How To Homeschool With a Really, Really, Really Active Toddler

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This is for you, the mommas with toddlers who scale refrigerators instead of sitting quietly, gently exploring a toy.  

…for the mommas with toddlers who dump ALL the cereal onto the pantry floor in 2 nanoseconds when you thought they were right next to you–those baby ninjas.  

This is for you, mommas of toddlers who defeat all the childproofing devices and clog every toilet in the house with Matchbox cars before the sun comes up; the toddlers who feed crayons to the dog rather than color, who remove their own diapers; who ask to be picked up, then transform into a limp noodle when you reach for them, who decide never to nap again.

how to homeschool with a toddler

…who hurl Thomas the Train cars at your head while you’re trying to teach your 5-year-old to read. …who demand snacks every two minutes. 

This is serious advice for the homeschooling momma who feels like she is about to lose her mind, chasing that sweet, active toddler while yelling math instructions across the house to her 7-year-old, day in and day out. 

I know. I know. Here’s my active toddler. 

how to homeschool with a toddler

Sweet child looks like he’s up to something, doesn’t he?

He’s 6 now. And he no longer throw trains at my head. He actually does math and listens to me read and doesn’t try to climb to the top of the refrigerator any more. There is hope for you, too. 

But when he was not-quite-two, I typed “how to homeschool with a toddler” into a search engine and found things like this:  “Give your child a copy of the worksheet your older child is doing so he will feel included.”  That was good advice but it was just not going to work with my super-active, sweet boy. He was the kind of toddler who tore up worksheets with his teeth, spit them out and looked at me like “What else ya got?” 

Also helpful for many but not applicable to us: “Give your child crayons or play dough to keep busy while you work with your other children.”   Guess how many crayons and how much play dough my dog has eaten courtesy of my toddler? 

Ok, so what did work? Lets move on to the solutions. Here’s what I did so that my two older children learned during the years their brother was a toddler.

12 Ways to Homeschool With a Really, Really, Really Active Toddler

1. Increase the independence of  your older kids.  Do math and geography and spelling on an iPad app. Watch educational videos and t.v. shows. The Popular Mechanics for kids series is great for science. Leapfrog letter factory series is great for kids learning to read. Keep seated work short, get them started on a task and encourage them to finish on their own if that’s doable.

2. School at “odd” times.  Do one of your more intensive subjects at bedtime. My kids love any excuse to stay up late.  Working during a toddler’s nap time is of course productive, but if they’ve given up naps, do schoolwork when they are at a restful or their most content time of day. For us, this was after hours of activity, usually outside or away from home, and when everyone was well fed.

3.  Honor your toddler’s path to learning.   I had to remind myself many times that he was learning, too; learning via exploring everything with all of his senses–just as important as my 7-year-old learning about science and my 5-year-old learning reading skills.  

4. Everything’s a story.  Use living books to learn about history, science, geography and more. Read books at mealtimes. Read them at nap time, at bedtime, and whenever there’s another adult to run interference with the active toddler. We discovered tons of historical fiction that taught my older son so much about each time period we were studying.

5.  Skip a subject this year and do it next year. We’ve had years where we skipped science or history, then followed with an intensive year in that subject. Guess what? Public schools do it too. They have “social studies”. Some years that’s geography, some years it’s history. 

6. Learn where your toddler is. Forget about your homeschool room or wherever you learn if your toddler won’t stay there. I was literally chasing my toddler all over the house yelling math instructions to my 7 year old one day when I realized how crazy that was. My toddler loved to be outside in our fenced in back yard. We took math outside that day and many days after that.

7. Have a laid back year. Or an unschool year or whatever you’d like to call it. Go on field trips a lot. Read and do school work when you can, do a lot of nature study but whatever you do, don’t stress about it. Your kids will catch up. I promise. That’s the beauty of homeschool. You can always go at YOUR FAMILY’S pace–slow down, speed up, whatever fits at the time. Toddlers won’t always be toddlers. 

8. Move a subject to summer.  Remember, you have all year. You don’t have to follow the traditional school calendar. If there’s something that you really wanted to do and it’s just darn near impossible, do it in the summer and make it fun. We did ancient history in the summer one year. It was a blast. I read one short chapter to the big kids and then we did a fun project. We made the Nile river outside in the yard, we got messy with clay and built an ancient Indian city. We made a LEGO pyramid.

9. Put this season of parenting before academics.  This time, this part of a young family’s life is really so short.  It’s okay to put that first–to play, care for and just be with our kids.  Get the learning in when you can but remember this homeschooling journey also gives our kids the opportunity to learn some very valuable things from being together as a family. Kids are learning  through play, through working out conflicts with each other, through helping with household chores.   
          Put playing with your kids and just enjoying them as your goal for the day. For as many days as you want or need to. It will be okay. They will learn what they need to learn. I promise. Do not give up, sign your kids up for public school and think that you just weren’t cut out for homschool.  Look longingly at the yellow bus that drives past your house every day, yes, but know that next year it will get easier. And the year after that, easier still. 

10. Remember that when we went to school, kindergarten was “old school”: We played and ate snacks and had nap time on little mats and we turned out just fine.  In Sweden, kids don’t even start school until age 7 and they turn out just fine too. Even when my active toddler wasn’t a toddler anymore, we continued to do old school kindergarten because I firmly believe that kids learn best through play.

11. Envision your toddler at age 6 and 7.  She will be able to sit still a bit longer. He will be past the developmental stage of exploring everything everywhere by dumping and throwing. Your toddler may grow to be a very active child but it will be different. The attention span lengthens. Interests develop. Learning will happen.

12. Let them make a mess.  Spread towels on the floor and let them stand on a stool at the sink and play with water and toys and non-sharp kitchen gadgets.  Take washable paints and an easel outside. Let them paint themselves and the patio. Put a dry kiddie pool on the kitchen floor and give them some bowls and cooked spaghetti to play with and dump and pour. Look the other way when they pull out all the pots and pans out of a kitchen cabinet onto the floor. 


 Are you homeschooling with an active toddler? What have you found helpful? Leave a comment below.

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how to homeschool with a toddler