5 Tips for How to Homeschool with a Toddler in the House

One of the most frequent comments I get whenever I talk about homeschooling is how to homeschool with a toddler in the house (or two toddlers. Or a baby). 

When Ella was in first grade and we homeschooled full-time, Ani was 3.5, Star was 1.5 and I was pregnant with Tally.

So I know something about the chaos of homeschooling with toddlers around.

For reference, we did around three hours of school per day (about 9 a.m. to noon), and Ani attended a co-op preschool twice a week for two hours in the morning.

I was also not involved in every bit of Ella’s schooling.

Obviously, there were many parts she needs me for (reading aloud, spelling, history, science, cooking, etc), but there were plenty of things she could handle mostly on her own like typing, math, and handwriting.

And, of course, some days were better than others, but here are the things that helped us mostly have smooth mornings where school gets done without the little girls feeling abandoned or me feeling like I’m losing my mind.

And we’ll be using these same tips as we start hybrid school (two days in person, three days online) this week!

how to homeschool with a toddler in the house

  1. Start low-key. I think there’s sometimes a tendency to make the first few days or weeks of school a bonanza of activities for the little kids, which sets the stage for this being a time when they deserve constant entertainment. I don’t do a dang thing for them the first week – they play with Legos, look at books, run around in the backyard or color, which are basically all the kinds of things they normally do. It’s much easier to add a few exciting things in as they get restless down the road (say, play dough or a new toy or coloring book) than to try to maintain that high level of constant stimulation. Plus, one of my big goals for my children is for them to be comfortable being bored, entertaining themselves, and inventing games or turning to books and toys on their own, so I think of this as daily practice while I’m right there to assist as needed.
    2. Figure out what setting works best for you. When we homeschooled Ella during kindergarten, we did homeschool in our large basement/playroom. I would have continued that the next year except that when we redid the girls bedrooms, we ended up using the homeschool table as a desk in Ella’s room instead, so the basement was no longer a great spot for homeschooling. We moved upstairs to the kitchen/family room and I couldn’t believe how much better it’s been. The couch meant it was easier to read with more than one girl at a time, the kitchen meant I can load or unload the dishwasher or put dinner in the crockpot while I read out spelling words (so I don’t feel so far behind after a morning of homeschool) and the girls’ bedrooms were just around the corner, so Ani often would wander into her room and look at books, color, or play with her dolls and Star frequently joined her. This never happened when we were downstairs and basically everyone felt trapped in one space.
  2. Harness the power of snacks. Snacks are like magic when you need a toddler to give you 20 minutes with an older child. I particularly like a snack that lends itself to taking FOREVER to eat, like pretzel sticks and hummus or blueberries eaten one at a time.
  3. Switch back and forth between subjects that your child needs help in and ones they don’t. Ella usually started out the morning with math and handwriting, which she could do on her own, and that gave me a chance to read at least a couple of books with the younger girls on the couch. That way, by the time she was ready to read aloud with me, the other girls felt like they’ve gotten some quality time and they were much more likely to be ready to run around on their own while I focused on Ella. When she moved on to typing or coding on the computer, then I could pull out some puzzles or games or a cooking project with the little girls just as they started to lose their minds again.
  4. Involve them when possible. We did biology in first grade for science, starting with animal biology, and all my girls are obsessed with animals, so Star would happily sit on my lap as we worked through different animal species and look at the photographs for a while. When Ella did her history projects, I bought myself a lot of time if I gave Star and Ani both a paintbrush or a pile of sugar cubes or whatever the project was and let them work alongside Ella. If I was putting dinner in the crockpot or wiping down the kitchen chairs or unloading the dishwasher, I asked them to help me and they were usually delighted to be included – Star happily put away every utensil very carefully, and Ani still loves any task that involves the broom or a sponge.

Is it more work to homeschool with a toddler or baby in the house? Absolutely.

But can you make it work? Also, absolutely yes!

If you have other great tips for how to homeschool with a toddler in the house or manage multiple distance learners, I’m all ears – please leave your advice in the comments!


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Photos by Heather Mildenstein

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  1. Great post and great ideas. I love the way you are managing home school and letting the little girls be part of things in a very laid back way. I think they will all thrive and learn a lot. And I am thinking of trying the Gerber's Little Bits with yogurt as a snack for kids after school.

  2. Guilty. I'm one of the readers that has been hounding you for homeschooling details, so thank you for obliging! You have a way of making tricky circumstances seem totally doable and simple. I'm gaining confidence that homeschooling will be possible for us next year. Thank you!

  3. These are all great ideas… I'm kind of terrified for next year when home school actually needs to be more than an hour and a half and it doesn't all fit into one nap time.

  4. I got so, SO many take-aways from this. Including sugar cubes! I am in awe with how well you balance all this. There's so much to consider here, and I love your attitude behind it all. And I greatly agree about the kids learning how to work through boredom on their own! Maybe that's just me being a lazy parent, but I really prefer my excuse that it is a great value for them to learn.

  5. This was very timely—like many parents, I find myself unexpectedly homeschooling this next year (my oldest is starting kindergarten), so this really was perfect. It’s also making me realize that I was right about to fall into the first trap you mentioned of maybe going overboard with how many activities and such that I’d planned from the get-go, which would then set the expectations sky high for the rest of the year, ha ha. I think I’ll be able to tone it down now from the get-go without guilt!

  6. My tip is to still pack lunchboxes so the kids dying from hunger can eat while I finish working with a child who isn’t quite done. It also means I’m not finding snacks every five minutes in between trying to help out little people with their work. Am I the only one who can’t keep track of who had 3 extra cookies and who missed out?! Plus lunch is served whenever they’re ready and I don’t waste my precious break time with more food prep!

  7. I’m having my toddler go to preschool this year while my older kid does virtual kindergarten. I don’t think that the preschool will last more than a couple of months before circumstances change for the worse and we pull him out again. Thanks for these tips, I’m feeling a little better about that prospect!

    I have been doing a homeschool preschool program during quarantine that is picture book based and themed. I put the books for the next unit’s theme on hold at the library and then suspended the hold. If my toddler comes back unexpectedly I can just reset the hold and pick the books up from the library and we’ll have stuff to do.

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