Here are some of the things I have come up with recently to keep our 3-year-old and 11 mont- old busy while we wade through Spanish, Grammar, Mathematics, History, Literature...you get the picture.
1. First things first... We get up early and the two littles sleep a little later. I try to have my school aged children up in a tiered fashion with the eldest starting her math at 6:30 am when the house is still very quiet and she can concentrate uninterrupted. My 11 y/o is up by 7am to start on her math and then my 9 y/o follows suit by 7:30ish.
2. We have a cupboard dedicated soley to the 3 y/o. Most of the things in the cupboard are items that he can do himself or with very little help. There are art supplies, games, coloring books, watercolor paints, etc. He can get whatever he wants out and sit with some of the big kids at the table.
4. Learning to deal with messy learning. Small children learn almost entirely by trial and error...which usually causes some sort of mess in my opinion. I am learning to better deal with the fact that the fun they are having will usually result in some sort of mess. We just take turns cleaning it up. (eventually some of that rice ends up spilling all over the counter and floor)
So, what are my favorite things to keep the toddler busy? I have a grandma and aunt to thank for most of these ideas as they worked at a preschool that my grandmother owned for years together...they have a vast wealth of knowledge and ideas that I try to put to use in "busy bags" that I can keep in the cupboard I mentioned above.
* Rice or Beans...cheap and fun! Hand over a bag of rice (around $1.50) and lots of utensils to a toddler and it is game on! We just keep using the same rice over and over.
*Fishing...This awesome fishing set you see was made by my aunt for us to use in homeschooling. It is some fish cutouts from a magazine that are laminated with contact paper and each have a small paperclip attached so they can be picked up with the magnent fishing pole. (this is a HUGE hit here)
*straws and fuzzballs
*Cotton balls and tongs