I think this question has been the most often asked of me through the years by homeschooling mamas striving to teach younger and older students. It was MY number one question during that season as well. The quick answer: “You ARE teaching them!” It is amazing what those little ears pick up and what those brilliant little minds process while school is going on with the older children. I marveled at the many times through the years that my young son would pop off something that he had “picked up” while listening to my older daughter being taught. The funniest example took place at our chiropractor’s office while we waited to be seen. My ever-curious little 5-year-old boy closely investigated the plastic tree within his reach in the waiting room. He was very quiet and very intent as he examined the decorative specimen. After several minutes, he looked up at me, rather disturbed, and loudly declared, “It’s an imposter!!!” I laughed as I confirmed to him (quietly) that he was right, remembering that the term he had accused this poor innocent tree of being was one of my daughter’s spelling words that week.
A piece of advice I’ve given that has proven to be of great help in my own experience during this season of schooling is to have a stockpile of toys that are only “school toys.” These are only intended to be pulled out during school time. This helps in keeping the little ones excited about and interested in them since they are not seen as often as their everyday toys. Perhaps keep the collection well-stocked to give room for rotating these toys in and out, having a certain little stash for each day of the school week. Some fun examples that offered quiet, self-engaging entertainment for my toddler/ young school-age son was “quiet books” which teach zipping, buttoning, matching, etc., lacing cards, unique coloring books, specially-suited to their interests perhaps with those magical Color-Wonder markers (those were always a hit in our home), or felt boards with scenes for quiet play. As my son got a little older, he enjoyed having a pencil or crayon and paper to pretend to take a spelling test or do homework.
In the early years, my son also enjoyed having “work” to do in the form of simple chores while my daughter was schooling. One example was to have him listen for the bell on the dryer. At the sound of the bell, his job was to jump up, grab the laundry bucket, gather the clothes from the dryer, carry them to the classroom area, and fold them. He also enjoyed being given quiet sorting tasks with the laundry like “put all the blues together” or “match up sock sizes,” and then maybe ultimately sort each family member’s laundry and put it in their individual bucket. He enjoyed the thought that he was doing work also.
Another little piece of advice is to divide the school day up between the ages when you are able. Perhaps do math with an older student while the younger one is read to by another or is doing a quiet activity. Then do a hands-on, “mommy-led” counting lesson with the younger, while the older works independently on her math assignment. Continue this idea with the rest of the subjects. Maybe even have the little one draw a scene that comes to mind as they listen to a history lesson that is being read to/read with an older student
Lastly, remember that school doesn’t always have to take place in the “schoolroom.” Sometimes, it might even take place in the driveway on a warm day using sidewalk chalk to teach a measurement lesson in math to one student, while a younger one might be seeing how ginormous a castle she can draw on the driveway.
When I posed this question of what to do with little ones while the older children are schooling to seasoned homeschool moms, the vast majority of the time the answer would be, “Well, utilize your older students to help entertain the younger as you teach individual students.” An incredibly helpful tip….except I only had 2 students. Therefore, the challenge was definitely there and realized. As you strive to divide your time and attention, stay encouraged, Mama, keep those little hands busy, let them keep on soaking in what they are hearing being taught and be sure to show your older kiddos that their time with you is a priority.