIG making them hard to lose. They are also easy for little hands to hold and manipulate. It’s a great way to get down on the floor together and work on problem solving skills!
We have managed to keep the pieces for these puzzles for many years. That is a true testiment in a house full of kids. Plus they are so colorful and fun that kids enjoy sitting and looking at them for awhile after they are put together!
Insect Lore Butterfly Habitat Kit
Oh my goodness, we LOVE this kit….LOVE. I think I have purchased it 4 times over the years. We do it every few years and the kids love it every time. This one is better for warm weather because you will need to order the caterpillars after the kit comes and they will not ship them in cold months.
Also, after your butteflies hatch you will want to release them and that is of course better when its warm!!
If you have never done this….do it. Everyone in the family will enjoy it!!
Learning is Life with Babies and Toddlers
One of the things that I always liked about homeschooling with babies and toddlers is that it really mirrors life so well. I mean, rarely is learning done in some ideal set of circumstances. There are always situations we have to learn around. With young children in the house, our older kids learn to prioritize relationships, manage their time and balance learning around life. It is its own set of life skills that can’t be measured by a test!
As our kids grow up, these are lessons they can carry with them into the rest of life and that is priceless!