Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling

Today’s guest post is by Melissa from HopeSprouts.

My oldest daughter, Bels, and I started homeschooling kindergarten last year while my youngest progressed into an investigative toddler. While we were pretty relaxed in our lessons, there were still times when I needed some quiet one on one time with Bels. This was mostly while she was doing reading lessons.

Nap time was a natural place to start while looking for some quiet time, but by using that time for reading lessons it created some problems. First, I didn’t get a break during the day to read or work on the less kid-friendly projects I had. Second, Bels didn’t get enough down time for resting. Thus began my search for toddler friendly activities that could be done quietly alongside us.

I have been asked by a few friends who are beginning their first year in their homeschooling journey for a list of the activities Ava does while Bels and I “do school.” Here is what we do. Not everything works on everyday, but with variety, most days SOMETHING works!

1. Cheerio necklaces– Thread 2-4 cheerios on a long piece of yarn. If you plan to use a plastic needle (as opposed to a piece of tape) thread that also. Tie the ends of the yarn together. If you are using tape, tape the ends of the yarn form a “needle” for threading on cheerios. Provide a large handful of cheerios and a little instruction and your toddler will be practicing fine motor skills, having a snack and staying occupied! (This have been very travel friendly for us. The kids both love making the necklaces in the car or on a plane and then snacking on them later).

2. Knob Puzzles- Large knob puzzles are great for toddlers. My daughter loves puzzles with animals. Melissa and Doug make a great barn puzzle. Shape puzzles or dress up puzzles are also great. Avoid alphabet or number puzzles. Generally they have too many small pieces and are hard to match for smaller children.

3. Water– A dish tub or large pot half filled with water and set on the floor on a folded bath towel provides hours of fun. Throw in some measuring cups, a big wooden spoon and some dish soap for added fun.

4. Play-doh I can not begin to sing all the praises of this miracle toy. Both kids love play-doh. If your toddler is small and you are concerned about them eating it, try making your own. Mix 3 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 3 tablespoons oil, and 1 cup water together. There are tons of other recipes out there. You can add jello or kool-aid mix for color and scent (and flavor).

5. Put a lid on it– Give your child some Tupperware and lids and let her try to match the tops.

6. Put stuff in a container- Save a large margarine or cool whip container and its lid. Cut a hole in the lid and put the lid on the container. Give your child a variety of safe sized objects to put inside. Cheerios or crackers can also work for this. Other items that work great are clothes pins, Velcro rollers, shoelaces, old gift bows, or little people toys.

7. Cornstarch and Water- This is a winner with even the adults in our house. Mix the cornstarch and water and have fun. It is hard when squeezed or pounded, and goopey when touched gently. (For family fun in the summer, put on your swim suits, grab a bucket and mix a ton of this up. We love to play catch with it and then run in the sprinklers to clean off).

8. Rice- Put a couple pounds of rice in a large tub. Give your child small bowls, shovels, margarine tubs with holes in the bottom (big enough for the rice to come through), etc. Most sand toys work well with rice.

9. Stickers and Stamps- I get tons of free address labels and stickers in the mail. I save them all. Especially the ones from book clubs and movie clubs. When we need some quiet time, I get out a large sheet of paper, a couple sheets of stickers and some stamps and let may daughter play. These stamps from Melissa and Doug are really nice.

10. Toys- Blocks, giant Lego’s, dolls, stacking cups, sorting blocks, etc. All the usual stuff. Sometimes, you just need a classic!

So that is what we do! What have you tried that has worked?

When she isn’t reading, baking or digging for lost shoes, Melissa can be found blogging at HopeSprouts.

This post is linked to Works for Me Wednesday

photo by The Pink Princess

Angie Kauffman
Angie, a domestically challenged nerd and mom of three very fun kids, is the founder of Real Life at Home.  Angie also listens to music every chance she gets, writes eBookspodcastsloves Pinterestdocuments the little moments in life on Instagram, and occasionally sleeps.


  1. Life by the Handful says

    This is my first year homeschooling and not only has that been an adjustment but the fact that I have three little ones to occupy increases the frustration. Thanks for your list, I'm going to try a few and check out the other sites listed in the comments.

  2. Ben, Heather and kids says

    Thanks for posting this list. I have a VERY active 2 yr old (and a 3 yr old) to keep occupied while I work with our 4 and 5 yr old! I've done some of the things you mentioned, but am looking forward to new ideas!!

  3. ekbell says

    My most reliable toddler distractor has been something to scribble on and something to scribble with.

    Nothing else has distracted any of my toddlers so reliably.

    I must admit my secret weapon in toddler distraction these days is daddy. He's around during lessons (he works evenings) and he takes charge of toddlers if need be.

  4. Molytail says

    Great list! I don't have a toddler to occupy, but I do have a special needs kiddo and it's much the same sometimes when I need to work 1-1 with his sister. I'll usually set him up with a project – playdough, Floam, cutting with safety scissors, puzzles, blocks, free brailling, fingerpaint, etc – or let him listen to music or stories on cds ~ or online as well. Check Storynory for a lot of audio stories that your kids can listen to for free! :-)

  5. Mandi @ Organizing Your Way says

    Thanks so much — definitely going to add some of these to my list of activities!

    One problem I've been running into is that my older girls end up wanting to do the toddler activity. So the 3.5 yo wants to do whatever the 2 yo is doing, which would be fine with me except when I let her, then the 5 yo decides her school is boring and no fun because she wants to do what her sisters are doing.

    Any tips for getting older ones to focus (and we're not talking very long here, 20-30 mins tops) on seatwork when your toddler has a fun activity?

  6. The Hamm Bunch says

    I LOVE these ideas!!! I homeschool my first grade daughter and have a four year old doing kindergarten work and then I have a two year old son. I want him to be with us without interrupting us. These ideas will help a ton. Thanks!

  7. Raisingarrows says

    Fantastic blog! Awesome ideas! Adding your button to my site!
    ~Amy @ Raising Arrows

  8. Turtlemomma says

    Something I do with the older toddlers is dried beans. I give each toddler a couple cups of dried beans like kidney, and some things from the kitchen. Like muffin tins, cookie sheets, measuring cups, plastic spoons..whatever. That keeps them super busy so I can do the dishes. Im not a home schooler but I do watch little kids in my home.

  9. Lenetta @ Nettacow says

    Awesome post, though the comments are just about as good! :>) I linked to this on my weekly roundup – post is here. Thanks!!

  10. SkylarKD says

    My daughter LOVES playing with her letter magnets. She sorts them by colours, says the name of each letter, and tries to spell some words with them. They've given me the time to get a lot of things done in the kitchen!