Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homeschooling with Young Children

A few weeks ago, Seth, was up and at 'em early... per usual.  He asked me about a pillow on my bed, but he pronounced it "padoh".  This is not strange, his pronunciation is often wrong, but it reminded me "Oh yeah, I'm his teacher, I should teach him his short 'i' sounds."   That led to a brief homeschool session.

It seems so natural to me to teach him things as we go and as he needs them rather than just going to the table at 9:30 am for some obligatory reading time.  I prefer to take advantage of those "ripe for the picking" moments when he wants to learn something.  Incidentally, he read the word "hit" that morning. 

I realized soon after that... it's August.  August comes before September.  With the arrival of September, my preference for schooling when he's ready and I'm willing has to come to an end.  We start kindergarten (again) in the Fall with Korynne too.


*deep breath*

Our first attempt at homeschooling was rough (read: disastrous) because I'm completely overwhelmed by all of it: a structured day, wrangling the other kids, lesson planning, and managing my home. I sometimes daydream about sending them to public school.  I can even see it in my mind's eye: it's sunny day that I would put the youngest one on the bus and I would - finally - have a quiet house and finish my coffee while it's hot, go grocery shopping alone, and even "do lunch" with other Moms of school-aged children. *sigh*  I digress^. 

And that's what brought me to this blog post.

One of my biggest challenges is the younger sibling(s).  I Googled "homeschooling with small children" and found a plethora of ideas in no time at all!  The Internet is a tremendous resource (how did our moms do this without the Internet!?!)!  And then I looked a little closer, I am too darn cheap to make Elaborate and Themed Sensory Boxes, I'm too stinkin' busy to make Eye Spy Books, and I'm too bloomin' distracted to manage Shaving Cream Art.

If that's your thing, the Interweb is full of expensive, time-consuming, messy ideas for people like you (I don't resent you, I just don't relate).  This post is for people who have not just one, but two or more YOUNG children to occupy while *attempting* to homeschool the older one(s).  You know who you are, and I hope, like me, you know your limits.

My Criteria: cheap (made of items you already have or can pick up at the grocery store), quick (5 minutes or less to prepare), hands-off (little to no "instruction" required) and not-too-dirty (doesn't make my eye twitch to imagine the mess).

This is what I came up with so far, and I hope it helps.  Maybe you don't, but I need all the help I can get... 

Moving objects with tongs.  Sometimes the simple things work best.  Find two wide-mouthed containers (like large mixing bowls) and fill one of them with smallish items from around the house or yard: rocks, blocks, foam letters, cotton balls (if you're willing to part with them - those actually cost money!) or WHATEVER YOU HAVE ON HAND.  Give your child a pair of tongs from the kitchen.  By moving items from one container to another, children are developing fine motor skills.  For added fun while the school kids are occupied, encourage them to sort or ask why they chose certain items first. 

Toddler Toothpicks Fine Motor
Photo Credit.
Toothpicks in Jars.  I suppose it could be just my quirky kids, but putting toothpicks in spice jars entertains my children for a chunk of time... seriously.  I love this.  Why didn't I think of it first?  I try not to throw anything away that might be useful, and I love re-purposing things.  For me, it seems only prudent to snip off the sharp ends of the tooth picks for obvious safety reasons and let them work on those fine motor skills.  Cut up pipe cleaners would also work if you have them. 

Photo Credit.
String Beads.  Stringing beads is a great activity for fine motor skills which help develop needed muscles for good handwriting skills.  Except, I don't want to buy beads I have to clean up for YEARS to come (I found one under an area rug just yesterday).  I cut up straws instead (I'll still have to clean them up, but I can make bigger "beads" and they don't bounce) so they can string straw beads.  I might even be willing to give up that 88 cent box of pasta I bought the other day for them to use.  I use yarn (tape up stringing the end) or twine or whatever I have that I reclaimed from a broken Sunday School craft so they can string beads to their hearts' content.  

Play dough.  I was really intimidated when I saw that you had to cook the play dough, but I tried it and it really wasn't as terrible as you would think.  It was easy and turned out GREAT!  My favorite part is that it's really really cheap and nice enough to give as a frugal birthday gift.

TV watching linked to waistlines in children, study finds
Photo Credit. 
Television.  I'm not ashamed.  I let my kids watch TV.  This can be problematic because the school-aged kids want to watch too, but I can reward the older kids for finishing their work with a little screen time.  Then, the younger kids can have my undivided attention for a little while. I usually opt for semi-educational stuff.  Leap Frog makes some great phonics stuff and it's available on Netflix Watch Instantly or at the library. 

Sensory Boxes.  Not all sensory boxes are messy or complicated or expensive.  I remember as a kid getting in trouble for putting my hands in the bins of pinto beans at the store.  Well, guess what... my kids love putting their hands in pinto beans, too.  I'm in favor of putting McDonald's toys in tubs of pinto beans and calling it a day.  I did dye pasta once.  Just once.  And in case you're wondering, I'm no fool - I'm not about to dye rice and give it to my 2 year old.  Instead of buying bins and having them on hand all the time.  At my house, space is an issue so I don't have room for multiple boxes just for play.  Instead, I fill hole-free plastic shopping bags with my sensory stuff (one for beans, one for popcorn, or whatever) and I fill one bin with the contents of one bag at a time.

Let them roam.  I am a little more hands-off than many parents.  It must drive my friends nuts when I encourage my kids to figure it out or when I actually let my baby cry for 5 seconds.  I think safe independence is a great chance for their imaginations to develop.  You probably have a playroom or a backyard far from your school room where the younger sibling(s) can play while you have lessons.  There are amazing technologies that make out-of-sight safe(r).  Web cams are cheap, and there's an app for that so you can look at the real-time feed from your webcams and keep a watchful eye on your kids from your smartphone while you're schooling the older kids. If you needed an excuse to get a smartphone, you're welcome.  I have more where that came from.


messy play sink
Photo Credit.
Sink cleaning.  I think this project involving frozen vinegar and baking soda can eek in as "not-too-dirty" because it can clean while they play.  As an added bonus, it can be a science lesson.  After the little ones play, the big kids can play and learn!  I'll be honest, I haven't tried this yet.  I feel like I have to clean off a counter in order to minimize the mess.  One of these days, I'll have a clean counter and a lesson planned so that my 2 and 3 year olds can hop up on a stool and play a bit.

Does that get your creative juices flowing?  I've started a Pinterest Board for reference.  If you have some tried and true methods of entertaining littles, please post them in the comments and I'll add them to my board. 

^My reasons for homeschooling are many.  It's a very personal decision and one of these days I may actually tell you all about it.


  1. Keep the faith Clara. I'm homeschooling too and at times it goes well, and at times not so much. This year so far is going well, last year was more of a struggle. When I started Ad hoc-ing my curriculum and basically cherry picking what I liked and what worked for my kids, my personality and my schedule, things started going much better.

    Danna Lockerby

  2. Heh. The first three items are very Montessori. Call 'em "works" and you can say you're home pre-schooling the littles!