What do I do with my toddler?
Toddler activities and a schedule kept me sane this school year!
Keeping a toddler occupied and out of trouble during homeschool time is one of the top struggles for homeschooling moms. And no wonder – if they’re loud it’s hard to teach the big kids, and if the toddler is quiet? Well, you know that means trouble!
This is the first school year I’m really navigating this challenge, and it’s been . . . interesting!
But I’ve found that having a loose schedule and a list of toddler activities helps our days go much more smoothly.
What kind of toddler activities are we talking about?
There are lots of really talented bloggers who can teach you how to create really cool DIY toddler activities to keep your little ones busy. I am not one of them.
Toddler activities for me need to be
2. Something not destroyed in one day
3. An activity we can use multiple times every week.
Below I do link to a couple DIY activities, but most of the toddler activities on this list are things you either already have at home, or would use for years to come (IE a water table, metal tonka trucks, etc).
*This post contains affiliate links. This means I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through one of my links. If you do, thank you for supporting the cave family!
Keep your toddler busy!
In this post I will share five tips to help you get more cooperation from your toddler for homeschool time, and then I’ll share the toddler activities and schedule I used this year to stay on track.
Homeschooling with a toddler running around is challenging – but it can be a lot easier with these tips and activities!
Tips to calm the chaos
1. Get a handle on behavior issues before you try to school
Toddlers are notoriously difficult, and some of that is legitimate!
But the terrible twos and threes doesn’t have to mean a completely out of control toddler with zero respect for boundaries.
If you’re majorly struggling with obedience, and your toddler ignores everything you say, spend some time working on those issues before you try to start schooling.
A positive, but focused on instruction and discipline, couple of weeks will do a lot to help your days be more peaceful at home!
Think happy toddler boot camp 😉
2. Start the day with a healthy breakfast
Balanced blood sugar helps everyone (toddlers AND moms!) behave better.
It’s not fair to expect your toddler to play happily if her blood sugar is spiked through the roof with a pop tart, and then crashes at 10am when you’re trying to teach a math lesson.
Take the time to get everyone a nutritious breakfast, and your whole day will be better off!
Our go-to breakfasts for school mornings:
Greek yogurt and homemade granola (like this peanut butter granola – so good!)
Eggs and toast (my 10 and 8 year olds make this breakfast for us)
Pumpkin baked oatmeal (We eat this year round because it’s always a hit!)
3. A good school day starts the night before
Speaking of things that affect behavior . . . let’s talk about sleep! Everyone needs sleep to be healthy and thrive. Is your toddler getting enough sleep? Are YOU getting enough sleep?
Set age-appropriate bedtimes for the whole family, and then stick with them. Everyone will do better during homeschool time because of good sleep!
If you haven’t already, start by teaching your toddler to stay in bed at night. This will make getting good sleep much easier for everyone.
Tip: If your toddler has a hard time going to sleep, or wakes early in the morning, the first two things I’d suggest are 1. Get blackout curtains 2. Use white noise (I use a cheap box fan on low!). Darkness and a consistent soothing hum solve many sleep issues!
4. Spend time with the toddlers first
The little ones will be much more cooperative and happy to play quietly if they have first had your undivided attention.
Sometimes toddlers act out because they just want to spend time with you! Head off the craziness by spending time with your toddler before you need them to be quiet/calm.
Playing with them on the floor for a few minutes, having them help you with a fun kitchen job, or walking to the mailbox (just us!) are my top ways to give them some one-on-one time before I need to start school with the big kids.
5. Make good use of scheduling
I hate to give up afternoon quiet time just for school, but there are seasons where this can be very helpful! If you know quiet is essential for your big kids to really understand a math lesson, then schedule math lessons for during the toddler’s nap.
Another way to use scheduling wisely when you’re homeschooling with a toddler running around is to break up the school work that needs you. If you plan to do language arts for 30 minutes with one kid, and that kid really needs your attention for that, then the next subject should be something independent.
This way you can go spend some time with your toddler while big kids do independent work. It goes without saying, but toddlers have very short attention spans! If you require more independent or alone play than your toddler can handle, you’ll both be frustrated.
So keep lesson blocks short, and break up the schedule to spread your time around to all the kids, not just the school aged ones.
Toddler activities for homeschool time
In this section, the first part will give you lots of ideas for toddler activities during homeschool time.
In the second part, I will share the toddler schedule I’ve used with both younger and older toddlers, with all four of my kids!
Activities for toddlers
Pack n play time with special toys (independent play time):
You can also turn your Pack n play into a ball pit!
I keep certain toys put up, and they only come out during pack n play time. This keeps them interesting and special, which helps keep my toddler’s attention while he’s playing alone.
Tip: Teaching your child to play independently is one of the BEST things you can do to homeschool with a toddler around!
Outside time on a gated porch or deck:
Riding toys are great! We’ve gotten a ton of use (with all four boys!) out of this riding toy.
Big metal Tonka trucks – they’re classic for a reason. The dump truck is everyone’s favorite!
Water table (within your line of sight) Alternatively, you can simply set out a big bowl of water and some plastic containers to scoop water, sponges to soak up and squeeze out, etc. We do both, and this water table has held up for years!
Sand table (Can swap out sand for feed corn or wheat berries if you want less mess!) These are fantastic to use with small bulldozers, trackhoes, and dump trucks – the dollar store usually has packs of these for really cheap. The sand table I linked comes with a lid to keep out cats and rain.
High chair activities (table time):
Crayons and coloring books
Dot markers and sheets (pinterest has tons of free printables!)
Magnetic letters stuck on a cookie sheet
For an older toddler, you could have them cut bananas for lunch or snack, or tear lettuce for a salad for supper. These can both be done in the high chair (where they’re contained!), and are actually helpful!
(I hate tearing lettuce, but all my kids love that job, so I am happy to pass that along to them.)
Floor activities, in a gated area:
Duplos (big legos)
Play food sets – Melissa and Doug make great ones, like this waffle set. (My 6 year old still loves to play with his food sets!)
Toddlers love to be just like mom and dad, so I like to provide actual tools they can use to accomplish real tasks. Cleaning is a great toddler activity, and this kids cleaning set is fantastic!
Tip: Floor activities are a great time to split up the big kids. One can spend time playing with the toddler while you work with another child on school work, then swap places.
This is good for building sibling relationships and fostering responsibility in the older ones! It also helps the older ones get a brain break when they’ve been working on school for a while.
I don’t allow much screen time for my toddlers, and I try to use it at times of day I really need help keeping the toddler occupied.
I limit to 30 minute movies or shows at this age. Our favorite movies for toddlers are:
Signing Time (some is on Youtube; I prefer to use DVDs because then I don’t have to wonder what will come on next)
Leapfrog movies (Numberland, Phonic Farm, and the Talking Words Factory are our go-tos)
Praise Baby (again, I use DVDs)
Sample schedule with toddler activities
Want to see these activities scheduled in a basic daily toddler routine? Type in your email below and you’ll get it instantly!
I’ve followed this same basic toddler schedule with all four of my boys, and it works for younger and older toddlers, with very little change.
One less thing for you to have to think about!
Print it out and post on your fridge so you can easily follow the routine and keep your toddler occupied – and OUT of trouble while you homeschool 😉
Veteran moms, share your wisdom!
What’s your best tip for homeschooling with a toddler running around?
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