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Sunshine turned 3 years old last week. I can not believe my baby is a big girl now! It seems like yesterday she was a baby. Over the past 6 months Sunshine has been joining us for some, if not all of learning time. It has been a BIG adjustment for everyone, especially me. For the most part we've moved past the hurdles. We've learned a TON. The transition has been a success!
When we started transitioning Sunshine into our learning time, I asked several other homeschooling mothers of multiple kiddos, just how they did it. There were a few who felt confident in their success with the transition, but there were many others who were struggling with it. I also remember talking to mothers who were not only transitioning toddlers into classrooms with their older kiddos, but introducing a baby into the classroom with their toddler. Either situation is a challenge. The more I talked with others about it, the more I wished my toddler hadn't grown out of their naps.
My purpose for writing this post is to share with you what I've learned through this very challenging, yet successful process, and give some recommends, to help your process go a bit smoother than ours did.
1. Classroom Set Up
Position your toddler as close to their activities and/or supplies as possible. This helps to keep their physical activity at a minimum, and provides less chances of spilling, dumping, and dropping. It also provides a special space, just for your toddler and no one else. If your toddler is in their own space, your other kiddos will be able to keep their space to themselves. Less distractions, more productivity! Sunshine has her own special seat at our work table. Her seat is closest to her shelves and is on the opposite wall as the other kiddos' activities.
This is not to say, your three year old is going to stay in one space. I know Sunshine doesn't. Provide a separate area for you toddler, away from learning time all together. When your toddler needs a break or decides they're done for the day, they can go to this space to relax, play, and/or run around. Our learning time room is right next to our living room. If I leave the door open I can easily see Sunshine running around in the living room as we work in the learning time room.
2. Promote Togetherness
Whether it be your calendar time, singing time, instruction time and/or reading time, include your toddler. Your toddler could simply hold up a picture or hold a manipulative of some kind, while you teach the others. When other siblings are taking turns, include your toddler, even if she's unable to actually participate effectively. Toddlers are very good at coming up with their own adaptations to activities that may be over their heads. Sunshine LOVES to be included, and quite frankly demands it. Learning time is much easier when I've made sure to include her in everything we do.
3. Encourage Independence
Plan and prepare activities for your toddler that don't require you to set up, clean up, help with, or do together during learning time. Your time and attention is going to be focused on your older kiddos (or baby), Of course if everyone else is busy, working independently, and successfully, it's fabulous to have the time to sit with your toddler and work together, but most often this is NOT going to be the case. When Sunshine first joined us, I was creating activities for her that required so much supervision and assistance from me. I couldn't be in two places at once. The consequences were quite disastrous. Neither one of us were enjoying ourselves. Now that she can work independently, without having to wait for me to help her, she's quiet, smiling, and working hard. I love to see the expression on her face when she's completed a task successfully and independently!
4. Focus on the Basics
Toddlers are learning at such a fast pace. Their little bodies and brains are growing and developing so rapidly. I love how they have such a strong desire to learn and discover new things. As easy as it is to take advantage of this phase, and plan as many elaborate activities as you can, stick to the basics. So much of learning and developing occurs naturally in toddlers. When in a positive environment, they will thrive. Just remember this happens at their pace, which may be different than your expectations.
If you're reading this post, you're already a parent who is providing a rich and positive environment for your child, full of opportunities for growth. When it comes to learning time, focus on the basics- identifying colors, shapes, numbers, and letters, along with building vocabulary. If you're child's not ready for that yet, focus on simple fine motor tasks. Include some music, art, and physical activity, and you're golden. Toddlers aren't going to do much writing, so the activities you plan will always include components that help develop fine motor skills and all that other stuff.
Remember that learning doesn't just take place in the classroom, it's happening during every minute of every day. My favorite teaching moments with Sunshine occur at the dinner table, when we go for walks, and/or at bedtime, as we read stories together, not necessarily in the classroom.
5. Materials Are Everything
In order to keep Sunshine entertained and occupied for any period of time, I need to provide her with materials that will keep her hands busy. They must be her size and 100% safe and child friendly.
Basic craft materials I can't live without include:
Buttons, especially those that relate to a theme
Wooden Beads w/ String
Basic hands on materials I can't live without include:
Kids Size Rolling Pin
Basic kitchen materials I can't live without include:
Ingredients to make homemade play dough
Uncooked White Rice
It's also nice to be able to provide an easel, reading chair etc., but at times that's just not possible due to room and/or finances. This is okay!
6. Focus on Interests
Your toddler is going to be more willing to participate and stay occupied for longer periods of time when they're learning more about something they already love. As toddlers, all of my kiddos had very specific interests. Dinomite loved dinosaurs and emergency vehicles. Bulldozer was obsessed with whales and construction vehicles. Princess loved princesses. (Go figure.) Sunshine loves animals and art. No matter what interest you choose, there's always a way to teach the basics we've talked about above. Perhaps your child loves farm animals and/or tractors? The possibilities are endless! I can seriously picture an entire shelving unit filled with hands on activities in my head right now. Let your child guide you!
I hope this post is of help to someone about to transition their own toddler to a homeschool environment with older siblings or baby. The process can be quite the challenge. Remember to be patient with yourself, your child, and siblings. It's going to take time before everything goes as smoothly as you would like. After all toddlers are toddlers. If we can make it through the transition, you can!