Question: Now that my toddler is more active, how can I provide my older daughter with the attention she needs to tackle more complex subjects requiring my assistance?
Lara Ashmore responds: One of the most heart-felt challenges for families with more than one child is how to provide equal time and attention for everyone. This is especially difficult with a toddler in the house and even more so when you are homeschooling.
Toddlers seldom give up time with mom or dad willingly because they are still in the early stages of emotional bonding. One thing you should do is to make it a regular habit to spend one-on-one time with each child. Not only will this help each feel special, it will help your toddler feel more secure when you are not with him.
If possible, take advantage of your toddler’s nap time and earlier bedtime to find time to spend helping your older daughter. Don’t be afraid to ask close friends and family members to help your older daughter with tough subjects.
When these general approaches fail, you can do one of two things: Be creative with learning projects; or divide time between children, using more resourceful strategies.
Be creative and incorporate the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, an educational pioneer who theorized that children learn best in mixed-aged environments rather than when segregated by age. Encourage your older child to involve her younger sibling with these sample project ideas:
Create statistical charts, graphs and calculations on the toddler’s eating habits. Record food choices every day for one week and prepare a statistical summary of food preferences. Present the findings to the family.
Engineering and Technology
Invent something to make life easier or safer for the toddler. Create blueprints, gather materials and assemble the invention.
Explore fractal geometry by creating original works of art. Use oil paints, computer generated images or virtually any artistic medium. Allow the toddler to choose the piece of art that he likes best to hang in a special place of his choosing.
You can use your imagination to dream up projects that explore just about any subject, no matter how complex. Including your toddler will make him feel extra special. If you still need extra time alone with your daughter to help her accomplish projects or understand concepts, it is likely that your toddler will be more understanding and cooperative because he has been included.
When you need to provide your older daughter with undivided attention, pull out some special activities for your toddler that are only available to him during these times. Some simple ideas are:
non-breakable mixing bowl and wooden spoon
painting with water colors or food-based paints
homemade edible dough
a shallow pan filled with sand or water
laundry, toys or other safe objects to sort
a large empty cardboard box (the possibilities are endless)
When spending special time with your toddler, ensure that your older daughter has access to a variety of educational resources so she can explore difficult topics on her own. If other adults are not available to help her, she can use Ask Jeeves For Kids to find answers to questions on just about any topic on the Internet.
She can use computer software to create, write, discover and explore. Subscription services such as Children’s Software Review magazine or the free Discovery Channel School Educational Software Reviews make it easier to find the best software for her age and interests. Frequent trips to the library ensure that she has numerous non-fiction and reference books on hand as well as books on tape, educational music, videos or DVDs.
Whether you use a variety of creative approaches, divide your time between children or even unschool, you should feel proud of your efforts. Even in very large homeschooling families, children most likely receive much more individualized attention than they would in traditional classrooms with 20 to 30 children and just one teacher. In addition, homeschooled children with siblings have the added benefits of helping teach the younger children and learning from the older ones.
For more ideas on how other parents tackle this challenge, visit the Toddlers At Home, Too section of Ann Zeise’s A-Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling web site. This site offers a diverse collection of activity ideas, articles, and Internet resources written mostly by other homeschooling parents.
© Lara Ashmore
Lara is the founder and director of the Dallas, Texas, vegetarian group Veggie KIDS. She currently works with the Robert Muller Center for Living Ethics exploring creative uses of technology and conducts parent and teacher education workshops on a variety of topics including multiple intelligences, parenting in the digital age, multimedia scrapbooking and digital storytelling.