I think we can all ‘high 5’ each other for getting this far with even one child, but for those of us who have two or more these last 10 weeks have posed the additional challenge of ensuring everyone is alive and unharmed by the end of the day:-) I appreciate this advice might be coming a little late in the day for many as I’m sure you’ve gotten into your own rhythm by now, or have given up on the home schooling front altogether, but I thought this reflection of how we’ve failed and flourished over the last few weeks might be helpful to future weeks and general harmony in the home.
My top tips:
Don’t organise too much - stick to one activity for all! I know the natural inclination if you have quite an age gap is to set them up on different age appropriate tasks, but I’ve found that this approach has left me splitting hairs and trying to manage too many things at once - try when you can to set up one activity and look at how to engage all ages - some examples are below.
Try to focus on one child per day - it is almost impossible to get it right for all the whole time - it is ok if one child is bored, left to their own devices or are even entertained by one of the many digital babysitting devices to allow you to focus on another child - this also encourages independence and tolerance for others’ need for attention.
Encourage teamwork and cross age teaching of skill - some examples are below.
Encourage mutual regulation - ask older children to monitor the regulation of little ones - through the focus on little ones, often older children who are struggling to self-regulate can pick up useful tips and insight around their own needs (see earlier posts on self-regulation here).
Recognise the difference in focus times and have something else lined up for your little ones - if I am doing table top activities with my two girls, then I know that my 6 year old will focus for the whole activity, whereas my little one will need a change so if we are painting, I will then have play doh or puzzles at the ready to give my little one some variety, but still keeping her in position to enable me to focus on my older one i.e. she’s not running upstairs and emptying tubes of toothpaste all over the bathroom floor whilst I’m doing reading and writing with my older one:-)
Use this as an excellent opportunity for little ones wanting to copy older siblings and extend their skills - get little ones involved in lessons, even if most will go over their head you’ll be surprised how much will go in! My little one has started holding a pencil like her big sister and ‘writing’ and ‘reading’ - she’ll come and join our writing sessions and scribble pre-writing shapes and has begun to orientate books around the correct way and says “I’m reading a book mummy”. This is such a wonderful opportunity for little ones to learn from older siblings where previously older siblings would have been in school.
Bake and make together - I’ve included some lovely home recipes for messy play below - even if your little ones can’t get involved totally, they can watch whilst older siblings make things and then benefit from the results! The wonderful thing about homemade messy play is that if you have got children who mouth or eat material then it is all safe - just be weary of lentils as a good friend of mine experienced... her little one was playing with water and lentils and threw them over her lawn, and a few weeks later she had sprouting lentils - who knew!
Remember all ages love messy play - you’ll be surprised that even your unruly teen or older primary aged child will enjoy getting messy! If they truly are too cool for school, then you can always get them involved under the guise of ‘helping’ a younger sibling! I remember having my 12 year old Goddaughter up to stay last year and she thoroughly enjoyed getting involved with sand and mud play under the disguise of ‘helping’ my little ones - I think she enjoyed it more than they did, although she is far too cool for school to admit this:-)
There will always be good days and bad days - just like being a teacher, you will have some days when you’ve planned the perfect lesson or day and it all falls to pieces! Don’t dismay, tomorrow is a new day - and I’ve had days when I’ve sacked off all activities and commenced a midday movie marathon!
It is wonderful if siblings get on, but sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do there is a personality clash and they just don’t get on. In these cases all you can do is harness an atmosphere of tolerance and respect! This could be a really lovely opportunity for older ones to learn patience and tolerance that they will need in life, encourage older ones to take more responsibility for caring for younger siblings and for coming up with ideas of how to entertain little ones or support their learning. As I suggested in a previous post - looking at family sensory profiles (see here) is a great way to facilitate tolerance and understanding of the needs of their siblings - for example if you have a child who is getting really frustrated, hitting out at siblings, tantruming or particularly struggling during lock-down or during family events, talk with the other siblings about how they could help to co-regulate their sibling through helping you to put together a sensory diet for your little/ big one in need (see here).
1) During writing tasks - my little one loves being involved so I try and make sure that wherever we are working she is working alongside us - if on the table then she is there using the same material as her big sister, or if we are on the floor then she is alongside doing her own thing. I majorly insulted her when I gave my older daughter PVA glue and her a glue stick :-) All these small inclusive points are very important to your average 2yo!
Loves to be doing the same as her big sister!
Proof that you're never too old for a water mat:-)
She often provides her sister with some nice deep pressure to support her focus:-)
Has taken to lying in a tummy time position to do her 'writing' too!
2) If you’re brave let them get messy together!
3) If you are focusing on a specific project with an older child find some way that your little one can get involved - even if it turns out to be a token effort it’ll make them feel included, and keep them entertained whilst attention can be directed towards your older one/s.
4) Match skills worked on - if I am doing maths with my older one then I will do puzzles or shapes in play doh with my little one, if my older one is working on her laptop then my little one will ‘work’ on an iPad, if my older one is doing writing then my little one will focus on mark making and working towards forming pre-writing shapes - she’s getting good at circle drawing!
5) Do loads of arts and crafts and baking! The one thing I really notice is how much more independent and skilled my little one is at the age of 2 than my older one was...why?! Primarily because you can’t direct two as well as you can one:-) But in all seriousness, I really value the increased opportunity my little one has to create on her own terms without me directing the show as I must admit I was pretty guilty of doing first time around! My older one wants to focus on productivity and making what we’ve agreed, whereas my little one just goes for it with very little input or direction from me!
Take a look at some footage of my two working, having fun and learning together:
Some of the new skills my little one has started to learn from big sister:
See here for some great ideas on home made messy play:
And my favourite play dough recipe - I just add some scented extract to add to the sensory feel (mint or almond works a treat!): https://www.topmarks.co.uk/parents/play-dough-recipe
We made ours in the microwave and it was a lovely sibling activity as my older one read the instructions and my little one stirred!
Overall, although it might sometimes feel like a zoo (I know my house does at times!), having siblings in this time can be such an enjoyable and precious time! So enjoy, try new things and most importantly remember that whatever they do will be far more fun if they are able to do it together - and who knows they might come out of this time as friends, or at the very least tolerant of the needs of someone other than themselves.
Stay tuned for sensory movement stories soon!