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What can my toddler do, so I have time to teach my 9 year-old?

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Dear Carrie

What things can my toddler do, so I can have time to teach my 9 year-old daughter?

I am new this year to Heart of Dakota, and I love the content and approach! However, I don’t know how to structure my day. I have 4 kiddos who are 9, 6, 4, 2 and a baby due in January. We are using Beyond Little Hearts and Preparing Hearts. My 6 year-old doesn’t take long, and my daughter is able to be independent. However, I want to be involved and do the teacher recommended stuff with her. With my littler ones, I find it hard to keep them busy and also play/interact with them. Especially my 2 year-old son! I am looking for suggestions on how to balance different ages and abilities. Specifically, I’m needing ideas on what to do with my little ones (especially the toddler), so I can get time alone with my daughter. Thanks! It is much appreciated!

“Ms. Needing Things for My Toddler to Do, So I Can Teach My 9 Year-Old”

Dear “Ms. Needing Things for My Toddler to Do, So I Can Teach My 9 Year-Old,”

I agree that schooling with a 2 year-old (or any toddler) can be very interesting! It will be even more important to figure out a routine for that particular child than it is to schedule your older two. This is because a 2 year-old can make the best laid schedule come apart at the seams very quickly.

I would move your toddler from thing to thing every 20-30 minutes.

So, with that in mind, I would begin the schedule thinking of how to keep your 2 year-old moving from thing to thing every 20-30 minutes. I would take time to truly train that child with his/her schedule, as this will make your school day go so much better! This can be done in stages, so please don’t get overwhelmed with my post below, as it is just full of ideas! Remember, you can gradually consider doing whichever ones might work for you! Just think that anything you do for your 2-3 year-old will really pay off! I’ll combine some of my previous posts below of things we’ve done with our schedule for our little ones at that age, and you can see what might work for you.

Try letting your toddler sleep until he wakes up and have him eat breakfast later.

We usually let our little ones sleep later in the morning and get up when they wake up. This means we do two shifts for breakfast as the older boys do get up and get started on time. The little ones eat when they come down. We make oatmeal and leave it on warm on the stove, as it can be eaten easily anytime. Our other breakfast is eggs in the microwave that the boys make on their own. Just crack 1-2 eggs in a microwave safe cereal bowl, stir, microwave and add a touch of salt or shredded cheese when they’re done. We add yogurt and peanut butter toast, and breakfast is a quick affair. This allows us to eat in shifts as needed. Our meals where we typically sit down together to eat more as a family are lunch and dinner.

Your toddler can start eating lunch earlier, and you can read aloud as the olders eat as well.

Another thing that helps is for us to start the 2 or 3 year-old early on his lunch. Toddlers are usually hungry earlier than the older ones, so having them begin eating earlier is helpful. It buys me about 20 minutes more work time with my other children. We usually work right at the table where the little one is eating, so that child feels a part of what we’re doing, but is happily engaged. Once our toddler finishes eating, he is happier as we read aloud with the others at lunch and is more willing to either go play or play with cupboard toys while the rest of the kiddos are eating. I also often read aloud at lunch to my kiddos when they are all eating, as full mouths are quiet mouths (and their minds are listening)!

Try clearing out a lower cabinet and stocking it with toys for your toddler.

Another wonderful thing that is well worth doing is to clear out a lower kitchen cabinet and stock it with just your toddler’s toys. I only allowed my 2-3 year-old to have one toy at a time out of the cupboard. We placed child protectors on the cabinet doors to enforce this. Then, I filled the cabinet with all sorts of quiet items that the 2-3 year-old could get out (one at a time) and play with quietly at the table or on the floor by the cabinet. Often my boys spent much time just getting one thing out and putting it away, so they could get the next thing out of the cabinet. The rule was only one item out at a time, and it must be put away prior to getting out the next item. This easily took 25-30 minutes and can be used anytime you need it.

Cabinet toys are special for toddlers, and toys with many pieces can be stored in clear tubs with lids.

Many days my toddler just spent a lot of time taking out one toy, scattering it on the floor, picking it up, putting it away, and getting out another one (which is great for fine motor muscle building and for practicing the skill of picking up)! We did put child protectors on the cupboard doors, which my son could open. But, it slowed him down and kept him from just unloading the cabinet. We tried to put the toys in the cabinet that had many pieces in storage boxes WITH LIDS. This kept my son busy every morning, again in the afternoon, and in the evening. It is still the first thing he heads for when he comes downstairs, as he knows it is his. We also have a playroom with his toys, but for years he often only ever wanted what was in the cabinet.

There are some inexpensive things you can place in a cabinet for your toddler.

Some examples of inexpensive things to place in the cabinet for your toddler that you may already have on hand would be a bucket of cars, a lidded container with macaroni noodles and a measuring cup, play food that he can cut or put together, and a can of tennis balls with a lid. You could also include a container with a blunt tweezers and small objects to pick up with the tweezers (like small pieces of yarn). If you have one, a Cheerio book (where kiddos put the Cheerios on the openings in each page) works great! Or, you can make your own Cheerio book! Just use coloring book pages and draw circles where your kiddo should place the Cheerios (and then eat them)!

Toddlers also love a container with trains and a track in it or a magnadoodle. Anything your toddler can pound like a ball pounder also works well. You can also have colored cups with a small container of legos chosen to be the same color as the cups. (So, your toddler can sort the colored legos into the matching cup.) A lidded tub filled with stuffed toys, a container of megablocks, and some tractors or other vehicles works well too!

Here are some toy suggestions for 3 or 4 year-olds, which will work well for your 4 year-old daughter.

Toys for a 3 or 4 year-old could have smaller parts and more involved steps. Thinks like simple puzzles, possibly playdough or moon dough, large gears, objects for sorting, alphabet letters, foam blocks, large tangram shapes, and a dry erase marker board and low odor marker (only when supervised) work well. Likewise, stacking cups, nesting boxes or other things that fit within one another are fun and educational. Finally, large lacing beads, snap cubes, and patterning cards work well for this age too!

Try a high chair time with your toddler!

Another help for a 2-3 year-old toddler is high chair time. This usually buys about 15 minutes. We tried to have a high chair time each day for our kiddos when they were that age. We also attempted a playpen time and a play at the table time each day. Here are just a few ideas we used in the past for our high chair time for our busy, busy boys at that age:

1. Save the plastic eggs that snap together from Easter and place a Cheerio or other edible object inside each one. Then, have the child open and eat them. Or, if possible, have the child put the object in and then take it out.

2. Do paint with water books in the highchair. Tear one page out of the book and tape it to the high chair tray. Give the child a small plastic container of water (flatter is better than taller, so it doesn’t tip) and a paintbrush to paint on the water, and watch the colors appear on the paint with water page. Often the paper ended up so saturated, you couldn’t see the picture! However, the time it gave me was worth it!

3. Cheerio books you can get at almost any book store. These have an indented spot to place a Cheerio in on each page creating a scene. We bought them for our first son and have had them for each child ever since. These work great in the high chair as well. Simply give the child a small cup of Cheerios to place on each page, reusing the Cheerios as they go. Then at the end they can eat them. (Or, they can eat as they go sometimes too!)

More high chair time ideas for your toddler!

4. Tape a white piece of paper to the high chair tray.  Sprinkle a bit of Kool-aid or Crystal light powder on the page. Then, give the child a paintbrush and some water and let them paint the powder.

5. Give the child a singing book to look at while in the high chair. Ours have the buttons you can push down the side and sing different songs or make noises.

6. Try having the child look at a pile of lift-the-flap books with very large flaps while in the high chair. Some of my boys liked this better than others!

7. Use dot paint markers. These markers have paint inside them and make paint dots on paper when pressed down. Just tape a paper to the high chair and let them dot away! Make sure the paint is washable though, as they often dot the tray and themselves!

8. Magnetic train cars to push around on the high chair tray work well if you happen to have any of those. Each of our boys have loved these.

9. Sometimes a combination works too. Start with one high chair item and when the child is finished do another one. We tried for 15-20 minutes in the high chair at a time mid-morning.

Try a playpen, crib, or room time with your toddler while you teach the left side of Beyond to your 6 year-old!

A playpen, crib, or room time is another great help with a toddler. When my toddler is doing this, I typically do the left side of LHFHG or Beyond (as it takes about 30 minutes to do the left side). One Managers of Their Homes’ idea that I really liked and used was the Mommy Tape/CD/recording. I recorded myself reading short Bible stories, nursery rhymes, counting, saying family members’ names, singing short little songs like “Jesus Loves Me,” etc., to last 30 minutes. During the recording, I said my little one’s name over and over, like I was talking to him. I played it every day while my little one had time in his room with his toys (we do that time in his crib for safety reasons). When the recording ends, the child knows the time is up.

A Progression of Playtime to Try with Your Toddler As He Grows Older

Playpen time amounted to a singing tape/CD with toys in the playpen. My toddlers were required to stay in the playpen for 20-30 minutes. When they outgrew the playpen, we moved it to time in the child’s crib. Then, later we began assigning an older child to play with the younger one during that time instead. Once the child was not such a danger to himself, we switched this time to being playtime alone in his room. This happens around age 4 at our house.

Try having an older child play with the toddler.

Another thing to consider is having an older child play with the younger child. We required the kiddos to play in one room for that time. I rotated the room by day, once the older child was responsible enough to be out of my sight with the younger one. For time with another child at this age, we had the older child have an assigned card with an order in which to do things with the younger child.

Ideas to Include on a Card for An Older Child Playing with a Younger Child

The card for each day usually included some of the following:
1. Read two board books to the child.
2. Do 1 or more fingerplays with the child. ( I had a list and taught the older child how to do them.)
3. Walk around with the child in the house and point to and name 10 objects, having the younger child repeat back the name of each object.
4. Count from 1 on up to… (whatever is most appropriate) with the child, having the child repeat each number after the older one says it.
5. Sit on the floor and roll a soft air-filled ball back and forth. Then, stand and bounce it back and forth. Last, gently throw the ball back and forth.
6. Stand back and toss beanbags or rolled up socks into a laundry basket.
7. Follow along in a book with an audio book while having the younger child sit next to the older child or on his/her lap.
8. Play with an assigned toy. (I assigned a different toy to each day, so the older child knew what to play and where to play it.)

I also have assigned an older child to sit and do educational computer time with my kiddos aged 3 or 4 and help and guide them. So, this is an option as your toddler gets older.

Try table time with your toddler!

For our toddlers, we’ve also had table time. This is similar to the cabinet idea but gives another thing for toddlers to do each day. For this, we used 5 different tubs (that slid under my bed for storage when not in use). We numbered the tubs Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5. Each day we took out a different tub, and the boys played with the items in the tub. I just used things we already had on hand. By placing them in the tub to only come out once each week, the items seemed new and exciting. Then, if anyone ever gave us something new, I placed it in a tub. Tub items included puzzles, books, toys, short books on tape/CD, etc. We set the timer and required the boys to play with the items in the tub for 20 minutes.

Try scheduling some 1:1 time for 15 minutes with your toddler!

Last, I’ve found that if I schedule some time to be one-on-one for 10-15 minutes with my little one, early on or midway through the morning, then he is more willing to go play on his own. Even reading a book or singing a couple of songs with him will give him that one on one time. Of course, you can start Heart of Dakota’s Little Hands to Heaven guide half-speed during this time as well!

You can see that as much planning goes into the 2-3 year-old’s day as goes into any part of HOD! There is also much training there too! But it pays off big dividends in your year all year! Not to mention, it gives you important, necessary time to teach your 6 and 9 year-olds!


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Suanna

    These are really good ideas. I often had a booster chair at the table without a tray, so I found that using an old cookie sheet and taping coloring papers or paint papers to them worked really well, for helping them not color on our table and keeping the crayons from rolling away. The cookie sheets are also great for playing Legos or other smaller piece activities since the edges helped contain the pieces.

    1. We did this too! The cookie sheets work great with magnetic shapes and letters too. Thanks for sharing this idea, Suanna!

  2. Erin

    Hi Carrie! I am not sure where to write to you but I have a question to tag off of this post. I have a 7.5 yo, 6yo, 2.5 yo, 1 year old and I’m expecting a baby in December! I feel like I am battling my oldest two to get their work done and while some things can be done together, they are in different levels. I was going to combine their Learning with Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory but I’m not sure they are ready to listen and work through all of the material, especially my wiggly 6 year old. I am excited about the material but I don’t know how to give them a desire to learn about it to because work has to get done whether they want to or not. I could separate the two oldest with Little Hearts and Beyond little hearts, but I know I would never get through all of that with them since I have to guide them both through all their work. Throw a toddler into the mix and a crying baby (or two) and I just want to crawl up in a ball and sleep. However I don’t want to neglect them and doing the is curriculum would be fun if my kids ENJOYED it. Is there any advice or tips you can give me? I know you’re not a magician lol But maybe you have some idea what can help me make HOD work for my loud and active children.

    1. Hi Erin! You are in a busy stage of life, but this too shall pass! Our best advice is first to check the placement chart with fresh eyes because proper placement makes for the best homeschool year possible. If your children clearly place in separate guides and do not combine well, consider going half-speed with one or both of them if the pace is too busy to do both full-speed. Second, if your older two are going to be combined, definitely go with the younger child’s best guide placement and beef up for the older child. Third, take time to make a plan for your day that includes 30 minute increments for your toddler and baby. This post should help with ideas for that! Finally, playtimes with each other is a great thing to plan in your day to give you teaching time and to help siblings be best friends.

      Here is a post with our top 10 tips for teaching multiple guides:

      In Christ,
      Julie Grosz, M.Ed.

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