A very popular question I get is, “What do I do with my toddler(s) when we are homeschooling?” I have have three children and was very happy with the method I learned from our first Waldorf parent-child teacher years ago. She taught me that toddlers want to do what we are doing. Since then I have experienced that in so many different ways.
It was an adjustment for me at first. I have always been an independent person and even traveled to Europe by myself when I was 15. So to invite another person to participate in what I was doing on a regular daily basis – many times a day – was a new concept for me. However, as is the case, our children are our teachers in life. My children taught me much about being “together”. The following paragraph is taken from the Waldorf Initiative Handbook that I created for the parents at my Waldorf school years ago:
A toddler longs for rhythm, repetition and activities which feel safe. As a parent, you should continue on your daily rhythm or schedule and then slowly add a child, or two, or three within your daily activity. Contact other mothers while your toddler is napping and arrange a play date at the park, or some other place where there is freedom to move about and nature or animals to explore. They key is that this is a natural event. Being a part of regular activities which the child is used to is calming to the child. The mother doesn’t need to feel stressed that she needs to make a certain appearance and that she is “locked in” to a set period of time. This makes everyone a lot more comfortable, and when you are more comfortable and stress free, you enjoy the time more. Up until about 20 years ago, most children this age spent all of their time at home with mother and siblings. Play dates and groups are a relatively new concept. The age appropriate behavior for a child this age is to observe and learn by modeling YOUR behavior. Toddlers don’t want too many friends and pre-planned activities, they want to do what you do! They enjoy hanging on your hip or standing along side of you doing the dishes, the laundry, going to the market, etc. These daily activities are learning experiences and a joy for children of this age to participate in. Reassure yourself that there is plenty of time for friends and organized learning later. They will have the rest of their lives to socially interact with other children, and in a few short years, they will rather run off to play with children than to spend time at your side. Don’t worry about your child getting socialized. The same way they learned to talk and walk, they will learn to play and be social.
This was so true with all three of my children. I learned to integrate them into whatever we were doing. If I was cooking I would give them some tools or a task (if old enough or if they asked). If we were doing crafting I would give them some yarn, if we were painting I would give them a brush with water (although now they have those “Buddha Board” things I think my kids would have LOVED those!), anything I was doing I would let them be part of it in some way. So it is hard to answer the question “what should I do with my toddler?” in specifics. It depends on what you are doing already. And it is hard at first, if you are not accustomed to this method of interacting (although I suspect some people who grew up in larger families have this skill naturally) but it gets easier and easier. And as you become more creative, so does your toddler. You will soon find yourself integrating them into your daily routine without even thinking about it!
One thing that did not work for me was to give them toys and expect them to play while I worked with the other child or doing the housework. They would play with the wooden cows or dolls for a minute or two and then leave them and come to see what I was doing. However, if I set up a nice play area for them and then invited them to come “work” with me, they would often tire of what I was doing and go to their own area and play for much longer. This is because the toddler needs to feel they are always welcome. When they feel you are trying to get them to do something else they will feel fearful. They are not sure why, all they know is they feel a separation and that causes anxiety. So if you let them know that the channels are always open – that they are not shut out in any way – they will make the decision to be on their own in their own time. The minute you welcome them, they will stop feeling anxiety and life will be much easier for both of you.
Of course there are so many lovely times when all you want to do is sit down with them and play with puppets or dolls or eat their “pretend food” they made for you on that wooden stove! However, they need to know that sometimes you play with them and sometimes they need to play with you. That is a concept that many adults still need to learn – LOL – so we would do well to teach our children when they are young.