A soft, warm, cooing, sweet-smelling baby could conceivably be a welcome addition to an idyllic homeschooling morning. The young children sit around the table, contentedly coloring, writing in their math workbook, or working diligently on a creative geography project while the baby nestles in your arms and you gently explain concepts to the older kids as questions arise. It is possible – and it is also possible to roller skate with a wedding cake balanced on your head. No, my friends, homeschooling with a baby, and often a baby and a toddler, is a challenge and almost never looks like the aforementioned scene. My babies have not been eager to comply with my plans – in the first year they usually fuss unless I carry and jostle them. If I try to sit and explain a concept to a child, the sweet little baby will usually scrunch her face together and make communication impossible with the sound she generates. This, in turn, creates stress in the child who decides math is too hard and gives up. What is a homeschooling mom to do? In my two decades of homeschooling I have had a baby and a toddler in tow every single year, and it is not impossible because I am still alive and (at least partially) sane. And my older children have successfully completed their high school education and found success beyond.
- Hold your plans loosely. It is ok to take a break when the babies and little ones can’t be distracted to cooperate. And keeping harmony while learning to help each other have a good morning experience trumps learning a fact or a concept any day – even if it were possible to learn anything in chaos. Which it is not. So take a break from math even if math is on your schedule and you are a Type A personality who badly wants to check the box completed.
- If you have an infant, a baby carrier that fits snugly around the baby is truly a wonderful investment. Nothing soothes a little one like the warm feel of your tummy folds and the familiar sound of your beating heart. She will drift off to sleep and you will be able to pick up where you left off. Even if you can’t sit. Think of all the exercise you are getting – for free and without arranging childcare. Just another perk of the job.
- When Baby gets too independent to travel attached to you, sitting on a blanket with toys is a wonderful change. You will feel so light and free that doing math will seem like a breeze! You could consider having one child sit with Baby while you work with another, and switching off. Very effective. You can only work with one child at a time anyway. If you only have one other than the baby, try taking your work to the floor. Might inspire you to vacuum later! There’s an unexpected bonus.
- A mobile baby – that is a challenge for the most experienced and stout-hearted among us. Danger lurks everywhere – from the lego that wants to lodge in your sweet baby’s throat to the dangerous cliff at the edge of the living room (stairs!) to unclosed doors leading to toilet bowls, to unknown risks that make your blood turn cold – and you can’t relax for one blessed moment! This is the most difficult time to make homeschooling older kids work. In these times, recruit all older sibling help you can, stay vigilant, and take heart. This too shall pass. I promise. In my home I have a 100% survival rate from this stage of development. I can confidently predict you will also experience the same success rate – and that is a win! Way more important than math.
- An excellent resource to make use of in addition to older siblings is the high chair. Finger foods is an obvious distraction to keep your little one busy, but as they get older they can enjoy coloring with a crayon clutched in a fist straight onto the plastic tray! Those trays clean up so nicely, even crayola crayon marks wipe right off. And if you find any remnants of color I would imagine you would consider them a small price to pay for the moments of peace and quiet you would trade them in for. This is actually a trick that works earlier than you would expect or think of coloring as an activity. As the child continues to grow and choking hazards diminish, try allowing her to play with dried beans in the high chair tray along with a couple of plastic cup measures and spoons. This trick should be used sparingly (clean-up can be arduous) but it really does afford an even longer stretch of quiet time because no toddler can resist the allure of dried beans.
- Make use of nap time. Unless you need a nap. If you do, and often you will because everyone knows babies don’t sleep well at night, please take one. Being a little better-rested (and more pleasant and clear-minded as a result) is way more important than math.
In summary, let me just encourage you to hang in there, and remember every baby stage is short-lived. You will experience so many perks for your own personal development during this time. You will become light on your toes. No one sits for four consecutive seconds when homeschooling with babies and toddlers. This is great for your cardiovascular system, great for your mental sharpness, and great for nimbleness of body. You will reap the benefits of your spritely body all the many days of your life. And the patience you will learn will earn you accolades and sainthood. Or at least it will help you cope with the many interruptions you will encounter always.
Seriously, enjoy each day. Those babies grow so fast; before you know it you will be struggling to remember how she looked and felt in your arms and how those sweet sounds made your heart swell. Math isn’t going anywhere.