Here, read pages 12-15 then answer this question…
No! Don’t climb on that!
And you do pages 16-20 with this question.
No! Don’t dump all the toys…
Sister’s schoolwork is not for cutting practice…
…or coloring practice!
Can we have 5 minutes of quiet time so your brother can focus on his schoolwork?
Okay, well I’m not a mama of older homeschooled kiddos, but I do have 2 littles under the age of 3. So I’m pretty sure a scene like that unfolds in your home on the daily when you’ve got littles running around.
Thank you to Amanda from Sicily’s Heart & Home for this guest post.
Maybe you’ve tried to set up activities like a sensory bin…
…which ended up all over the floor.
Or a cute craft…
…that you ended up having to do most of anyway.
Maybe you’ve even tried to teach your little the 123s and ABCs with no luck because they just won’t sit still for 5 minutes.
Well Mama! I’m here today to tell you that it IS possible to teach your littles and your bigger kiddos at the same time…
…in the same room…
…without losing your ever-loving mind.
What’s my secret?
A child-led environment for your littles.
You have a natural teaching assistant right in your own home: Your environment becomes the second teacher (and sometimes babysitter if you wish).
You just need to learn how to use it correctly.
Your Little’s Attention Span
I want to start off with a disclaimer because I think this little tidbit is super important for you to understand if you want this to work.
Your little is not going to sit still for more than 5 minutes on MOST activities.
But here’s the thing…
Even though your child is bouncing around from activity to activity, he’s still learning.
Little ones are great multi-taskers and learn more in a 2 minute session than we ever give them credit for.
I’m not going to give you ideas to make your kiddo sit and listen.
I’m not going to tell you your kiddo will be focused for hours.
It’s just not going to happen.
Nor is it developmentally appropriate.
But what I am going to teach you is how to use your environment to support your child’s learning and keep them busy while you’re teaching the bigger kids…
…without adding much more planning & prepping time to your already-packed schedule.
A Relaxed Routine
When I create a routine for my days, I try to follow the youngest kiddo’s natural rhythm since they are the least adaptable.
I observe for a week and record tired times, active (jumping off the walls) times, and focused times. Remember focused times may only be a few minutes here and there. But you should see a cluster of focused time that last about an hour.
So that may look something like this:
- 2 minutes focused on a puzzle
- 1 minute focused on a book
- 10 minutes focused on playing with cars
- 3 minutes focused on a book
- 15 minutes focused on the doll house
You get the picture. At the end of the week, begin your schedule.
The tired times become naps and meals. The active times are for outside. And of course, the focused times are for learning.
When creating a routine, keep the times flexible and child-led. I like to create my schedule with time frames, but in the day to day I follow their rhythm. So on Monday we may stay outside longer and on Tuesday we may not eat lunch until later because they were really focused on an activity.
MOST days include a 3 hour work period. This is the important time for you to play attention to.
The 3 hour work period is a Montessori philosophy. She noticed a predictable pattern in children’s ability to focus, and let me tell you — it works.
Now we don’t do this 3 hour work period every day. We typically do it 3 days a week, but still see great improvements in attention span.
Basically, the first hour is free play. Let your kiddos play with whatever they choose. Don’t interact with them unless they ask. Usually they will find simple activities or their favorite toys to play with at this time. It’s a time to build confidence.
At this time you can do some work with the older kiddos.
About 45 minutes to an hour, you’ll start to notice the littles are getting antsy. They may be getting louder and just seem bored.
Resist finding them an activity. Don’t redirect them.
Embrace this boredness.Resist finding them an activity. Don't redirect them. Embrace this boredness.Click To Tweet
This is a great time for the olders to get a snack or take a break too.
This hour is what Montessori calls False Fatigue, and the best way to explain it is that it’s a coffee break for your littles. They’ve spent the past hour building confidence and beginning their “work” for the day. Now they need a break.
The most important thing to do during this time is to let them be bored. Lay a snack on the table, but do not give them suggestions on what to do.
About 30-45 minutes later, if you left them be, your child will begin to find something to focus on again.
But this time will be different.
They’ve built their confidence in the first hour and took a break in the second hour. Now they are ready to learn new skills or practice skills they find challenging.
Let your little one get back into the groove of things while you start the olders on another assignment. Then invite him to work on something new for a while. After modeling the activity and watching him do it once or twice, you can bounce back over to the olders.
The last hour will end naturally. I like to go outside or do something that gets them moving at this time.
This 3 hour child-led work period also works for older kiddos. Give them a list of assignments they may choose from and let them decide what to do that day.
Preparing Your Environment
So you may be thinking that the 3 hour work period sounds great, but how is letting them have free will for 3 hours going to give you more time to concentrate on your older kiddos. Am I right?
This is where your environment comes in.
Every child has their own unique learning timeline. What you place in their environment and the experiences you give them is what decides that timeline.
Your job is to control the environment. It’s the environment’s job to control the learning. It’s the child’s job to make that learning happen in their own time.
I use Learning Through Experiences: A Child-Led Curriculum to plan activities based on my child’s unique interests. The toys I bring out and the activities I set up all relate to the things they are interested in. This counts for both academics and topics.
I set out 8 toys each week. This does not include our kitchen set up, dress up, or art materials. They stay out all the time. I also have 4 tot trays for my toddler and 4 learning games for my preschooler.
With littles, less really does equal more focused play.
During the 3 hour work period, your littles can choose any toy or learning material you have setting out.
Every week, I only plan 1 structured activity a day and 4 learning games for the whole week. I like to keep the learning games on the shelf all week, so they have multiple times to explore the skill. Sometimes the activities stay out longer if they are interested in them.
By setting out the things your child is interested in, the more focused he’ll be. This new routine may take a few weeks to get into the groove of things. Be patient and be consistent.
I spend maybe 30 minutes a day “teaching” my toddler and preschooler. This includes modeling new learning games or doing a more structured type of activity. The rest of the day is completely led by them. And the best part is they are learning 100% of the time.
To learn more about how we structure our day and exactly how my littles learn check out my Ultimate Guide to Creating an Engaging Homeschool Preschool in Less Time.
Amanda is the owner of Sicily’s Heart & Home where she helps beautiful mamas homeschool their littles using a child-led approach without spending a lot of time planning & prepping. She is a former elementary and preschool teacher with over 11 years of experience. Amanda has 2 littles of her own, Sicily & Kade, who follow this exact child-led approach that she advocates. Amanda is the creator of Learning Through Experiences: A Child-Led Curriculum which currently has a full toddler and preschool curriculum with plans to expand up to sixth grade. In her spare time, she likes to read, garden, and relax in a bubble bath. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Or better yet, go join her Learning Their Way Facebook Group.