One of the most challenging aspects of home schooling multiple ages is balancing the different needs of each child. This is especially true when there are preschoolers in the home. As much as possible, I try to do intensive teaching of the older ones (in subjects such as math or science) while my youngest ones are asleep—either early in the morning before babies get up or during the afternoon when they are napping.
Once everybody is awake, my older children entertain the younger ones in half-hour shifts while I work one-on-one with another child, but there was a time when I simply didn’t have enough kids to make that work. Back then, I kept a running list of activities my little ones could do with minimal supervision, and referenced it as needed. I’ve recently had to press many of those ideas back into service, as I currently have a two-year old who wakes up at the crack of dawn and might otherwise disrupt the calculus and algebra lessons that are going on at that time of morning.
None of these things are particularly novel, but referring to the list keeps me from having to “think on the spot”, adds variety to their days, and keeps things running more smoothly. Naturally, I confine the kids to the fenced backyard for “outdoor activities” and either school where I can watch them through a window or else spread a blanket in the grass and teach their siblings outdoors under the trees. Feel free to peruse it for ideas that may appeal to the preschoolers at your house!
Looking at books
- With older sibling reading aloud
- Following along with book on tape
You can purchase tapes, record them at home, or check a few out from library.
- Pencil and paper
- Crayons and coloring books
- Colored pencils
- Washable markers
- Grease pencil and tracing book
- Watercolors and paper
- Paint-w-water books
- Shaving cream on the tabletop
This is a great way for kinesthetic learners to practice writing their letters—if they make a mistake, they can smooth it away and try again (the activity works well on formica tops, tile, or stone… I probably wouldn’t try it on wood).
Cutting and/or pasting
(with blunt scissors or paper edgers and a glue stick)
- Construction paper shapes
Small uniform squares and triangles can be used to make mosaic pictures.
- Recycled greeting cards
- Sunday coupons
Older preschoolers can be taught to cut on dotted lines, then you can sort the coupons later.
- Sunday comics
- Old magazines, catalogues and advertisements
Let your little ones use the pictures inside to make collages or paper dolls.
- Construction paper shapes
Playing with puppets
This activity is even more fun when you let the kids make their own from socks or lunch bags.
- Play dough
Make at home by mixing 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1 Tbsp oil, ½ cup salt, 1 tsp cream of tarter, and 1 small pkg. unsweetened Kool-Aid (for color and fragrance) or a few drops of food coloring. Cook over medium heat until it pulls away from side of pan. Knead until cool. Store unrefrigerated in ziplock bags.
- Edible dough
Combine 1 ¼ cup peanut butter, 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar, and 1 cup dry milk; mix thoroughly.
- Modeling Beeswax
- Wikki Stix
- Crayola Magic
This lightweight product isn’t messy at all and can be decorated with paints or colored markers after it hardens, but it isn’t recommended for children under 3.
- Play dough
- Lego or Duplo blocks
- Wooden building blocks
- Pattern blocks (use at a table to create pictures or designs)
- Unifix cubes
- Brio train set
- Empty cereal boxes, egg cartons, juice cans, milk jugs, etc.
Provide a roll of duct tape, as well, and let their imaginations go wild!
Discovery Toys puts out this set. It can be noisy once the kids begin running the marbles through, so try letting them build it first, then drop the marbles in when Mom is watching. (Marbles can be a choking hazard, so we never let our little ones play with them unsupervised).
- Toothpicks and miniature marshmallows
- Buttons (into egg carton)
- Dirty laundry (lights and darks)
- Clean socks (finding pairs)
- Coins (from change bank)
- Silverware (emptying dishwasher)
- Dried beans (pick out the stones)
- Putting stickers on paper
- Folding paper airplanes or newsprint hats
- Stringing beads, buttons, macaroni on yarn, thread or laces
- Weaving yarn
If you do not already own a child-friendly, Simpplicity-type loom, you can make your own by cutting notches along opposite ends of a rectangular piece of cardboard.
- Making paper-clip chains
These are especially pretty when made out of brightly colored vinyl-coated clips.
- Making paper chains
Use a mini-stapler to link the chain together—it will be far easier to work with and much less messy than paste.
- Making “books”
You can use recycled printer paper to do this (our kids only like to draw on one side, so we usually have a large supply of half-used paper). Just fold the the pieces in half with the messy sides facing inward, separate, stack individual folded pieces together, then staple along the open edge opposite the fold.
- Lacing cards
You can purchase these or make them by punching holes along the edges of recycled greeting cards. Roll tape around one end of string for easier lacing.
- Making mobiles
Let your little ones design their own using clothes hangers, masking tape, yarn and construction paper shapes, small stuffed animals, or other collectibles.
- Making crayon rubbings over coins or gathered leaves
- Creating alphabet book or frieze (make one letter a day)
Doing pint-sized chores
- Dusting furniture or mini-blinds with feather duster
- Cleaning fingerprints off cabinets and door-knobs with spray bottle full of water or a child-safe cleaner
- Sweeping floors
- Cleaning scuff marks off linoleum with baking soda or toothpaste
- Washing dust off baseboards with a damp cloth
- Sharpening pencils
- Mending stuffed toys or nightshirts with blunt-tipped needle
- Cleaning and organizing junky drawers
- Holding math flash-cards for older sibling’s drill work
Working in the kitchen
- Scrubbing and/or peeling potatoes, carrots, etc.
- Putting biscuits on pan for baking
- Washing, drying and tearing lettuce or other greens for a salad
- Laying bread slices on cookie sheet and topping with cheese slices for melted cheese toast
- Washing and plucking grapes from stem for fruit salad
- Rinsing non-breakable cups and plates to put in dishwasher
Listening to CDs
(this often helps keep little ones in one place)
Using the computer
Our preschoolers are allowed to play on the computer only very rarely—we give them 15-20 minutes once every two to three months. There are just too many better things little ones can spend their time doing, rather than sitting in front of another screen. Admittedly, what really drove us to such a severe restriction was more pragmatic than philosophical. We had a child, several babies back, who would pry all the keys off our laptops anytime he got near them! Back when I was reviewing educational software for a radio show, our younger members got to try out a variety of programs aimed at their age group. I’ve listed a few of our favorites below, along with a couple of free websites that we also think are worthwhile, in small doses.
- Edmark’s Early Learning House Series (Millie’s Math House, Bailey’s Book House, Trudy’s Time & Place House)
- JumpStart titles by Knowledge Adventure (JumpStart Toddlers, Jumpstart Preschool)
- Living Books by Broderbund (Orly’s Draw-A-Story, Green Eggs & Ham, Just Grandma and Me)
- Starfall.com (has great alphabet/ phonics games for pre-readers)
- (terrific geography puzzles and thinking/memory games)
Again, use only in limited amounts. Two of our kids’ favorites from years gone by are:
- Richard Scarrey’s Best ABC Video Ever
- Richard Scarrey’s Best Counting Video Ever
- Water Flowers
- Pull weeds
- Rake leaves
- Sidewalk chalk
- Paint with water on sidewalk using large brushes
- Gather sticks, stones, moss and build “fairy huts”
- Play ball
- Climb trees
- Practice balance on landscaping timbers
Blow soap Bubbles
Mix the solution up yourself using 1/2 cup of dishwashing soap, 5 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of glycerine (find it at your local drugstore). You can use this to refill the smaller bubble containers and re-use those little plastic wands, or pour the mixture into a shallow pan and use cookie cutters, recycled rings from six-pack sodas, or larger loops made from pipe cleaners as bubble blowers.
Eat a snack
(outdoors is a great place for eating popcorn)
Look for bugs, toads, lizards, etc.
Play in the water sprinkler
(no kiddie pools without constant adult supervision)
Put up a tent
Let your kids “go camping” in their own backyard. If you don’t own a tent, make on by throwing a blanket over a clothesline or a rope strung between two trees.