Multi-level Homeschooling: Little Ones Part 2

Little Ones Part 1

Our School Room

The majority of the time that I spend working with the children on school is spent reading aloud and discussion.   This time generally takes upwards of 2 hours each day.  In addition to this we often read aloud for fun  in the afternoons and evenings.  Most of this reading and discussing is something that we want our little children to hear, so we like them to be in the room, but to be quiet so as not to be a distraction.

One of my favorite ways to keep my little ones quiet while reading and talking with the older children is what we call blanket time.  Each small child gets a designated area or a blanket and a special, only-during-school activity.  We typically have 3-4 preschoolers at a given time so we set up 3-4 areas with different activities, varying the activities from blanket to blanket or area to area.  Each child begins on a blanket or area and then when their time is up they all rotate to the next blanket or area.

I think that it is important to have a clearly defined area to use for blanket time, an area that is obviously clear to the youngest child doing blanket time.  We have always started the children on an actual blanket.  The blankets we use are small, the idea is to give the child enough room to do their activity, but not enough room that they are tempted to stand on their head, do flips or hop like a bunny. 🙂

As our children learn what is expected during blanket time, we give them a little more freedom, using not only blankets, but space at the activity table and the whole area rug.  Time on the area rug gives them the opportunity to get some of those wiggles out and having only one child on the rug at a time generally prevents the activity or noise level from escalating.

We allow each child to choose an activity and then they start with that activity.  Sometimes I will have more than one activity in a certain area.  For example we may have a puzzle on a blanket for our older-little ones, but when the baby gets to that blanket he will get some Matchbox cars instead of the puzzle.  I also put a few books in each area in case they tire of their activity.

Our blanket time rules:

  • Toys may not come off of the blanket, carpet or table.
  • Children or parts of children may not come off of the blanket, carpet or chair. 🙂
  • No noise with your mouth.
  • You do not have to play with the activity or read the books, but you must have a happy face.
  • Pick up your area before you go to the next activity.

My ideal would be for each activity to keep the children happy for half an hour, but it’s usually more like 15-25 minutes.  We allow them to switch whenever they get antsy as long as it’s been at least 15 minutes.  This usually gives us about an hour and a half of calm quiet preschoolers during school time.

Types of activities for blanket time:

When each child has had a turn with each activity we put everything away and they may play quietly together in the room.  Often these two activities will keep our young ones entertained for the whole time that we are busy with school, but here are some other things that we have used with success:

Room time – Each child gets to go play in their room while listening to a story on CD.

Play-Doh, Finger paint, Acrylic paint or other messy activity. I get everything and everyone set up outside on the deck at a kid sized table.  Often the big kids will join in and we will move our reading and discussion outside too.

Plain ole “go run around the playroom (or deck)” time.

When the toddler begins to get tired as we near lunch time, they often will come and snuggle in my lap as I finish up reading, special for mom and special for toddler.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

For lots more ideas and links check out Preschool Activities.

How do you homeschool with preschoolers and toddlers in the house?

To read more about our homeschooling look at Why We Homeschool, How We Homeschool or you may read what I’ve written organized by subject if you visit the site map.

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17 Responses to Multi-level Homeschooling: Little Ones Part 2
  1. Katie
    September 1, 2009 | 1:36 pm

    Great post!

    I have been implementing “blanket time” with my 2 and 3 yr olds while reading aloud in the morning to my 4 and 6 yr old. I have been putting them on the same blanket, but this hasn’t worked as well as I’d like. I’m going to try and give them their own blankets; sounds like that is a better idea.


  2. Heidi
    September 1, 2009 | 2:54 pm

    I include my littlest ones in homeschooling by having activities especially for them. As you may have gathered from visiting our blog, we use a Montessori approach to home education. My 1yo has specific *school* activities that are hers, my almost 4yo has the same thing. Everyone is set up with their school things in a similar area and we have 2-3 hours each morning of school time. Everyone gets at least 1 individual lesson with mom and are expected to be *working* the rest of the time. That being said, if the 3yo wanders off after an hour to play in his room quietly (its attached to the living room…I can see him) or read books that is fine as long as he isn’t interrupting. The 1yo is still napping in the morning so after about an hour, I nurse her to sleep and that pretty much takes care of her time! I think this has trained all of my children to be independent workers who are respectful of the overall learning atmosphere.


  3. Jama
    September 1, 2009 | 3:21 pm

    I have used a similar set-up but to accomplish a different purpose. I call what you have described “centers.” I set up enough centers for each child I want to participate (usually 4). If I’m only trying to keep 2 children busy I set up extra centers so that once we start there are enough activities to keep them busy for at least an hour (about 15-20 minutes per activity). I did this a lot when I only had young kids and needed to clean house, work on meals, etc. In addition to the items you mentioned we use Little People sets, felt boards, blocks, Lincoln Logs, etc. I set a kitchen timer that lets everyone know when to rotate. Our rules are similar…especially the “you don’t have to play, but you do have to stay at the center and be content” rule.

    I have struggled with keeping my 22 mo old occupied this year. He has enough energy and curiosity for 10 kids. (I have 8 and he is by far my most active!!) He sits in my lap some, does play-pen time, sits at the table with an activity and it still isn’t enough.

    Last week my husband told our oldest 4 children that part of their school day was to spend 30 minutes with Andrew. They could not “have one eye on their grammar and one eye on him.” They are supposed to actually play with or read to him the whole time. So far this is working well. My kids aren’t thrilled about it, but I’m a lot happier. 🙂

    Homeschooling with little ones around isn’t easy. In fact I think it is the biggest challenge to homeschooling, but I try to remind myself that this is only a brief season of life. I look forward to reading the comments of others.


  4. Mama Mirage (Jessica)
    September 1, 2009 | 4:01 pm

    This is great! I really need to start that blanket time with my two. I sometimes wonder if it’s so hard with the first 2 because you don’t really know what will work or what it is possible to teach them yet? My daughter is usually hanging off my leg begging me to play with her while I’m doing housework and my son is screeching at the tops of his lungs in the playpen. It gets very very hard to have anything accomplished. Not to mention I am a very disorganized person. I get so focused on doing my best at cleaning something just perfect that it will take me all week to clean one room. I need to learn how to manage myself at the same time as my kids. As it is now, I am just glad I’ve progressed to being able to handle both kids at once. When Bug was born I would have to put him in the swing every time I needed to deal with Chicklet, and put Chicklet in the playpen every time I needed to deal with Bug. They were unhappy, I was unhappy… I’ve finally gotten to the point I can change one’s diaper with the other child in sight and not worrying the other will climb up something and fall off or get into my cooking or something. Maybe that has as much to do with them getting older as anything? I don’t know. But thanks for this post, it has given me some great places to work on. 🙂


  5. the inadvertent farmer
    September 1, 2009 | 5:28 pm

    Our play room is just off the library where we do most of our home schooling. There are special toys that are rotated and only come out during school time. We always have crayons and paper at the homeschool table that can be used quietly at anytime. If I had numerous itty bittys I think blanket time would be a terrific idea, but with only one remaining…sniff…it isn’t hard to keep him occupied for reasonable amounts of time. Kim


  6. Kim
    September 2, 2009 | 12:53 am

    I love this blanket time idea! I am definitely going to give it a try. I think it will be challenging for my youngest but I’m willing to try anything… you just never know what will work:) Thanks for sharing!


  7. Whitney
    September 2, 2009 | 1:16 am

    Loving the series! Thanks so much… its very timely.

    This year I am trying to include my little ones more and more but also work strategically around nap/rest time. So thankful that my 17 mo old is still taking 2 naps. My preschool aged girls will be in the room, around the table with us coloring and crafting while I read and discuss with the school aged children. There are distractions for sure but also an eagerness to participate in “table school” as we call it. The girls will also play in their room, play in the backyard, watch a dvd, listen to a book on c.d., etc., and I work separately with them during a time that the olders are working independently. (btw… we live in ca. and our yard is a safe postage stamp of space directly outside from where we are schooling 🙂

    Sometimes we take an academic break and we all work different jobs to get the house cleaned up or laundry sorted and i consider this “life school.”

    One more thing that works for our family… our 3 and 4 yr olds are attending a christian preschool 2 mornings a week. We love the school having used it with our older children before we homeschooled and its a blessing for the girls and our schedule. We have no issues with this option but understand if other homeschoolers disagree. 🙂

    God’s richest blessings to you and your readers!!


  8. Mama Mirage (Jessica)
    September 2, 2009 | 3:58 am

    Okay I tried something out this afternoon and… THANK YOU!!!
    My daughter who is almost 3 has been refusing to nap for the last 2 or 3 weeks or thereabouts. She has always cried or talked herself to sleep whether she’s alone or two feet from me. I don’t know how her mouth just HAS to be running 24-7 but I’m told it’s a little girl thing and a toddler thing and since she is both it’s probably normal… Lol!
    Well my son who is 1 has been waking up a couple times in the middle of the night again for some reason and I’ve been absolutely beat down exhausted what with not getting a nap with the kids anymore.
    So this afternoon I put both kids to bed and layed down with the intention of getting something of a nap before I fell asleep on my feet or something. My daughter’s bed is temporarily right next to mine. Well as usual I lay down and she’s going on and on a mile a minute and so I told her that we are going to have quiet time and there will be no noises from her mouth allowed during quiet time and that she must stay laying down. I said she can play with her stuffed animals but she must stay laying down and no mouth-noises. She opened her mouth and started jabbering and I firmly said, “No mouth-noises, remember?” She looked confused and just kept talking so I repeated myself as I tapped her cheek. This time I could see she was getting it. She smiled at me and stopped talking. I smiled back. She wiggled her fingers at me in a wave and I waved back and her smile got huge! I closed my eyes for a minute and then opened them and she was smiling at me in silence and then made a big (silent) production of closing her eyes for a minute. I leaned over and gave her a hug and she was so proud! She only needed to be reminded a couple of times and I got an HOUR of a nap this afternoon while she played with her stuffed animals in silence beside me and when I told her it was time for talking agian she was so very proud of herself for staying quiet and in SO much better of a mood than most no-nap days due to having at least had a rest. And I was in a super good mood too having gotten a nap! The kids seemed to sense my good mood for the rest of the day and were calm and obedient and even played by themselves for the most part while I cooked supper. *cue Twilight Zone theme*
    So thank you very much for the no mouth-sounds idea! My daughter took to it easily and it made a world of difference for us today. 🙂


  9. Nicki
    September 2, 2009 | 10:54 am

    This is exactly the idea I needed! Thank you! Since my 17mo old still takes 2 naps, we will do most of our reading and school during morning nap, while the 3 year old has blanket time. We need to start working on blanket-training today!


  10. Celee
    September 4, 2009 | 12:06 pm

    I love this series, too. I’ve used “blanket time” with my 3 year old and it works beautifully. What is the youngest age that this has worked for? What do you do with your 10 month olds?


    Raising Olives Reply:


    I have used blanket time with children as young as 8 or 9 months. It just takes consistency. When I begin training, I sit right beside the blanket and every time even their finger goes onto the floor outside of the blanket I pick up their hand, put it fully on the blanket and tell them to stay on the blanket. They need that line to be very clear, it helps them to understand. In the early training phase don’t expect to get nearly as much work done, but generally after a few days the baby understands and you have laid the foundation for being able to get a lot more work done in the long haul.

    Currently our baby takes both a morning and afternoon nap, so I don’t often use blanket time with him.


  11. melissa
    September 4, 2009 | 10:32 pm

    wow. i REALLY love this post!!! i mean, my daughter is in daycare, but sometimes i’d like to do some learning things at home, because she is so open to it! i love the blanket idea and games… and the listening to a CD in their room. i let her watch ‘pre-school’ tv… but i think i could probably find some really great CD’s for her!! she’s got a great imagination and i want to cultivate that. 🙂



  12. […] the little ones as you work with the big ones.  Our little ones are with us for the majority of the school day and often during this time I will stop and ask the younger ones […]

  13. Nikki
    July 31, 2011 | 2:06 am

    I noticed one of your rules was to have the child pick up the area before moving to the next. Does this work with toddlers? Or do you have to help them pick up and move along? I’m wondering because I’m thinking about having my 23 month old twins involved in blanket time– and eventually the baby too. So, I guess my question also is, about what age do they do these stations or blanket time?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Nikki,

    Yes it works with toddlers, but it doesn’t work with unsupervised toddlers. 🙂 It requires me to remind them to pick up and to point out what they missed as they pick up. I generally have them put all of the pieces, stuff back in the container on their blanket and then I put the container back in the cabinet or on the shelf for them.

    I start this with them as soon as they give up their morning nap. When does that happen? Hmmm, maybe around 15 or 18 months? My youngest baby who isn’t taking a morning nap is now 3 (can you believe it????) and I can’t remember when they stop taking that morning nap.

    Anyway, I’d say that your twins could do it. It will take some training to get them going, but it’s well worth it to have the ability to get that “quiet” (it’s all relative) school time with the other children.


  14. Janeen
    December 28, 2012 | 11:54 pm

    Hi! Love this post! I have two boys, ages 2 and 4 that I am constantly trying to keep occupied so that I can work with my older two boys. I love the blanket time idea because it keeps them with us during the learning time. I am worried about my 2yo and how he will take to this. He is VERY active. He will sit still and play with his favorites for 15-20 minutes at a time. But that doesn’t happen often. What do you suggest I do in the training process? Thanks so much!


  15. Elizabeth Jones
    February 20, 2015 | 2:26 pm

    You would actually remember me as Elizabeth Wellons. I’ve been meaning to come on here and leave a comment. I want you to know that this post has probably saved my sanity. Last fall my sister-in-law’s husband lost his job, resulting in my sister-in-law going to work, too. I have been babysitting their children during this time, as I am the only homemaker left in the immediate family. This has included homeschooling the six-year-old. Blanket time for the two three-year-olds, hers and mine (and pack-n-play time for the one-year-old), has been the only way I’ve been able to cope. I couldn’t have done it without you.


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