Help! I’m homeschooling a toddler
If you’ve recently made the switch from sending your child to in-person daycare, or decided not to send them at all, you may find yourself homeschooling your toddler, perhaps alongside setting or managing school work for older children and doing paid work yourself. Unlike remote school, where a professional educator provides work, feedback and guidance, home school leaves parents in full charge of their kids education. Juggling all this can be challenging, but also very worthwhile. Below we’ll offer support on a few of the key homeschooling challenges.
Why did I even start this?
Home schooling has a number of benefits, but they vary enormously from family to family. Remembering why you made the decision to home school can help you keep on track. If you’re struggling day to day you may want to write out your reason or a home school motto and stick it on the refrigerator. It might be practical - ‘We’re just waiting out Covid’ or ‘I can do better than [over priced preschool]’ - or it might be aspirational - ‘I really want my kid to be bilingual’ or ‘I want to give my kids the best start in life’. Whatever it is, keep in mind why you choose to home school – and why you’re still choosing to do it every day. Making a note of the moments you love or small successes can also help, whether that’s shared on Instagram, a private gratitude journal or a quick text to your spouse.
Focus on what you both enjoy
As kids grow up, there will be skills they need to learn that they don’t want to and you don’t find any joy in teaching (road or pool safety may be an example). However, during the preschool years, most core skills can be taught in dozens, if not hundreds of different ways, so there is no need to follow a prescribed path that one or both of you hates. As an example, if you want to work on math skills, then you could fight over a worksheet… or you could count toy cars as you whiz them down a ramp, look at the numbers on mailboxes or street signs when you go for a walk, read a counting story, play hopscotch or do a hundred other things.
How do I know what to teach?
There are hundreds of suggestions out there, so narrow down the focus by thinking about what matters to your child and your family. Your pediatrician should be able to direct you to a list of milestones for preschool age children, and that will give you some guidance as to what’s age appropriate. If you’re planning on sending your child to school later, whether that’s kindergarten or high school, reach out to the school district or a friend with a kid at that stage and find out what they expect from kids as they enter school. Typically, ‘school readiness’ checklists for kids age up to 5 focus on personal and social skills such as ‘can put on own jacket, shoes and hat’ or ‘can eat with a knife and fork and clear own plate away’ rather than academic skills such as ‘can add numbers up to 10’. This is because these are foundational skills – a kid who can do long division but can’t sit still or remember to ask when they need the bathroom will struggle in a group setting much more than a kid who can’t count to 10 but can ask for help clearly.
Carrie from Five in a Row shared a set of great tips on homeschooling like taking advantage of “non-traditional school times” and accepting help from others, so if you’re looking for hands-on teaching ideas feel free to check "Homeschooling with a toddler" blog post.
And finally, remember: play is learning
In the best preschools and the worlds’ most successful educational systems, kids under the age of 7 do most of their learning through play. As toddlers explore their environment, they develop foundational skills that are essential for later academic learning. This is true even when they’re not doing what you want them to – as an example, a toddler who figures out how to get a step, climb it, open the cupboard, get out the cookie jar, open it, and take one bite out of each one has used an incredible array of skills including gross motor, fine motor, problem solving, tenacity and resilience (because it took more than one try, even if you didn’t see the practice). That independent time is valuable too, so don’t be afraid to take that quiet time and use it for your own hobbies, to work or do chores.