Lately, the toddler (20 months) has been wanting to do whatever the big kids are doing. If they are emptying the dishwasher, she’s right in there grabbing plates with loud cries of “Margaret-self, do it!” If they go outside, she wants to be bundled up to go out, too. And when we sit down in the morning for homeschool, we hear “Margaret-self binder! Do Ghool!”
She opens her binder and secures all the purple pencils to color with, or gets a chair and draws “daisies” on the chalkboard while I’m trying to teach math to my older homeschoolers!
Of course, she isn’t really ready to “do ghool,” but there are some things I am doing with her (as I did with the older children) that help her feel included and start her on her educational journey:
- We practice waiting for my attention and sitting quietly without grabbing for things or shrieking while I work with someone else. When my eldest was about six months old, a wise older mother told me to start having him practice sitting quietly on my lap. Just sitting still, without a book or other entertainment. We started with a minute goal at first—starting the time over until he managed the full minute— then increased from there. That gentle way of learning to be still and centered was so very helpful in the toddler and preschool years that I’ve done something similar with each of the others.
- She does have her own binder, and we work on certain skills together:a. Taking it out and putting it away nicely when she wants to use it—and when she is done and wants to go on to something else. Sometimes this means that I take the binder and hold it in her hands to help her put it away, but she is gradually learning to clean up one area of work before moving on to another. (Remember “clearing to zero”?)
b. Finishing a task before moving on. Right now I have a matching game in her binder. I printed out some outlines of shapes as well as the shapes themselves, laminated everything, cut out the shapes, and three-hole punched things. A little dab of sticky tack works well for keeping the matched shapes in place. (Velcro would also work but the noise it makes would drive me a little batty.) Before we put her binder away, we make sure each piece is back in place. Usually, she is happy to do it “Margaret-self,” but sometimes I gently guide her or she requests that I do it “Mama-self”!
- Matching—recognizing that some things are different and some are the same—is an important pre-reading and pre-math skill. Right now a lot of the “work” she does involves matching colors or shapes or sometimes both. Some of the materials are laminated printables, while others involve matching beads or other materials to colored boxes.
- Fine Motor and Hand/Eye Coordination Skills—Lacing cards (at this age I don’t worry about going around a shape in order, just the action of putting the lace in and pulling it through), stringing beads onto pipe cleaners, and doing puzzles are just a few of the things I have put out for her to “play” with.
- Sensory Exploration—A shallow plastic tub filled with dried beans and rice plus some little trucks or animals and a variety of spoons and containers to fill is almost always good for fifteen to twenty minutes of quiet busyness. I do have to be vigilant and do some training on using the sensory bin appropriately, but she enjoys the exploration and I enjoy the opportunity to teach a short lesson without much interruption.
All of these things seem small, but they help her to feel included in our lessons as we homeschool as a family. Sometimes the preschooler or the second grader has the time to do the various activities with her, which also helps her feel like we aren’t just ignoring her all morning. And I know that the skills she is playing at now will be the foundation of her educational journey.
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