OK, it has finally hit you: Suddenly you understand why that other home school mom used to be so self-doubting … She had a toddler in her home.
Now, your turn has come and, whew, can it be a challenge! You prepared for receiving that new baby blessing during the school year, didn’t you? No one told you what to do with the toddler that would result, did they?
My very first toddler to home school is now 30 years old. She led the way for two brothers to follow in her footsteps. Yes, I have survived having three toddlers in my school! The youngest is now 24 and I am still mostly sane. I hope I can share a few tricks here that will be helpful to you.
You probably can guess that the acronym D.E.S.I.R.E. stands for six choices of tactics you can take with your toddler. The word helps you to remember, while “on-the-run”, what ideas you have not tried yet. Happily, I can say that with this plan, you can master the fine art of home schooling with a toddler.
D is for Discipline. Discipline is another way of saying, “consistently train by habit and example.” You must discipline your toddler. Many people do not know about this idea, but it is crucial to your success with this child, for his whole life. If you do not discipline your toddler now, you probably never will be able to manage this child and he will suffer all his life for your wrong choice. Actually, your whole family will suffer.
There are many ideas floating around about how to discipline, but I strongly urge using the Bible way, which is the rod. How to use the rod would make an entire article in itself, but there are many good resources to help you obey God about this, already in print.
You can and you must discipline (train) them to maintain quiet during teaching, oral reading, testing, study, dictation, etc. Consider “quiet” to be the home school subject the toddler must learn. (Of course, it will be easier to train the little ones to do right if you are acting that way yourself.)
E is for Entertain. This is playing school. I always loved this part. My toddlers did, too. Sometimes my first graders even looked longingly at our inventions! I loved giving my toddlers blunt scissors to cut the corners off 3×5 note cards. They learned how to cut and how to identify a triangle. Then we pasted the triangles to another paper to make flowers, boats, and other “pretty pictures for Daddy.” This supervised play, they thought was school; they were right. They learned other manual dexterity tasks by working with homemade play dough, real cookie dough, extra large crayons, educational toys, chenille stems, and my favorite, the chalkboard. The reason I prefer chalk (white only) so much is that no matter if they taste it, step on it, put it through the laundry, or use it on the walls, it is no problem.
S is for Seclude. Face it, sometimes they need to stay in their own place. That is when a playpen, screened porch, high chair or other restraining device can come in handy. Never leave them unattended in these places; stock them with toys, too. Do not make being restrained a punishment (if he needs the rod, do not substitute rejection!) but do make it a choice, such as, “You will stop crumbling sister’s papers, or you will play in the playpen for a while–which do you want to do?” This is especially important during times that would be potentially dangerous for him, such as science experiments or baseball games. If you can anticipate the need, you can emphasize the fun aspect of it: “Here, let’s sit in the high chair so you can see brother’s ice cube melt and boil!”
I is for Include. Every toddler can learn to mimic and enjoy many of your activities. This goes for Bible memorization, singing, PE, reading, phonics drill, outdoor housework, educational videos, and foreign language. Although my first home school toddler could not recite the entire book of James as her brothers were memorizing it, she could insert the next word, whenever we stopped. She received this by osmosis. One of my toddlers learned to read via the signed alphabet. His siblings were learning it and he knew what the signs meant. If we signed c-a-t to him, he could think momentarily and say “cat”–he actually sounded out signed letters into spoken words. At age three. While he was a verbal child, he also showed the benefits of being included. You can include a toddler, too, by writing his name on your chore chart so he can receive stars like everyone else.
R is for Relish. Leave well enough alone, let sleeping babes lie, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”! Soak in those moments when this toddler is content just to exist. If he has helped himself to math manipulatives and lined them up all over the floor like a train track, unless it is forbidden behavior, do not scold, or even speak, or even breathe. He is OK. Let it be. If he is contentedly looking at the science book you needed to use right now, change gears and let him look. If he has fallen asleep in Daddy’s chair, tiptoe around him; do not disturb him so you can use the chair for an oral reading lesson. Also be sure not to miss the delightful memories of this little one’s life; keep your camera just as ready for him as ever, home school or not.
E is for Endure. There it is, the teeth-gritting-with-a-smile part. This darling is a part of your family, after all. He will not be tiny forever, either. If you can find a place for him on your lap, sharing your chair, helping you sweep, or even carrying real school papers to siblings, he will be learning how to function as an older, usable person. The busier you can entice him to stay, the longer you can endure helping him learn how to help, the better for him. Even if he really is in the way, even if you could do it faster yourself, even if the paper gets droolies on it…you are making progress toward civilizing the little one and you should do so, and with a smile.
There you have it: the way I survived three toddlers in a row. It was not easy, but I can say we usually completed all our work and we usually stayed peaceable. Why not try DESIRE!
baby while making his first steps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)