Homeschooling with Little Ones

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The following is written by LifeasMOM contributor Lauren:

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Last year was my family’s first year of homeschooling. It was also a year in which we added a new baby to our family. To say it was ‘fairly busy’ is quite the understatement.

This summer, I took the time to really reflect on our past school year – what worked well and what didn’t, what I could do better, what I should do differently, which curriculum would be a better fit. And I came back to the same issue over and over:

I needed to be more intentional with my littles.

Last year I didn’t really have a plan for them during our scheduled school hours. Sure, I had puzzles or construction paper available but that just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t purposeful in finding ways to teach them or occupy them during school time. I’m a big believer in free play for my little ones, but I can see that some of the chaos could have been avoided if I had been more intentional.

Research and More Research

After arriving at this revelation, I got to work. I spent hours researching ideas and projects that my younger crowd could work on.

While brainstorming ideas, I realized that I needed to add my younger ones into our homeschooling budget. I assumed that I would buy curriculum for only my 6 year old this school year. But I could quickly see that I would need a good stock of art supplies and printer paper for my little ones if we were going to succeed with this new plan.

So after spending a ridiculous amount of time brainstorming and researching, I finally felt like I had a handle on what and how I needed to plan for my littlest people.

School Time Activities for Little Ones

These activities are the favorites at our house during school time. Some activities are completely independent while some require one-on-one attention from me. I use these ideas for my 4 and 2 year old girls. The baby has her own box of toys in the school room to play with during school time.

Paint-with-Water books
These books are cheap at the dollar store! I put the water in a beautiful little tea cup to make it seem like a special event. If they are not painting within my eyesight, I have a special stack of purple paper cups they use.

Let their imaginations run wild on construction paper or you can download these printable Do-A-Dot ABC sheets. We use these several times a week since Do-A-Dots are so popular around here.

Flannel boards
I found cheap flannel boards on Michael’s sidewalk sale for $2 each. The girls love making the scenes over and over.

Pattern Blocks
My girls love these! Let them use their imaginations to build animals or practice their letters. You can also print these pattern block worksheets for them to use. I printed the ones in color and the girls use them as a type of match game.

Making cards for family and friends
We make a lot of cards at our house. I do the writing and they do the gluing. There doesn’t need to be a special occasion for card-making. Simply an ‘I Love You’ card is fun to make and appreciated by the recipient. And gluing a ton of little sequins on them just adds to the fun.

Hundred Boards
We use hundred boards weekly in our school for many different reasons. We love them! For the girls, I create patterns on their hundred boards using foam shape blocks I bought in the craft section of Walmart. They love to finish the pattern and then create one for me to solve.

Practicing Scissor Skills
My 4yo loves to use scissors. I was a little reluctant to let her use ‘the big girl scissors’ as she calls them, but practicing with her pink scissors has drastically improved her dexterity. She cuts everything from a stack of coupons to shapes I’ve drawn on a piece of paper to fun scissor printables.

M&M Eggs
Who knew that this would be such a loved game! While (literally) tripping over a bag of plastic Easter eggs in my attic, I had the idea for this game:

I fill one dozen Easter eggs with something small that rattles when it’s shaken – little rocks, rice, beans, dice, erasers, paper clips, tacks. Then the girls take turns shaking eggs, making a prediction of the object inside and then discovering what the egg contains. What makes this so much fun is that I fill one of the Eggs with M&Ms and they try to be the first to find the prized egg. They split the M&Ms at the end, so the winner must share (with each other and with their Mama!). This is a fun game for me too!

I discovered several key factors in having (mostly) successful school days with my little people:

1. Have a large rotation of activities to pull from.

I have at least 10 from which I can choose. I dream of having around 20. If they aren’t doing the same activities over and over, they’ll seem ‘new’ every time they come back up in the rotation.

2. Set aside time each week to re-stock items.

Scissor Skills are no fun if we can’t find the scissors and I neglected to print any practice sheets.

3. Plan for my preschoolers just like I do for my school-aged child.

Our school days are much smoother if I have a deliberate plan. I try to have a mental idea of items to suggest at the beginning of the day. But if all else fails, I just look at my Master Activities List.

 What are YOUR best tips for schooling with littles?

– Lauren Hill is the ‘Mama’ behind Mama’s Learning Corner, a site that features all kinds of educational ideas and tips as well as free printable worksheets. She is the mom of four young children and loves to learn alongside them.

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  1. We are just starting to homeschool my 7 yo son. My only worry has been how on earth am I going to keep my very spirited 3 yo busy, so I have time for school. Thanks for the great ideas, I am so going to be putting these together for us!

  2. I was just wondering what a “Hundred Board” is? I just love all of your ideas! I have been putting off making a flannel board, and you’ve given me new motivation to get it done! Thanks!

  3. I just did a “Busy Bag” swap w/ 10 moms (See “Money Saving Mom” blog for explanation and/or google it and tons of activities will show up). We each made 10 bags of 2 different activities….I came home w/ 20 Busy Bags to share w/ my almost 4 year old! Love these ideas that this writer has shared. thanks for more inspiration!

  4. Questions! I just don’t get the do a dot…I looked at it on amazon, but maybe my mind is not creative enough? Help!

    Also, what dollar store chain did you find the water color books at? I can only seem to locate them on amazon, and they are $6 each on there!

    1. Oh the do-a-dots are easy, and trust me you don’t have to be creative!

      You can have them write their names in dots or put apples (dots) on a tree or draw dot robot or a million other ideas.

      And they have several do-a-dot activity books which just have pictures with lots of space between the lines so they can “color” with dots.

      There are tons of free do-a-dot activities online. 😉


  5. I am in exactly the same boat! Last year was our first year homeschooling, and this year I intend to plan a bit more for the littles. I think it will be very helpful that this year my youngest (18m) can play trains on the floor instead of wanting to be held every moment. But I still need activities for him and my 4yo. She’ll love the scissor sheets, I’m sure!

  6. Thank you so much for posting these ideas and links. You saved me a lot of research time!

  7. Thank you so much for this post!
    We are planning to homeschool our 2 1/2 year old daughter. She is very smart, and of course extremely eager to learn so I have begun looking for things to begin a routine with her now, and I found some extra ideas here that are great!

  8. This is a great post! I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and an 8 month old son. We are planning to start some basic preschool activities with Katie this fall. This post has several great ideas I think she would love. Thanks! 🙂

  9. I just sent my son to his 1st day of 1st grade, & I am lamenting over the time wasted this summer. I also have a very busy toddler, & I am not a good organizer or planner. (Some of my friends say that is because I am crazy busy & they can’t keep up with my pace!) Anyway, DS loves school, & I would not want to keep him from it, however your article has given me tools to think ahead towards the days off so that we can spend quality time together instead of me trying to come up with something to keep him occupied & not to default to the TV or Video Games. This should help with the busy toddler of mine as well 🙂
    Thank you!

    1. My older son is starting K5 tomorrow and I feel exactly the same way! I’ve been collecting busy bad ideas for my 2 year old since we’ll have all day together. This summer I let them have a ton of unstructured play time (and watch a little too much TV, ahem) because last spring there was a big shift in the way they played together. Now that school’s starting I need to be much more intentional with my little guy.

  10. This is so helpful. Thanks!

    I have 1 and 3 year olds, plus my homeschoolers.

    I made some busy bags, but need to make more. You are so right about being intentional, budgeting for it, and restocking.

  11. I am doing the preschool thing this year too. It has been so long since my oldest (12) was doing preschool. I feel like I have totally forgotten what to do. I know it sounds strange but that is how I feel. Thanks for some great ideas.

    Waiting for someone to unscramble the word “homeschool” so that it means we actually get to spend some time at home!