How to Occupy Toddlers during homeschool: activity ideas and management strategies

How to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool: Activity Ideas and Management Strategies

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This Ask Me Monday (AMM4) question covers the topic of ways to Occupy toddlers during homeschool. This article includes toddler and pre-school age activity ideas and management strategies.

Submitted Question:

I’d love some insight….I have soon to be 4 year old twins. One, my daughter, has Down Syndrome. Her brother does not. He is very interested in “doing school” so I figured I’d incorporate him into the school day with big brother who will be 1st grade. I’m not sure what to do with her though. While she shows signs of wanting to sit in and learn as well, and include her as much as she is interested in, her attention span is almost nonexistent. So, my question is “what are some activities that she could do if she gets bored with what we are working on?” I really want her to be able to sit with us but without distracting big brother. Any and all advice is welcome.

Activity Ideas to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool

The first step in keeping your daughter entertained is finding a variety of toys and activities for her to use during school time that will hold her interest. I have compiled some activity ideas below. If your daughter is like some of my children, I have to vary what I do to maintain their interest. It can take some time to collect a good rotation of materials. It may be helpful to reserve these materials exclusively for school time.

Folder Games

A sample of file folder games including matching colors and matching shapes.

Folder games are reusable activities that are glued into a file folder. Although there may be some initial prep time when creating file folder activities, they save time in the long run as they are reusable. If you are unable to take the needed time to make the activities, pre-made file folder activities are also available for purchase.

Pre-reading and Other Fine Motor Activities

Pre-reading and find motor activities can be fun and occupy toddlers during homeschool. Matching activities, playing with letters, and other tasks can help develop needed skills while keeping the young one entertained.

CLICK HERE to view my Pinterest Board on pre-reading activity ideas.

CLICK HERE to view my Pinterest Board on fine motor activity ideas.

Play dough

Playdough is a fun activity option for many children. The dough can be used during open play activities or as a focused learning activity. A set with safety play dough scissors is a great way to work on cutting skills without having to worry about close supervision. Motor skills and planning are also addressed as the dough is rolled, smashed, or made into shapes with cookie cutters. As a child is ready, play dough can be rolled and formed into letters or written on with a dull pencil.

Manipulatives or Other Educational Toys to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool




Manipulatives are objects typically used for counting or sorting that can be fun to play with. Many stack and connect together. Manipulatives can be used for color sorting, fine motor practice, matching, and copying activities. Various shapes, forms, or even letters can be drawn on index cards and then copied with the manipulative.

CLICK HERE to view my post covering alphabet toys that may help keep your daughter occupied during learning time.

Listen to music or watch videos with headphones

If your daughter likes music, a CD player or Mp3 player with headphones may be an activity to bring out during school time. Download some favorite songs or learning videos. For educational videos and songs, my kids have liked Baby Signing time, Rachael and the Treeschoolers, and Dream English Kids. Signing time and the Treeschoolers videos teach basic sign language, vocabulary, and early learning concepts. “Dream English Kids” videos are mostly educational and can be watched for free on youTube or using a YouTube Kids App. They also have downloadable songs and videos on their website.

Sensory Bins to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool

A sensory bin is a plastic tub filled with some kind of material that can be scooped, poured, or otherwise easily sifted and moved around. Beans, rice, pasta, lentils, kinetic sand, or any other small material can be used. A simple sensory bin may also include measure cups, small bowls, and/or a funnel. Sensory bins can also be created around a theme and changed out weekly for renewed interest. CLICK HERE to go to my Pinterest Board with sensory bin related pins and for images and ideas on creating sensory bins.

*Disclaimer: My kids love sensory bins and do well supervised. If I leave the room for a few minutes, a substantial portion of the sensory material will end up on the floor. If I am nearby, I can remind the little ones to keep the material in the bin.

Structured Teaching Activities

Structured teaching is a framework for setting up learning tasks. This framework was originally designed for autistic children, but a similar method may also work with your daughter. I have two sample posts of a structured teaching activity.

CLICK HERE to view a task with the LeapFrog Letter Factory.

CLICK HERE to view an task with a toy beehive and bees.

Ways Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool While Simultaneously Working with Children Doing Different Activities

Learning Stations

The activity ideas previously described may work well for keeping your daughter occupied, but may also end up distracting the other children. One way to approach this challenge is by creating learning stations. With stations, each child can have a turn with each type of activity as desired.


Set up 2 or more activities at the table or in different areas of the room. One of the stations could be doing work with you. The areas you set up are your stations. They can be labeled with colors, shapes, or words. When I taught school, I labeled my stations with colors.


Make a rotation schedule for the station. This could be as simple as giving each child a check sheet or index card with the color order for their station sequence. When the station is complete, they can check off the color and move to the next station.

A 3 by 5 card with a red square, a yellow square, and a blue square

Visual Timer and Choice Board

If your daughter is getting bored with school work and trying to distract her brothers to play with her, a visual timer may help her see how much longer until they can take a break. A visual timer, in combination with a choice board, may help her give them the time they need to get their school work done.


A visual timer is a timer that shows how much time is left with an overlay. I bought this visual timer from Amazon and love it.



A choice board with 5 photos of different play activities

A choice board is a visual representation of activity options. It can be made with photographs that are taped on the board. The activity choices can be changed out or rotated through as needed.


At the start of a school activity, set the timer to show when the work time will be finished. When your daughter gets bored with table work and wants to distract her brothers, show her the timer and present the choice board. Say something to the effect of, “We still have work time. We will be finished in ___ minutes (while pointing to the timer). You can pick one of these activities (point to the choice board) to do until we are done.” If she tires of the picked activity before you are complete, let her pick another one from the choice board.

Summary of How to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool

Keeping a sibling busy during school time is a challenge many homeschooling families face. Select activities you think will engage the younger child. These activities can include early learning tasks, pre-reading activities, fine motor activities, or anything else that is of interest to the child. Using a choice board or work stations may help the child focus on her activities while minimizing distractions from the children doing school work.

Ask Me Monday

This blog post is part of my Ask Me Monday series. CLICK HERE to learn more about Ask Me Monday.

To submit a question for Ask Me Monday, send an e-mail to Please put “Ask Me Monday” in the subject line.

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19 Replies to “How to Occupy Toddlers During Homeschool: Activity Ideas and Management Strategies”

  1. We don’t homeschool but I have a toddler and these are great!!! Would work during my older kids homework time too

  2. Great suggestions! I don’t have any toddlers, but will send a fee friends who do to take a look at this post!

  3. These are all great ideas! I struggle very much to keep our special needs 5 year old occupied long enough to teach the older kids. I’m definitely adding file folder games to our list.

  4. These are great tips! We definitely used play dough and sensory bins when my daughter was a toddler during our home school years! Even now as a college student she keeps her hands busy with home made ‘slime’ ; )

  5. Such great tips for those who homeschool or run daycares! I could even use a few just with every day life with a toddler.

  6. Oh, I remember so many years ago now, keeping the youngest busy–having fun and learning herself–while teaching my two older kids. It was a challenge at times. You have some really good ideas here!

  7. These are great ideas even for non – homeschooling family’s. You could use these ideas for your toddler white their older sibling / siblings are doing homework.

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