homeschool mom helping toddler walk

Inside: Does homeschooling with toddlers feel impossible? I know it feels that way, but let me assure you, it IS possible. It just requires some ingenuity and a whole lot of mindset shifts to make it happen (not a thousand and one toddler busy bags).

Homeschooling with toddlers. Ha! I laugh even as I type the title.

I’ve read my share of blog posts on the subject, and there are SO many different opinions and approaches out there.

My opinion might throw you for a loop because I am NOT about to suggest a hundred different sensory bins and busy bags and strict schedules to get through the toddler years.

Babies? They were relatively easy to homeschool through – just nurse them, rock them and keep on homeschooling. Sure, you’re seriously sleep deprived, but a whole lot of coffee is the antidote for that one.

It’s when that baby becomes a needy, clingy, mobile toddler that the juggling really begins.

I’ve done this three times now (in the middle of the third round currently), and it’s taken this long to come up with words to say that are actually helpful.

You think the answer is to somehow keep your toddler busy while you do all the important homeschool things. Nope, not even close.

What if the real secret was to embrace all things toddler right now, and completely redefine what homeschooling looks like during the toddler years?

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Homeschool with Little Ones from Homeschool Veterans

7 Insanely Helpful Tips for Homeschooling with Toddlers Without Losing Your Mind

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1. Prioritize the toddler, not the homeschool.

Think about when your oldest ones were toddlers. You weren’t shoving them aside so you could do homeschool things with their siblings.

They were the center, your highest priority. So what if homeschooling needs to take back seat for a season – NOT the toddler?

This idea is mind-blowing, I know. You’re probably saying to yourself, June, I’m pulling my hair out here trying to do this important homeschool thing, you know, educating my kids, and you’re telling me to make the toddler the priority?!

Yes. Yes, I am.

Prioritizing the toddler looks like following their needs above your homeschool (not the other needs of your older kids).

Your homeschool feels more important, but I promise you, it’s not. Your toddler is only a toddler once; your kids have a lifetime of learning ahead of them.

Plus, their learning isn’t going to stop just because you prioritize the toddler.

Your homeschool just might not look as much like school as you thought homeschooling should look like, which brings me to my next point.

2. Lean more toward the unschooling side of the homeschool spectrum while you have a toddler.

Before you freak out, I’m not suggesting that you need to “become an unschooler” in order to homeschool with a toddler.

What I am suggesting is that you slide that way for a little while.

I like to think of homeschooling as a spectrum with certain homeschool styles being very parent-led and looking more like traditional school, and the other homeschool styles being child-led and looking nothing like “real school”.

I will likely never flat-out say I’m an unschooler, partly because I don’t love the purity unschooling circles seem to demand in order to call yourself one. It’s a little bit like being a minimalist – everyone has this idea of what it should be, and if you aren’t a minimalist purist, “they” don’t think you can call yourself one.

Back to the point: you absolutely have the freedom to change your homeschool style for a while, or as long as you want to. It’s just a matter of being flexible and keeping an open mind.

When your toddler is older, you can drift back towards the parent-led homeschool styles if you wish. Who knows? You may end up loving it.

What does that look like? For me I lean heavily on teaching through conversation, educational board games and tv shows, baking, hiking, and reading aloud.

The thing I do every day that looks most like “school” is reading a chapter book aloud, as well as a literature-based history book.

We also borrow another page from the unschooling crowd – unlimited screen time. It’s a game-changer.

Related: Unschooling Language Arts – a Basic Guide for the Elementary Years

3. Sleep in. Wake up when your kids do.

Yes, you read that right. You need your a full night’s sleep if you’re going to handle homeschooling with toddlers.

But what about my alone time, says every single introverted homeschool mom everywhere (well, maybe any homeschool mom, really)? You’re going to have to get creative with that one, but this is what works for us…

Bedtime is a bit unpredictable at our house for a number of reasons (mainly, clingy, needy, “I don’t need any sleep” toddler). Our schedule also runs a bit later than many families I know.

One of the main reasons why we homeschool is the freedom to set our own schedule based on what works best for us.

To compensate for sleeping in, I regularly stay up later than the kids to work OR just to get some much-needed alone time.

Then, I wake up with the kids, follow a simple morning routine, and get a slow start to the day.

4. Think outside the box with your schedule.

Again, the beauty of homeschooling is a completely flexible schedule. Who says school needs to happen during the daytime hours?  

Our oldest child is the only one actually registered for school at this point. While we do a lot of learning altogether during the day, it’s nearly impossible for me to do intentional school while my younger kids are awake. Intentional school currently includes extended periods of reading aloud.

When I try to read chapter books aloud, my boys really struggle with interrupting. It drives my ISFJ, achiever self CRAZY!

I finally had to accept they just don’t have the attention span for them yet. With a toddler that doesn’t sleep, I don’t have the desire or patience to teach them right now.

I decided to wait until they can truly enjoy chapter books rather than have them think they’re torture.

I moved reading aloud with my oldest to the evenings, after the boys are asleep.

I could finish the same amount of reading in less time, and the relief of being able to focus and actually enjoy the book with her is absolutely worth the later bedtime (for her and me).

For you, this might look different.

  • Does your husband have a flexible work schedule? Can he be home with your younger children while you get focused time with your school-aged kids?
  • Do you have a parent who lives nearby who can help at an unusual time of day?
  • Can you have your younger kids watch a show only they enjoy while you do school with the others?

Think outside the box. Embrace homeschooling as a lifestyle, and don’t be confined to the set hours of traditional school. 

Related: An Unconventional Homeschool Schedule We’re LOVING

5. Get outside as much as possible.

The toddler is so much more independent when we go outside. I am able to have much more intentional, uninterrupted conversations with my older children.

We also spend time developing curiosity about nature and getting exercise, both of which count as school.

This could just be the yard, or it could be a full on nature walk (which is a great way to unschool science, by the way). Meet up with friends at the local nature reserve or head to the zoo.

Whatever you do, get outside.

All toddlers usually need outside is nature itself, and maybe some water and a bucket. It’s crazy how much they can do with water and bucket and how long it occupies them!

6. Follow the 3:1 method – I’ll explain.

Ok, I’m pretty sure I made this up, but enough people teach it in some form or fashion and across various niches that I can’t totally claim the idea as my own. So here’s the gist.

Every day, you should only have three things on your homeschool to-do list, just three. Of those three, only one is an absolute, must-do priority.

That one thing is what makes you feel like you had a successful homeschool day. It’s what makes you able to sleep at night knowing you’re a good homeschool mom, and what keeps away the worries that you are “ruining your child” by not doing enough.

Choose your one thing wisely.

If I had to recommend something, it would be reading aloud. You can cover so.many.subjects through reading aloud – it just makes sense for it to be your highest priority, at least to me.

If one of your children is in the learning to read stage, make one on one reading time your one thing.

Your priority could be math, or a board game, or watching a documentary together (Curiosity Stream is fantastic for this, by the way, and ridiculously cheap). It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it fits in your homeschool framework as intentional learning.

Basically, if it can get done in the length of a toddler’s nap, it can be your one thing.

Related: 20+ Brilliant Homeschooling Tips for New Homeschoolers

7. Stop worrying about doing enough.

My three oldest have already learned how to read, and they took off on their own, naturally. When you let learning to read be the natural process it actually is, you can take the stress off of reading.

Because all of my kids can learn how to read, that takes a lot of the pressure off. When you can read, you can learn almost anything.

If your child doesn’t know how to read yet, focus all your attention there if they are ready to learn.

If getting behind is a concern for you, especially if you live in a state where the guidelines are more strict, I suggest putting more thought into what intentional learning activities you can work into your days (see the tips above).

To stop worrying altogether, you’ll need to reframe your thinking about what counts as school. To do that, I read unschooling books yet again to remind myself that kids are wired to learn and they don’t need “school” to do it.

These books are some of the best money I’ve spent on our homeschool. Seriously, even if the idea of unschooling absolutely makes your skin crawl, we all need extreme perspectives to balance our own extremes.

You don’t have to do everything it says: just let it challenge how you think about learning.

I don’t know if we’ll unschool forever, although we certainly lean sliding in that direction. I suspect we will be some kind of eclectic, relaxed homeschoolers for the long haul, taking a little from each philosophy and blending them, depending on each child’s learning style and our season of life.

But I do know that children are always learning. Always. And I’m thankful for the flexibility of homeschooling during these crazy seasons of homeschooling with toddlers.

Related: 12 Best Unschooling Books for Rethinking Education

homeschool mom holding toddler in the middle of a field with tall grasses

Homeschooling with Toddlers Can Be Frustrating, or It Can Be Sweet: The Choice is Yours

You have a choice to make.

You can change your mindset, embrace homeschooling with toddlers as a time to shift your homeschool focus for a while.

Or…you can refuse to yield and fight the uphill battle to make your homeschool look just like it did before a toddler came into your world.

(Or if you’re homeschooling for the first time, you can fight to make it look exactly like you thought homeschooling would look like, complete with an unrealistic, jam-packed schedule that fills an entire six hour school day.)

I’ve done both. Can you guess which one is better for everyone, including you?

Your toddler deserves the richest toddler life you can give him (without him actually being born first), not one where he’s constantly neglected and sent to play on his own because mom needs to homeschool.

You deserve to soak up this little toddler! And to not be a constant stress ball in the name of being a good homeschool mom. Stress balls, they tend to yell and wear a constant frown and look generally harried all over.

And your older kids? They deserve a peaceful homeschool. Not one where mom is constantly yelling and rushing and trying to fit in everything on her agenda that was built for pre-toddler times. That’s no way to learn, and probably no better than school.

Embrace the toddler in the homeschool. I think you’ll find that you’re a much happier homeschool mom with a more peaceful homeschool.

Your toddler won’t always be a toddler. There will be other years for the homeschool of your dreams – promise.

What are your best tips for homeschooling with toddlers? Share in the comments!

Read Next: Relaxed Homeschooling v. Unschooling – What’s the Difference?

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