Q. Do you have any seasoned advice for minimising distractions from younger siblings?
Q. How do you teach with toddlers or babies that are demanding time?  What works?
Q. How can you keep an older child on ‘task’ when you are doing the ‘interesting’ stuff with a younger one?

A.  Routine always helps when there are multiple ages in the home.  I used to plan my older children’s activities around the needs of the baby.  We would do interactive, busy, out of the house type activities during baby’s wake time, and focus or quiet activities during baby’s sleep time.

As the baby grew into toddler and preschool ages things did get interesting!  Our family life though isn’t about homeschooling but rather about discipling every person – which includes the toddler.  There comes a time when training the toddler to be quiet, focused and occupied needs to be our parenting focus.  Once these habits are established then they join the family learning times.  I used cot time, mat time, highchair time as specific training opportunities throughout the day, to help my toddlers gain self-control and focus. (A great resource is Terrific Toddlers).

During these training times I would have my older child/ren doing independent activities.  This could be hands on like puzzles, games or art, or it could be their studies like typing, handwriting, math, and finishing notebook pages – and of course reading.  Reading was always the activity I directed my kids to if I was caught up with the younger ones and they didn’t know what to do.

Our focus time (or homeschool time) has started at different time over the years but it has always started off with family time.  What we have done at this time has changed over the years but we would read the Bible, pray, read other stories, do something altogether.  The little ones would just be there with us.  They would learn to sit still and not talk.  This is good training for other times in our life as well (like church, or visiting with friends).    Sometimes I’d let them play quietly with lego, dolls, playdough, reading books.  The idea was that they were there and they were quiet.

Once we moved into the 3 R’s type of learning I found it helpful to start with the youngest – give them some focused one on one time and then they would play more contentedly while I helped the older ones with their lessons.  This part of our day went something like this:

  • Preschooler – 10 minutes (reading their books, doing an art activity together, puzzles, games etc)
  • School age – 10-15 minutes while preschooler by themselves.  If I could teach one lesson to more than one child, this was helpful.  For example Josh and Jess learnt writing together, though they were at different levels with their math.
  • Preschool – 10 min – while school age finished their things independently
  • And I kept rotating like this.  It was full on.

Then you have the baby or the toddler that is sick or out of sorts and all your training goes out the window!  My backup plan for these days was to know what my older ones could do by themselves:

  • They could do their independent studies:  math, typing, handwriting, writing, notebook pages, reading, music etc (different for different children and different at different ages)
  • They could play board games (if baby was number 3 or more, that is!!)
  • They could play imagination games together – or go outside
  • They could play by themselves – room time, independent play
  • I could read stories while cuddling the upset baby/toddler

I would have them rotate through these types of activities and I could give my attention to the demanding toddler/pre-schooler.  Of course we can only do this for a season – the key is to train the toddler not to be demanding but to be a part of the family.

There is also an opportunity to teach the older ones to handle distractions and to become responsible themselves for how they spend their time.  I know very few adult life situations where you don’t have distractions – the phone, little children, appointments, facebook, – all sorts of things distract us and I have used this idea to teach my older children that they need to be able to focus when other people are doing different things around them.

Though I give the children the freedom to go and study anywhere in the house we have maintained one large table for everyone as their study desk (during homeschooling years).  This has meant that one student will be doing their Bible study while I give a math lesson to a younger student.  It has meant that while the younger ones finish their notebook page I get into a deep conversation with one of the older ones.

Bottom line is respect and co-operation – the little ones need to learn to respect the older ones and the older ones need to respect the needs of the little ones and we all need to give and take and work together to make our family work.

I’ve written about this topic before:  Structuring your day with Little Ones

Related idea:  Everyone has a bad day – Make it work for you

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