Felicity, our firstborn child was an excellent baby. She fed every 3 or 4 hours, I’d change her nappy, pop her in her cot and soon she’d drop off to sleep without a problem. Between naps, she was happy and contented. And at the age of 5 weeks, she started sleeping through the night… in her own cot… in her own room. I thought I was the perfect mother.Duncan was an almost excellent baby. He fed more frequently and at 5 weeks of age, he wasn’t sleeping through the night. I almost despaired and started to doubt my mothering abilities. But then at 11 weeks of age, he slept 10 hours straight… in his own cot. Perfect.
I thought about a third child. Yes, I could handle another baby. There was no limit to my talents. Easy.
But for the first time, things did not go according to my plan. Instead of another perfect baby, I had four miscarriages, one after the other. I lost all my confidence (and a great deal of my pride) and I knew for the first time, I couldn’t cope on my own. I turned to God and asked Him to take charge.
Eventually, Callum was born. Joy returned to our days with the arrival of this tiny miraculous bundle. I had no thought of getting him into a convenient feeding and sleeping routine. I fed him on demand, carried him around in my arms or a baby sling and I didn’t even assemble the cot. Callum slept snuggled up between Andy and me at night. And no, he didn’t sleep through the night for several years. But it never worried me. I had discovered there were more important things than being in control. I was learning to listen to my children’s needs and to look upon them as miraculous blessings and to really appreciate and enjoy them.
And so when we began homeschooling, I tried not to look at our babies and toddlers as little people who were making our learning life difficult. No, they were a real blessing and their needs were just as important as the educational needs of the older children. And I found that as long as our babies were allowed to stay close to us and feed frequently and snuggle close, they were very content and we were able to arrange our days to fulfil the needs of all our children both younger and older.
Our attitudes towards our little ones can help but sometimes more is needed. So Karla and Angela have kindly offered their practical suggestions for unschooling when there are babies and toddlers in the family.
We have a long history of unschooling and (w/ 8 kids and the 9th on the way) having babies/toddlers around. We have handled it a couple different ways.
When the older boys were younger, they always seemed to want my involvement at the *worst* times. So if they were asked to do a chore or go to bed, it was suddenly the time they wanted to explore whatever topic, do this experiment, etc. Throw in the needs of the babies and toddlers and it made me crazy. I figure unschooling has as a focus the child pursuing knowledge so they did a lot of solo learning which was great. Then just like the library has hours of operation, I as their mother/resource/facilitator have hours of availability. I told them my availability and it made a huge difference in the flow of our day.
I think it is perfectly reasonable to do things during naptime that would be difficult to do when the toddler/baby is awake and active. To me, that is not unreasonable structure. That is just common sense. 🙂 Otherwise, they can do what my eldest did and read the experiment books, find one he wanted to do, ask me if he could do it (solo) and then do it locked up in the bathroom so the pesky younger siblings didn’t interfere. 🙂
The other thing we’ve done with various levels of success is to have activities available for the toddler that are pulled out at times when we need a time of distraction. At times, we rotated the activities by day of the week. Other times, it was just sort of random, but the best thing was to have each activity come out no more than once or twice per week. Some of the activities were more high chair activities (we used the old-fashioned kind w/ a metal tray which worked awesome for an art chair). Others we put on the floor (at one point we had an area rug and asked that the activity stay on the run but a blanket or hula hoop works too).
High chair activities:
*paint by number books
*button box for sorting and examining (under supervision, we have had several pretty young toddlers who have done well with this)
* colored rice and magnets (older preschoolers)
*markers (only in the high chair though!)
*butter and a cookie sheet (to make a mess w/ and draw in)
*fisher price sets
*plastics (figurines etc)
*Discovery Toys sets
*Duplos (these worked several times per week)
*dish pan w/ water and stuff to “wash” or play w/ (put it on a big towel)
I also have found we have to tweak our ideas and routines based on our current children and stage of life. I hope you are inspired to find solutions that work for your family!
My kids are 21 to 5, so I am not currently dealing with babies, toddlers, or pregnancies, but I did so for many years, and I think I do remember the challenge.
First: play with the little kids first thing in the morning. If they have focused attention from you, they will then be willing to play alone while you do things requiring focused attention with the older kids.
Second: try to involve the little kids as much as possible. Do not segregate them to another room, for example. I had a little slide in our dining room at one time for a very active toddler.
Last but not least: make sure everyone has a high protein breakfast. This is even more important than #1, so I guess I should title it ” # 1/2″ . Greek yogurt and frozen strawberries in the blender are fantastic.
Next time… Anna and Willa