My Best Toddler-Busy Idea After Having Five Kids

January 5, 2011

I’ve finally found a simple way to keep my rambunctious toddler busy . . . and no, it’s not a new TV show or the computer (Yes, he is already a pro with the computer and loves Starfall and his Dora computer game.)

In fact, this works so well, I wonder why I didn’t figure it out with the first four kids.

Do you sometimes feel like you’ll have perfected your parenting skills about the time your last kid turns 18?  I guess my older kids should just consider themselves experimental parenting subjects.  🙂

Here’s a picture of my brilliant idea:  Toddler Boxes

I know it’s hard to see what’s in the boxes.  Here’s a better picture:

So, I went to the store and bought a handful of clear plastic boxes.  I looked for a size that was large and shallow.

Then I scrounged through my school and toy cupboards for ‘sets’ to put in the boxes.  Here what I looked for:

  • Not too many pieces.  There need to be few enough pieces that they can be dumped out and cleaned up without any help.
  • A mix of ‘learning’ with ‘toy’ sets, though there is a lot of overlap at this age.
  • New, new, new!  Rotate!  Every Sunday, we put everything away and the older kids help me find new things to put in the boxes.

What I like about them:

  • Jacob is learning to clean up with the rule of “Only one box out at a time.”  . . .Wait . . .  I have to say that again.  Jacob is learning to clean up!
  • He can entertain himself while I’m helping other kids!  (That could also be repeated)
  • He gets to use our nice learning sets that have been protected in a locked cupboard, or forgotten toys.  In the past, Jacob would get into the cupboard and just empty shelf after shelf before we noticed, creating a huge mess.
  • The older kids are attracted to the newly available sets and play with him.   I love seeing my kids working and playing together.

Ideas for toddler boxes:

1.  Playdough (recipe) – add some plastic utensils, cookie cutter, and a wooden dowel for a rolling pin.

If you hear strange sounds in the other room:  a rapid tapping noise followed by a soft humming, check to make sure your toddler isn’t putting dried playdough in the fan because it’s so fun to watch it splatter across the room. 🙁

2.  Play food like this wooden set my Melissa & Doug (happens to be over half off today for $8.50 – Borders also carries Melissa & Doug and often has single-item email coupons)

Don’t you love seeing your older kids enjoying time with the littlest?

3.  Pattern making sets.  For a frugal version, find any toy with multiples of similar items (army men, beads, matchbox cars), and make your own cards by drawing simple patterns on index cards for your toddler to copy.

4. All kinds of sorting sets!

I had no idea how much he would love to sort.  These sparkly puff balls were in the craft section of Walmart for a couple dollars.  The metal cups are condiment cups from Sams Club.  The first day he had this set he must have sorted, dumped, and remixed them 8 or 9 times.

5. Puzzles

6. Simple Games like Go Fish and Memory

We sure loved having Grandma visit this last week.

7. Stacking or Building sets

He’s really enjoyed this alphabet tower we got on an Amazon ‘under $10’ sale.  He also enjoys the garage sale Jenga set we found and anything else that can be stacked high and knocked down.

I hope that gives you some good ideas for your toddlers.  If you’ve used this type of method, I’d love to hear about any favorite sets your toddler enjoys.  Switching them out every week means we’re always looking for good ideas.


Posted under Toddler Tips

50% off Melissa and Doug Toys Today Only

December 3, 2010

Today, Amazon has 50% off a lot of their Melissa and Doug toys if you’re looking for a semi-educational toy for your toddler!  These are our favorite to use for the younger kids’ schoolwork . . . if you can call it school 🙂

They have two of our favorites included in the sale:

The Birthday Cake – I have blown these wooden candles out and made wishes too many times to count.  When a real birthday only comes around once a year, this is a great way to relive the excitement or heighten anticipation for an upcoming birthday.

The Cutting Food Box –  My toddlers have always wanted to ‘help’ in the kitchen, and they love using their own toy knife on the fruits and veggies.  Great practice.

A second deal is on the Melissa and Doug big floor puzzles:

Many are marked down with an additional 10% off if you buy $30:

This pirate is one of my boys’ favorites and it’s marked down to $9.82

My youngest loves their Safari Puzzle like this (a previous edition).  This one is 4 feet long with big pieces he can handle easily and lots of animals to keep his interest.  It’s also on sale for $9.99

And don’t forget to get a free 3-month Prime Membership if you’re a caregiver to get free 2-day shipping on any size order.


(P.S.  I appreciate anyone who orders through my Amazon links, which supports this site!)

Posted under Homeschool Bargains, Toddler Tips

Keeping the Cute Rascal Busy While We Homeschool

June 14, 2010

Doesn’t he look like the cutest little homeschooler who never gets into any trouble?  Ha!

Here’s what I found one morning when I walked downstairs and found all four of his siblings sitting around eating breakfast, watching TV, with Dad in the family room right behind him . . . Yes!  Those are gum wrappers and he has eaten at least 8 pieces as fast as he can. 

Moms, does it ever feel like you’re the only seeing person in a family of blind people?  Why does no one else notice the 2-year-old scarfing down gum as fast as he can, until Mom comes downstairs?!?

So, how do I keep this little guy busy?  I enlist him to help me in whatever I’m doing.  He sits on the counter when I’m making sandwiches, catches the papers off the printer when I’m printing worksheets, draws circles while the other kids are writing, and anything else I can think to keep him busy. 

Here he is helping me hammer a little turtle stamp into some soap I made.  Only afterwards did I shudder a bit when I realized I’d just taught him how to use a hammer.  Eeek!

How do you keep your toddler(s) busy during a homeschool day?

Posted under Homeschool Tips, Toddler Tips

The Cost of Keeping a Homeschooling Toddler Busy

April 7, 2010

With my youngest almost 2, he’s sometimes a handful while I’m trying to help the older kids with their school.  This morning, he saw the paint bottles we had out yesterday and got all excited.  I stripped him down to his diaper and set him at the table to paint.  I stuck around for a bit to help him, and he seemed very engrossed and excited to just sit there and paint.

I went into our schoolroom, off the kitchen, to help the other kids with some online spelling and Teaching Textbooks math.

Here’s what I found about 15 minutes later:

“What?  I was just painting.  You said I could paint.  And no, I don’t have a dirty diaper.  It’s just paint.”

Cost of 15 minutes helping the other kids with their school = 20 minutes for a bath, new diaper (his was dry), 5 minutes washing down both chairs, 5 minutes rinsing out two very brown rags, the paint plate, and 3 sopping brushes.

A baby who loves trying new things = Priceless  🙂

Posted under Homeschool Crafts, Toddler Tips

Toddler Lessons – Try a Shape Hunt!

March 6, 2009

What do dice, small Kleenex boxes, a Jack-in-the-box, and a red wooden block have in common?  Well, besides part of the mess all over the living room floor 🙂

They are all cubes!

So try this next time your toddler or pre-school age child is pulling on your pant leg and begging for attention while you’re trying to help the other 4 children with their school.

Send him or her on a Shape Hunt!

  • Pick a household example of a cube, sphere, cone, cylinder, pyramid, tetrahedron, or rectangular prism/cuboid.  Ie. soda cans, funnels, boxes, balls, sticks, etc.
  • Show it to your child and explain the characteristics of the shape.
  • Send them off to find other examples in the house.
  • Choose a tally/reward for each item found:  a small treat, a sticker on a page, a check mark on a chart, or make a chart and have them draw a small picture of each item they bring back in the coresponding section.
  • When you’re done display their chart proudly on the fridge.
  • Play the shape game as a distraction at the grocery car, during car drives, on the church bench . . . ok, I’m thinking of way too many places my pre-schooler is bored and needs distracting.

What fun ideas do you have for this age?  I find my 3-year-old gets impatient and bored when I’m trying to help the older kids.  I’d love some more ideas!!

Posted under Toddler Tips

Print a Bugzzle Triangle Puzzle from this fun Photoshop Tutorial

January 28, 2009

Isn’t this a beautiful puzzle?  It’s eye-catching enough to stop even my hyper toddler for a second look.


I was looking for a blank puzzle to print and found this Photoshop puzzle tutorial on how to design an entertaining triangle brainteasing puzzle. The trick is to arrange the triangle-shaped puzzle pieces so that the bug bodies all line up. It’s not as easy as it looks!

You may not know much Photoshop, but the author, Enrique Flouret, is nice enough to let us download the final products which are easy to print on sticker paper or simply glue to cardboard or cardstock, and cut out for a fun activity:

If you make one of these, would you mind commenting and let us know what materials you used and how it turned out?

Posted under Homeschool Crafts, Toddler Tips

Blanket Boxes – a Solution to Toddler Toy Messes.

October 27, 2008

Did you think the alphabet blocks were a good ‘school’ idea for your toddler?  How about the kitchen set with the plastic knife so she could practice cutting pretend food in true Montessori style? 

Well, it’s all great until you come back from helping the older kids with their school, step on an alphabet block, hop around holding your foot only to slip on the plastic knife and crash to the floor.  If you can bite off any *#$%@ words (kudos to you), I have an idea that might make life a little easier . . . and cleaner.  Blanket Boxes! 

Telling a toddler to keep their toys in one area or one room is a close to impossible task, but with the help of a lap blanket and their toys sorted into boxed sets, you can make it much more manageable and keep your toddler busy while you work with your older children.

 Blanket Boxes are a simple enough idea:

  • Make Blanket Boxes – Sort your toddler toys/school sets into boxed sets with lids that fit.  We like the dollar store plastic shoe boxes.  They’re cheap, a standard size that stacks, and I can always go get more of the same kind when I need to.
  • Make Labels – Label them with big letters.  Hey, it’s never too early to introduce letters and reading.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly a toddler can recognize the word “FOOD” when it’s printed in large enough block letters on their box of toy food.
  • Get a lap blanket – one per child.  Even better, let them go to the store with you and pick out one they like.  It increases the sense of ownership.  We like using the fleece lap blankets that come out in the fall and winter.  Finally, teaching them to fold up the blanket when they’re done is a great life skill that will come in handy at laundry time.
  • Introduce “Blanket Time” or name it any catchy phrase you’d like.  If you can, choose a standard time of the day, like right after breakfast, after a nap, or as the first school activity.  This age child thrives on routine. 
  • Teach the routine – When Blanket Time starts, show your toddler how to get their blanket, spread it out (more life skills:-) choose a blanket box, and then play for the set time, making sure to keep all the pieces on the blanket.
  • Clean up – Best of all, when it’s time to clean up, you and your toddler can grab the four corners of the blanket to gather up the pieces and then dump them into the box.
  • With an older toddler, you might store the boxes on an accessible shelf and introduce the idea of cleaning up one box and putting it away before getting out another.  (Oh how we wish our children would master this skill!!!)

How do you keep your younger children occupied and learning during school time?  Please share your ideas in the comment section.  Thanks!

Posted under Toddler Tips

Bracelets, Fruit Loops, and Peace and Quiet.

September 24, 2008

So, you’ve got the perfect day of homeschool planned out.  You jump from child to child, helping them with their work, just staying ahead of the, “Mom, I need help,” cries.  There are moments when it all seems to be working perfectly.

And then, your perfect teaching morning is completely disrupted by your toddler.  When he finds that he doesn’t have your attention, he does his best to get it.  What starts as “Mommy, play with me,” often escalates into tormenting the other kids doing their schoolwork, or the always reliable, flop on the floor, full-blown screaming tantrum.

I love talking to fellow homeschooling parent, because they have such good tips for moments like this.

Here is a favorite:

Edible Bracelets


  • A bowl of any loop cereal:  Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, or Cheerios (though these are a bit small)
  • An assortment of pipe cleaners
  • scissors
  • a bored toddler


  • Measure and cut a pipe cleaner so it will fit around your toddlers wrist, with a little extra for twisting at the end.
  • Bend one end of the pipe cleaner to keep the loops from sliding off the end
  • Show your toddler how to thread the loop cereal onto the pipe cleaner. 
  • When he/she is done, twist it closed around their wrist, and let them eat all the cereal off or save it to show Dad when he gets home.


  • This is a great fine motor practice skill, and it’s just challenging enough for most toddlers that they really have to focus . . . quietly! . . .  to do it right.
  • For the more advanced, you can add some pattern skills by having them alternate colors of loop cereal if you have that kind, or sizes of loops, etc.  For more math skills, have them sort the loops by color, size, or shape, catagories before getting started.
  • Charity:  Suggest they make bracelets for their sibling or friends.  If they get excited to do this, they are learning to share, and it will take them longer = more peace and quiet!
  • Sense of accomplishment:  Make sure to mention that your toddler is ‘doing schoolwork’, or pop out the camera to take a few pictures when the bracelet is finished.  Your toddlers will beam at the idea that they are ‘doing school’ like their older siblings.

Do you have some quick and easy ideas to keep the younger kids happy, busy, and learning during the school day?  Please share them in the comment section.

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Posted under Toddler Tips