10 Creative Ways to Keep Littles Busy During Homeschool

by Allie Olsen

“Mommmmyyyy! I finished my page! What’s next?”

Clara is 4 and could be dissuaded no longer… she.would.be.joining.our.school.table. This isn’t new; she’s the 6th child to join our homeschool table. But what is new is I’m tutoring a 10th grader through Algebra 1 and teaching a 7th grader how to write a quality paper. We still gather on the couch for read alouds and do a project together every day but days where school only took an hour are long gone.

how to keep littles busy during homeschooling

As much as I love the concept of an “inclusive” homeschool where all ages learn together, sometimes I just need a few undistracted moments with the big kids.

Whether you’re trying to make it through a 15 minute reading lesson or need to use every brain cell you have to help with upper level math, here are 10 ideas to keep your little ones busy while you school the big kids:

1. Host a Busy Bag Night

The week before we started back to school, I had 4 friends over for a “busy bag party”. Each mom brought 2 or 3 activities per preschooler and we sat around my breakfast table assembling them and chatting about the coming year then closed out our evening with prayer for our families. I now have a basket filled with 10 activities I can set Clara up with in seconds when I need some concentrated teaching time.

2. Undisturbed Play Time

Since Clara has 3 big brothers, the suggestion of playing with her Loving Family Doll House without someone coming in and crashing her setup is bliss for her. Sometimes she just needs a reminder.

3. Have a Big Kid Help

The great thing about having a large family is I can send a wiggly little one on a walk with teen siblings. But I remember when I read posts like this with a sigh thinking I’d never get here… even then we found ways to buddy siblings up. I learned to make it fun. Sometimes the “big kid” chooses from the ideas above. Other ideas include the big kid reading aloud, building a tower just for the little to knock down, games and nerf gun wars. I may even let the “big kid” host a tea party or offer a snack- even 5 year old Georgia Anne can do that if I’m willing to clean up a mess! Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures!

4. Use the TV

I put a collection of DVDs I don’t mind the kids watching on the shelf above the TV. I picked a few Veggie Tales, some creation science videos, Drive Thru History videos and Cinderella. We’re not big media people so when I pull out a movie (or give Wii time), it keeps the littles occupied. Having the DVDs & player up high keeps them from sneaking the next one while mommy is in blissdom. ;)

5. Clara’s School Bag

Each of the 4 littles at our house has their own school bag (the big 2 need a whole shelf…). Clara’s bag has a paint with water book, preschool workbook and Strawberry Shortcake coloring book. She loves doing “pages” while the big kids are at the table. She can zip through as many as she’d like to that day. These are educational but are not how I teach school- she has school time with me that is hands-on and fun.

6. Chores

Don’t forget that even the littlest member of your family can contribute! Clara loves to vacuum but when the house is dirty & I’m in a hurry, I often tell her no because she misses more than she gets. But how will she learn if I don’t let her try?! School time is a great time for her to vacuum to her little heart’s content. Other great chores for preschoolers include taking out small trash cans, cleaning glass doors (well, halfway up at least…) and watering plants.

7. Go Fish

Years ago, I pulled ideas from The Preschooler’s Busy Book that I could actually do with my kids. I was realistic- nothing that takes 20 minutes of prep or a trip to the craft store. I wrote one idea on each “fishie” because my kids love fishing (thanks to their Daddy). All these years later, I lay the fish out on the rug and let our littles “go fishing”. Whichever activity they choose, I make time for. (confession: On busy days, I just lay the 5 fish I have time for out and let them choose from those!)

8. Swap Care with a Neighbor

One year, I payed a neighbor $20 to take my then 2 & 3 year old girls to play with her kids once every other week. They’d go to the playground or do puzzles and games for a few hours. If you have time in your day, you could swap with another mom of littles instead of paying.

9. Special Toys for Special Times

This is a common suggestion but there are 8 people living in a 4 bedroom house here- how do I find room for another stash of toys? I have a basket of Geomag GBaby magnetic toys hidden behind a drapery panel. The basket makes the panel look rich and full… and the panel keeps my formal living room looking clean and orderly.

10. Put on LOVE

Above all the brilliantly laid plans, the single most important thing in loving your little ones while schooling the big kids is this: Put on the LOVE of Christ. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

This whole passage is wonderful to wash your busy-mamma heart… Be patient because the kids will interrupt. Model the importance of every.single.question to the big kids so they’ll respond to their younger siblings kindly, too. No, the littles are not stopping your most important work {homeschooling}… they are your most important work! Whether a nursing babe who clearly needs mamma or a toddler or a preteen with swinging emotions or {I tear up here…} a young man who will be choosing his own path very, very soon… the children are more important than the list.

Enjoy these long days with your littles. {You know what I’m going to say next…} they’ll be gone before you know it.

Published by Allie Olsen