Homeschooling with a Toddler in the House

7 ideas for keeping your toddler busy while you are homeschooling older kids.

Toddler Time: 7 Activities to Keep Them Busy

Everyone has made it to the table, and Mommy is trying to review multiplication facts with one child and monitor a science lesson with another child, with a toddler who has become mobile and wants to be the focus of attention.

Sound familiar?

I have been through this phase a few times, and I learned that pre-planning some special activities for my toddler to do, just during school time, helped give me a few minutes to focus my attention on the older kids and kept me from feeling frazzled.

Wooden puzzles and play dough are must haves, but there are also some inexpensive homemade activities you can assemble easily and have on hand for variety. Toddlers like to be a part of the action, so I found that by pulling the high chair up to the table with us or setting up a spot on the floor nearby, my little ones were busy and happy. (Be sure to avoid choking-sized objects, and keep toddlers within sight.)


Play dough

Combine 1 cup flour, ½ cup salt, 1 T. cooking oil, 1 T. cream of tartar, and 1 cup water in a non-stick skillet and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until dough forms a ball and no longer looks wet. Remove from heat and turn out onto waxed paper. Once cool enough to handle, add a few drops of food coloring, if desired, and mix until combined. Store in air-tight container. You can also add essential oils, spices, or glitter (lemon oil in yellow dough for summer, pumpkin spice in orange dough for fall, peppermint oil and silver glitter in white dough for winter).

Rice box

Fill a small plastic shoe box with plain rice. Bury seashells, silk flowers, small cars, or plastic animals, and provide a plastic shovel or spoon for toddlers to dig with. Plastic cups, measuring spoons, and small bowls are fun to fill and dump; silk flowers can be planted and picked. Put everything back inside and snap on the lid for storage.

Egg sorting

Gather a dozen plastic eggs of different colors and use markers to color the inside of each space in a cardboard egg carton with corresponding colors. Your child can match each egg to its correct “home,” dump them out, and start all over again. For variety, take all the eggs apart so she has to match the halves and put them together first, or give her colored pompoms to match and put inside each egg. Muffin tins and ice cube trays also make nice sorting trays.

No-mess finger paint

Mix a batch of vanilla pudding and divide into three equal portions. Mix each with food coloring (red, yellow, blue), and then spoon into large zipper bag, squeezing out the air before sealing. Lay the bag flat and show your toddler how to draw designs with his fingers on the outside of the bag or squish the bag to mix colors and create new ones.

Texture rubbings

Lay items such as a comb, leaf, sandpaper, paper doily, or corrugated cardboard on the high chair tray and place a large piece of paper on top, taping down the edges. Show your toddler how to use the side of a chunky crayon to reveal what is underneath. Older kids can make homemade rubbing plates by drawing designs with school glue onto cardstock squares. Once dry, the glue leaves a raised design.

Homemade lacing cards

Cut large shapes (circle, triangle, square) from different colors of cardstock and cover both sides with clear contact paper. Punch holes around the edges and tie on a piece of yarn with tape wrapped around one end for easier “sewing.” Talk about the shapes and colors. Variations include photos, or pictures from magazines or coloring books glued onto cardstock.

Busy box

Items in a cardboard shoebox, rotated so toddlers always have a “surprise.” Ideas include a shatterproof mirror, toilet paper tubes, large pompoms, plastic animals (the box can become a barn), plastic golf balls (hole cut in the lid of the box for pushing balls through), pipe cleaners to bend and sculpt, pocket-size photo album with family and pet photos, small cars (the box is the garage), large macaroni noodles and yarn for lacing, small swatches of cloth for stacking and feeling (corduroy, wool, felt, satin, burlap), alphabet blocks, linking blocks, sticky notes.

With a little advance planning, you can keep your toddler busy and happy!

Ideas for keeping your toddler busy while you are homeschooling older children.

What tips can you share for keeping little ones occupied during school time?

My article appeared in Family Magazine 2013, Issue 1.

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Comments (13)

  1. Jenny

    Thanks for sharing your expertise with HEDUA’s readers. It’s a great article and I know it will help many mommas.

  2. Tiffany

    Wow! Really great ideas here! You are a pro homeschooler for sure!

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Aw, gee–thanks, Tiffany!

  3. Stephanie

    Thanks for the tips- my toddler is big into puzzles and playdoh right now. I’ll have to try making my own!

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Play dough is wonderful when it’s warm and freshly made. My kids always enjoyed having me add a couple of drops of food coloring to their ball of dough and letting them knead the color in themselves. Magic!

  4. Iyanna

    Yes yes and yes!! These are some awesome ideas! I find it hard to get an activity for my 1 year old. She is still in the eat everything faze and I need something to keep her occupied although she is my only child lol. She is filled with so much energy!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Thank you Iyanna, for your sweet comment. I’ll bet your daughter is a bundle of joy!

  5. Jenny

    Great ideas. I’m juggling one in school and two not quite yet so things can get interesting.

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Multi-tasking mom!

  6. C. Lee Reed

    I can definitely see how the rice box would keep a toddler busy, if they didn’t feel compelled to eat it! I love the feel of rice or sand through my fingers.

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      My kids ate lots of uncooked pasta (they still do sometimes), but never any raw rice, thank goodness! Mine were never bad about putting stuff in their mouths, but I know it is a concern with lots of kids.

  7. Jill

    I like the busy box idea!

    1. Anne Campbell (Post author)

      Thank you, Jill!


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