How to Teach Children of Different Ages and Cope with Toddlers in the Homeschool
© Beverley Paine
Homeschoolers often find it difficult in the first year or so to work out a balance between the attention they give their different aged learners. I am frequently asked for tips on how to balance sitting down with an older child while younger children yell "What do we do now mummmy?". Add a baby to the mix and the result is often exhaustion and confusion all around!
The first thing I advise homeschooling parents to do is to make sure they are doing something to balance their day. I know how important this is because I didn't do it in those early years and paid a dreadful price - a steady decline in my health which lead to the worsening of my chronic health problems!
What can you do to give yourself time to recharge your personal batteries? Do you practice meditation? Have a Daily Devotional time that is for you alone? Do you do yoga or tai chi, or work out doing an exercise routine that gets you huffing and puffing? Do you go for a walk or run each day?
You can do any of these with the children and they will still recharge your batteries, but if you can have some time alone, it will work much better. Half an hour a day is all you need to nurture yourself. Many homeschooling mothers get up early and take advantage of a peaceful house while the children still sleep. Getting up early for a brisk fifteen minute jog or walk by yourself every daywill help to eradicate that nagging scattered feeling that precedes a full attack of homeschooling or parental burn out!
We began homeschooling when our eldest had just turned six and my youngest five weeks old. Back then we did a 'school-at-home' approach. I wrote out lessons in April's workbook the night before and sat at our big table with Roger, then four years old, beside me with a workbook of his own, with the baby on my lap, often suckling. I made sure I had a variety of baby toys within reach, plus something for me to do if April and Roger didn't need my attention. I get bored quickly and am always looking for something to read and write.
April would sit opposite me and I would read and explain the instructions in her lessons if necessay. She would happily work through them without much attention. Roger was different. He couldn't read (it took another four years before he was an independent reader) and I also had to scribe his stories and comments. Lessons at the table would only last an hour at the most and then we'd be doing a project or simply playing. I spent a lot of time playing with the children. This seemed to satisfy their need for time with me, and left me huge blocks of time where I could do the chores, ususally within sight and hearing of them.
I developed a habit of instantly interrupting what I was doing to attend to their requests and found that over time the children became less demanding and more independent. Friends and relatives thought I was spoiling my children by taking care of their needs and requests straight aways (especially as they found the interruption annoying, whereas we found whining children more annoying!). However, over time we found the opposite effect actually happened. Taking care of their needs immediately took less time and got them out of my hair quicker!
This isn't to say we always did what the child wanted - that's another issue and could easily lead to a more demanding child. Listening to them, in the moment, and negotiating satisfactory solutions with them is important. Over time it builds respectful relationships and that's what we all want with, and for, our children.
The other solution we found for coping with demanding toddlers while you are busy helping an older child is to have plenty of activities and distractions prepared in advance. For me, this was more about establishing a vibrant and encouraging learning environment. I modelled our home on the local kindergarten (preschool) which April and Roger had attended from birth, first through playgroup and then kindy. We had open shelves with a few selected items on each and boxes of toys and dress ups.
Cluttered environments discourage learning, so keep it tidy and simple and rotate the toys and puzzles, in the same way kindy teachers do, to keep that novelty aspect. I'd hunt down interesting dress-ups in op-shops and add fresh items and remove and store others. You don't need to pay a fortune for play props. The junk box, and a well stocked craft table with lots of sticky tape, masking tape and glue, are essential.
Such a well-stocked, inviting and encouraging learning environment is useless if the children can access the items and activities within it without your help. The shelves need to be low. Materials need to be child-friendly and safe. The children need spaces to make mess, lay out a train track, or a soft corner to curl up comfortably with a book or favourite toy. You need to be comfortable within this space too.
Anticipating your toddlers' needs is the key to solving this issue - keeping one step ahead of them. You may need to be firm though - it doesn't hurt to gently let them know that you are busy right now and that you will help them when you are finished your task. Direct them to help themselves until then.
Juggling the attention you give to each child is difficult. Consistently making the toddlers wait sometimes and making the older child wait sometimes, will help them learn patience, with the reassurance that you care for them all. It doesn't hurt to point this out either, sometimes: "This is ...'s time now, I will help you/play with you when we are finished." It's not easy, but if you can do take care of yourself and build a calm time that nurtures your soul each day, you should feel less stressed by this difficult aspect of parenting.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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