Managing homeschool, home care, a homeschool cooperative group and extra-curricular activities can be difficult. Teach an older child with a toddler (or toddlers) acting as a distraction?

It becomes overwhelming. Fast!

You are in a competition of distraction. Will you be able to distract your youngest child more than he or she can distract you?

There are some hacks for dealing with toddler frustration that’s been shared amongst our homeschool groups and coops we’re involved in. Keep trying, you’ll find out what works. To help, we’ve included a growing list of ideas below.

When you know your toddler is frustrated, it's time to change strategies.

Organize daily homeschool lessons before you start

Have the lessons planned out (briefly) with breaks, snacks and expected catastrophes interspersed. Focus on building some self-study into the lessons, some of the curriculums available do provide self-starting materials.

Children have varying attention spans.

The average toddler’s attention span is between two and five minutes per year of age. So, a three-year-old can pay attention for about six minutes (on their own). If you’re planning on teaching an older child a lesson that’s longer than 6 minutes, consider how many different distractions you’ll need to finish the lesson with minor interruptions.

Just as important is how long a 7-year-old child can effectively work through a lesson on his or her own. You’ll get 35 minutes of attention at most.

Lessons that are easily divided are excellent for children with short attention spans.

Use manipulatives and activities to reduce toddler frustration while you’re distracted by lessons

You’ve got two options with this. Purchase a second set of manipulatives for the younger child or let them play with them after the older one is done.

Trading is fair game.

If you’re involved in a homeschool group or a homeschool coop, I recommend having a collective play area for smaller children that are not yet learning the lessons.

RightStart Math Geometric Shapes
RightStart Math hands-on Geometric Shapes and Tools

If you don’t want to purchase two sets, try these tips:

Put the toddler’s toys in a basket and let him play with them during the lesson.

-If the noise level is low, it should be fine.

– If the noise level starts to rise, have a short break where everyone can get up and move around.

– Use a soft, squishy ball as a quiet way to pass the time. If it’s big enough, the toddler can sit on it. Rolling or tossing a soft ball is a good way to keep them distracted for a brief time as well. It sounds kind of like fetch, right? Because it is…

– Get down on the floor with your little one and play with the toys yourself. This will help keep him or her occupied and happy while still allowing you to focus on the lesson if possible.

Prepare a toddler-sized lesson for your little troublemaker

Have you noticed that your youngest child is copying what your older children do to your continued frustration?

Harness your older children’s influence for nefarious purposes by teaching their younger sibling lessons using the following tips.

Tip #1 Prepare a simple lesson that mimics the older child’s lesson.

Since the little monsters toddlers are always watching… always listening… let them learn something while they’re at it. Our youngest tries to copy everything our older son is doing. If our oldest draws, the youngest draws. If the oldest is reading, the youngest grabs a book (holds it upside down) and begins reading. One runs, the other runs, crawls, jumps, tries tickling their dad, essentially any random idea that pops into the oldest child’s head.

Tip #2 Give the toddler a task to complete while you’re teaching.

This was an accident more than anything. Now, it’s how we start lessons.

We built a Thomas track before the next homeschool lesson as a family activity which we later destroyed, intending to use the space for lessons. An incredibly angry toddler then rebuilt the tracks exactly the way they were… while we moved to the kitchen table.

Rinse and repeat every 15 minutes until angry toddler (cute) turns to tantrum toddler (not so cute).

Although it ticks him off, I consider it to be a memory game.

Tip #3 Include your toddler in the lesson (when possible).

This won’t work for every lesson, but if you can find a way to include your toddler, it will go a long way towards keeping him happy and quiet.

– If you’re doing a science experiment, let the toddler help measure out the ingredients.

Whatever you do, as with the manipulatives, make sure it’s something that will occupy their hands and eyes so they’re not trying to grab your materials or sit on your lap.

Follow a routine as much as possible

This has unintended benefits. Granted, every day is different and as a homeschooling family you will likely have different classes throughout the days, maybe some field trips.

Your schedule will be flexible.

That said, some routine does help navigate the homeschooling – toddler relationship. For example, combine the messy or intensive lessons with the toddler’s nap time. Or even schedule your older child to self-study for that period in order to get some much-needed R&R.

The routine helps build some habits that can help you push through the homeschool lessons at a faster pace.

Based on budget, look for drop-off classes

This will really give you some much needed focus time for the toddler. Drop off classes allow you to pretend to be the proud mom or dad of an honor roll, public-school child.

Let the homeschooler explore their interests, widen their group of friends and give you some one-on-one time with the toddler who has been trying to distract you.

Drop off programs can range from pricey to… less pricey. Every once in a while, you’ll get incredibly lucky and find a very well-priced activity.

Check your local Facebook group for guidance on what’s out there.

Examples of drop off classes to look for in your area are:

Some are seasonal, so if you don’t find anything now then keep an eye open.

If you’ve kept your eye open for a while and have never seen a drop off class. You’ve found a business opportunity in your area by providing much needed relief to stressed homeschooling parents.


I wish I could say this works for everyone. We taught our oldest son how to read sheet music at a younger age with a Prodigies Music that uses desk bells to play notes. He simply followed along on the computer and printed sheet music.

Our youngest monster was enthralled. Imagine a snake-charmer with a cobra. A beautiful, deadly, and utterly savage animal tamed by simple music. Long story short, he got his own set of bells that we only pull out for special occasions, such as daily homeschooling.

Good for 20 minutes of distraction. One half lesson down… check. It only takes a week to learn to block the noise. (Men learn this skill faster)

Absence makes the heart grow fonder for forgotten toys

If you really want to solve this problem, give your child away to strangers for a few-

Sorry… kidding. Not where I’m going with this.

If you have a selection of toys that you’ve collected over time, considering hiding some of them away.

Organize the toys into play kits that you can cycle through while homeschooling your older child or children. Only bring the toys out during lessons and let your frustrated toddler tear through them. Busy boxes for older toddlers are great, but they include small pieces.

Your toddler will play with them just like they’re new. As long as you continue to cycle through them, you’ll get some extra mileage from the toys before he or she is bored of playing with them.

Globe needed for Torchlight
Recommended Leapfrog Globe for Torchlight Level K

Be flexible and patient – things will not always go according to plan!

Things just aren’t going to work often, routinely and sometimes loudly. Find a homeschool Facebook group or community cooperative that allows you to vent to others who understand and can share your frustration or ideas.


So, what have we learned? First and foremost, it’s important to be patient when teaching your older child. And secondly, there are a number of things you can do to distract your younger one so that they don’t interfere with the lesson. Patience more than anything will go a long way into moving lessons forward while keeping your youngest happy.

Anxiety can be a tragic downward spiral for everyone.

We hope these tips will help make teaching your children at home a bit easier for you. What methods have you found work best for keeping your little ones occupied during lessons? Share in the comments below!

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