The Psychology of Homeschooling with a Toddler

Homeschooling.  With a toddler.  Need I say more?  As homeschool families everywhere start back to school, there seems to be an echo across the Internet.  "We had a great first day back, but the toddler ..."  The echoes are reverberating in my soul, and I haven't even started back to school yet.

Over the summer, we've kept a very loose routine because, as I am sure you know, when you're a mom, there is no such thing as a day "off".  If you don't provide some form of structure, you end up spending mom energy on household and relationship disasters instead.  So we've kept our Bible time and some independent math and Latin practice.  And even this amount of schedule has just about stretched my big kids + preschoolers + toddler mama-ringmaster capacity.

Rather listen to this post via podcast? Just click that play button!

If you search the Internet, you can find tons of fantastic posts about strategies for keeping toddlers busy while you homeschool.  I really liked this one.  And if your toddler is the kind who would just eat the busy bag, try this one.  I'm not going to spend time on strategies for the toddlers.  I want to talk about strategies for you.


First of all, you need to admit that this challenge is a huge consumer of limited energy resources.  When toddler crises arise (which they will and do) it causes an adrenaline spike ... and crash.  Running around after a little person with boundless energy takes its toll.

I know, maybe this isn't new news.  Maybe you're saying, "Well yeah, I wouldn't have clicked through to this post if I wasn't already feeling exhausted about the whole toddler thing."

So you know it's exhausting.  But do you make accommodations for the exhaustion?  We comprehend the biological stretch of being pregnant and morning sick.  We understand that a nursing baby and night feedings take a physical toll.

But do you give yourself actual credit for the toddler energy-expenditure?  I know everyone is different, but in my years on this rodeo circuit, homeschooling with a toddler trumps homeschooling pregnant or nursing hands-down.

If you bought a new vehicle and had a monthly payment, you wouldn't treat your budget as if it was the same as before and plan for just as much spending.  You'd have to set limits in other areas so as not to go into the red.

Homeschooling with a toddler is no different.  Your energy is a limited, finite quantity.  You cannot just will or motivate yourself into having more of it. 

Toddler is Temporary

On several occasions, I've talked to mothers who have one little one.  They want to know how to best time the arrival of a second sibling.

Sure, there are some things to take into consideration (that would be another blog post in and of itself) and of course, there is the whole issue of not always being able to control the timing as we imagined we could.

But what I always share (and what is relevant to this conversation) is that in the life of a toddler, nine or ten months is an eternity.  There is no way to look at your little person today and forecast exactly where he or she will be at the moment in the future when they become a big brother or sister.

How does this apply to homeschooling?

It's August.  You're planning for a school year.  Your toddler will be a completely different person in May. How will they change?  Will it get easier or harder?  Or both in different ways?

There really is no way to predict.  Moral of the story?  Plan for right now.  Plan how you will love and provide for your toddler and your other children today.  Tomorrow.  This week.  This month.

Maybe your plan doesn't include all of the "essentials".  Maybe this system doesn't seem sustainable.  Don't worry - it doesn't have t be.

In the land of toddlerhood, even the best schedule has a shelf-life of about three months (tops).  After that, everything has changed enough that it needs to be reworked completely.

Can your family survive three months without [memorizing Bible verses, doing science experiments, going to the park, insert your own ...]?

Of course they can.  And what about after that?

Backburner that question for three months and take it up again when it's relevant and when you have the real-time data on toddler development.

This is Not a Personal Failure

I am definitely not writing this post from the top of Success Mountain.  Last night as hubby and I climbed into bed, I was in tears.  Perhaps over how much I was dreading the school year.  Maybe more so over the guilt I felt about the dread.

So this morning, I decided to process all of the raw emotion the way I process best: writing.  The above paragraphs?  Those were written for me.  (Yeah, ask my kids.  I talk to myself all.the.time.)

The richest man in the world still has limited funds and has to make choices about what to spend them on. And the most energetic mom still has a finite amount of energy.

Having personal limitations isn't a character flaw.  But refusing to admit that you have them, or to plan accordingly, might be one.  Could you, should you, might you [nutrition, exercise, new schedule, insert your own ... ]?  Sure, maybe.

But right now, today, you have this body.  This energy level.  This toddler.  Just do today.  And know, right now, right down to those tired bones, that you are not alone. 

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:33-34

What helps you to mentally face the challenges and exhaustion of homeschooling with toddlers?  Your words of encouragement might be just what another mom needs to hear today!


Lynna Sutherland is a homeschool mother of eight always-homeschooled kiddos ranging in age from high school to kindergarten. She loves to encourage parents in the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and offer creative ways to manage a large family and a multi-age homeschool!

  • I love this post. When I first began homeschooling, I had a 4 month old, a 2 yr old, a 3 yr old, plus 4 kids who were being homeschooled. Needless to say, I was frazzled. Now I’m down to a 3 yr old as my youngest, although I do have a bunch more kids now. πŸ™‚ Sometimes we moms can feel like we’re the only ones who are going through these tough times, and we feel like we’re doing something wrong, so I’m so glad you wrote this!

    • Thanks, Shelly! As you can see, I appreciated your post on keeping toddlers occupied, too!

    • It’s funny you should say that, Melissa, as I feel like a lot of the thoughts I was chewing on were inspired by your Scopes! So mutual encouragement, I guess!

  • Lynna, thank you so much for this. I had tears in my eyes as I read it. It was spot on and perfect for this mama’s heart. ❀️

    • Thank you, friend! One day at a time, in the Grace of God, right?!?

  • Ohmygosh, Lynna, all I can say is “WORD!”
    You got this straight up…so much wisdom here, friend!! Pinned, tweeted, etc… And I’d love to invite you to share this with our own readers at Coffee and Conversation this week! This is uber-useful and spot on…
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

    • Thanks, Pat! They say “write what you know” … and well, this is a big chunk of my life right now!

  • Homeschooling a 9 yo, 8 yo, 5 yo, and…the cutest little Tasmanian Devil of a toddler ever. I recently started a blog to help me process through writing, too. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement here.

    • Katie, that is exactly why I started blogging – as a place to “think out loud”. Glad to know it’s been helpful to you, too. I took a peek at your blog as well – fun stuff! Loved your description of all the different eaters in your family! Haha!

  • I loved this post! I do usually feel SO alone. Like nobody else is doing or can understand what I’m doing (homeschooling with a toddler, preschooler, highschooler, AND 5 in between them!) so this was really encouraging πŸ™‚

    • Rachel, thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s so true – sometimes it’s a real boost just knowing someone else understands!

  • Thanks for this! I’ve been falling asleep upright by 8pm most nights…and didn’t entirely attribute it to the toddler, but, really, it IS a lot of it. The house is completely destroyed after letting him on the loose for 45 minutes to get math done. He loves markers. He finds them, no matter where they are. I adore him more than anything. But I love your quote about “finite energy”. I’ve got to tweak some things so we survive next semester a little more gracefully! πŸ™‚ Bless you.

    • Steph, I’m so glad to know that this was helpful to you. We set such high expectations for ourselves as mamas and sometimes they are just beyond the capacity of our resources! Hope the new year goes more smoothly for you. ❀

  • I loved this and realized I was already doing some of these modifications but now I feel like they’re justified! Like not making health goals (other than try to get more sleep, planning in short chunks, and putting off commitments outside the home until someday. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Hilary, YES! Absolutely to every one of these. Do today. It’s enough. But then again, you don’t really need to be told that, do you?!

  • Cheryl Baranski says:

    Loved the blog post. Our two youngest that I home school are middle school and high school age. At times though the middle schooler reminds me of a toddler.

    • It is so funny you should say that! Just the other day, I was thinking of getting on Facebook and saying “My 11 year old sometimes seems like he’s reverted to toddler behavior. Is this normal?” I guess it is!

  • Every mother knows that doing anything with a toddler in the house ranks high on the list of parenting frustrations. Homeschooling with a toddler takes that frustration to a new level and may leave you wondering how you will ever survive. The good news is that toddlers grow up. Eventually that little tornado will be the one sitting at your school table, learning along with his older siblings. Homeschooling parents frequently say that staying flexible is the key to success when a toddler is present. While you may desire to have an organized, well planned, rigidly scheduled school day, your toddler needs some attention and will demand it. Have your older children take turns playing with your toddler in another room while you teach the others. As a result, this playtime may teach valuable life lessons to both your toddler and school aged child. If this isn’t possible, enlist the help of a mothers helper. Homeschooled teenagers are often very willing to help out in order to gain babysitting experience or home extra credit.

    Cheers then.

    • I agree, Isabelle. One of the main reasons we homeschool is to build relationships. So little people wanting part of mama’s time is not a distraction from the goal, but rather the goal itself. Sometimes the struggle isn’t necessarily to better manage logistics (though that can help) but rather to better align mama’s expectations with the busy life of homeschooling … especially with a toddler!

  • Thank you for this! I’m in the thick of it right now with five kids and my youngest is two and every day feels like a circus. I’ve been beating myself up for not being able to do everything, so words are so encouraging to me. I feel like I’ve been in a never-ending cycle of one toddler stage after another, so it feels like I’ve been “failing” for years and years and I can never get on top of things. I have low energy levels due to some health problems, which only makes things worse! Anyway, thanks again for helping us know that it’s not our faults!

    • Yes! For those of us who have multiple children, the “toddler” years can last a decade or more! This year, with my oldest in 11th grade is the first year I’ve EVER homeschooled without a toddler, nursing baby, pregnancy or some combination! Whew. My midwife always said that it takes about until your youngest is 5 to feel fully like “yourself” again. I don’t know if moms are ever the same after having kids, but I think I most agree with her as my youngest is now 4.5 and this feels like a much different place than I’ve been in since my oldest was born.

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