My sweet little boys keep life very interesting, especially as I try to homeschool a high school freshman and 6th grader with dyslexia. It's basically my mission in life to keep my boys engaged in fruitful activity throughout the day in order that I might have small chunks of silence to engage with my girls in as much of their schoolwork as possible.
I want to share a few ideas and several "go-to" items that I keep handy at all times, as well as my process for both planning and engaging my boys each day. It's not perfect, but it works well enough that we march through our homeschool day with some learning accomplished and with (arguably) half my sanity left!
Here are my current FAVORITE things for keeping my boys (currently 3 and 20 months) busy while I work in our home and teach their older sisters:
1. HELP- This is a NEW thing- a stroke of genius on my part (not really), but something I'd never entertained before. I was honestly stressing out big time with a fair sprinkle of Mom guilt for having my girls work SO independently all week long. That's not how I pictured homeschooling them. A friend said she'd considered mother's day out when her little ones were toddlers but hadn't "pulled the trigger" on it though she wishes she had. I then realized I could probably swing it to hire our babysitter for one morning per week.
As a college student, our sitter was available (and in town) on Monday mornings so it has worked perfectly! She arrives at 8:00am and heads outside with the boys. She keeps them busy using many of my pre-planned activities and her general genius while I cloister away in my room with my girls- focusing predominantly on the subject areas that they need my attention in. LIFE. CHANGING. Friends. Seriously. We have so much fun together doing school from 8 until noon. She then heads out, but we have 2 hours left while the boys nap to finish out the day. It's a HUGE blessing that I can't recommend highly enough!
2. GATHER AHEAD- Pre-planned activities each day keep us all sane. As we go through the day and boredom strikes (or I need to work with a big sister), I must keep quick "go-tos" on-hand. I try to make sure the activities are engaging, at least mildly educational, and involve some type of motor skill activity. I also need them to not be messy or require actual prep time for me during the week. So I have collected a closet full of basic supplies and 4 trays. Each night, I grab our trays and fill them with activities for each of the boys, based on what I think they'd be intrigued by or what we are otherwise learning. These have become our favorite items that always engage their imagination or interest. We have several so, I'll share our top 3 favorites:
- Light pad (in lieu of a light box) with the Learning Resource Letter Construction Activity
- These cute Eureka Counting Animals with various "grabbers" and ice trays/muffin tin. I cute ice trays and muffin tins from the kitchen or from the Dollar Tree. They LOVE these little "ice tongs" and the various tools from this Fine Motor Tool Set from Learning Resources.
- These Melissa and Doug Sticker Pads are a hardcore favorite for my 3 year old. My 20 month old isn't as quite into them. We've gone through 3 and have just purchased 4 more for his birthday. They last quite some time, but pieces do go missing over time, so we find they last about 6 months before they need replacing. BUT, for $4-5 per set, they're a GREAT deal.
3. MORNING BINDER- My 3 year old loves doing "school", as I mentioned earlier. In following his lead, I created a preschool morning binder for him that's engaging, educational, and just downright pretty ;). I created my own printables to include, and I share them with you here. Go snag them!
4. GET OUTSIDE- Nothing keeps two little boys busy like outdoor play. But even on 10 acres with chickens, a puppy, and a pond, they can get "bored". (Insert giant eye roll.) I love engaging them in nature observation, but I also need them to sometimes just PLAY. Their entertainment outside gives me an opportunity to share on social media, text a friend, answer emails, or just breath a little. Here are our 4 favorite outdoor items that keep my boys busy so Mama can have her coffee in the swing in peace!
- A water table or Tuff Spot (Have you searched Tuff Spot on Pinterest? There are some awesome ideas but in the US, those trays don't seem to be available so I found this one from Home Depot and it works great!)
- Water table toys like cups, large basters, empty squirt bottles for filling with water, funnels and our water hose set on a slow drip.
- My boys have inherited a large collection of animals from their big sister who was a collector for years. Give them some spoons, a toob of animals, and a pile of dirt and they're good for a while.
5. GET OUTSIDE (NO MATTER THE WEATHER)- We seek to not allow the weather to keep us inside (read this book!). My boys just aren't themselves when they're indoors all day. We don't have extremely cold winters, but I realized last year that if you're outside for a long time even in 40 degree weather, you still need really warm stuff. I'll be collecting some wool basics soon to keep us all cozy this year.
Our go-to items for staying dry throughout all seasons are these 2 items:
- Rainboots are a favorite around here 365 days a year. None of us like wet feet! We especially don't like them first thing in the morning, during our nature walk to feed the chicks. We all keep rainboots outside on the patio, and this brand is so good but not crazy expensive. The liner that's in these won't wall apart and the handles help the boys be capable of putting them on themselves. And the prints! So cute!
- Our other nature-loving necessity are these all-season Tuffo rain suits. They have elastic around the wrists and ankles to keep water out. They are not insulated but are big and puffy enough to go over any cold weather gear. My little one wallowed in mud puddles all winter and spring without getting his skin or clothes wet. They're PERFECT for messy play when getting wet is not ideal. I sized up so we could get 2-3 years of use from them and just rolled up the sleeves. They worked perfectly, so the up front investment has definitely been worth it!
Those are our favorite "must-haves" in a nutshell. They keep my boys happy, moving, growing, and learning. I'd love to hear about any of your favorite things!