The toddler-preschooler balancing act

This post uses homelearning activities as an example, but the general subject applies to everybody, I think, who struggles with finding a balance between the needs and wants of an older child when you have a toddler in tow. With their extremely limited attention spans, inability to sit still, almost non-existent impulse control, and an overwhelming curiosity that leans towards destructiveness it can be very challenging to accomodate toddlers.

AnnaB recently wrote the following in her homeschooling blog:

I see activities and books and plays and social justice causes and I think, “I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to do that.” Instead, I need to focus on what they are doing now and recognize that it is pretty amazing.

Her words really struck a chord with me because I struggle with this alot. Yesterday we had a great homelearning day, but for most of it DS was watching DVD’s. We were doing a lot of crafting but DS was just making messes – he kept knocking over the bowl of water for the paints, we always have to hide the markers because he leaves them all over the place with the lids off and gets colour all over everything, including his skin (yes, they are non-toxic, but I don’t think coating an entire limb with the stuff is healthy). He can’t use glue or sparkles and can’t even really be trusted to stay on the drop cloth.

I’m finding it really hard to include him in our homelearning activities. More often than not he is just “getting in the way” and I feel awful just writing that, let alone thinking it. I feel sorry for DD because so many things she would like to do we can’t because of DS. He likes books, but only a few limited ones that DD is no longer interested in, and his attention span is still small enough that he rarely makes it through the whole book, often demanding that I turn the pages faster, which upsets DD. I’m still waiting for the day when I can snuggle with my kids on the sofa, one on each side of me, and read to them. Yesterday this attempt resulted in him throwing himself down on the open book while performing nursing acrobatics as I was trying to read to DD.

AnnaB went on to talk about how her toddler is “a great climber”. I was envious of her attitude and a bit chastened to read this because lately it seems I just focus on all the things we can’t do because of DS, and all the things he can’t do with us. I suppose I really need to smarten up and shift my attitude. I don’t want to wish this stage of his life away, but it is so hard not to eagerly anticipate the future when we can do things together, the three of us, and have everybody equally engaged. The fact that DS is also quite advanced in his physical abilities (climbing, gymnastics maneouvers, etc) is easy to overlook when it comes to stuff we can do indoors on a rainy day.

You know, just by writing this I’ve realized a few things. I am getting skewed in my thinking of homelearning as just academic and artistic activities. These are the things I like to do, and so does DD, but it’s entirely possible that DS will not be interested much in these things even when he is capable of sitting still for five minutes. His interests may still wander towards building and destroying block towers or train tracks, instead of reading or building solar systems out of styrofoam balls. Maybe I need to start shifting my approach a bit more now, instead of wasting away this time “waiting” for him to join us in our chosen activities. I should probably pay more attention to the things he is interested in (he likes puzzles, for example) and try to come up with ways to incorporate them into activities that DD will enjoy, too.

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One thought on “The toddler-preschooler balancing act

  1. Anna B

    I was where you are a few weeks ago, and I have had to make an enormous effort to frame it positively. M watched Signing Time this morning so that I could get some time to just read to Will. I felt horrible, but Will deserves my attention too, even though he does not try to get into the sink.Instead of thinking that M “just won’t let it go” “can’t be redirected”, I had to remind myself that this persistence will make a difference in her life in profound ways. No one ever loses because of determination.Her spirit of adventure will aid her homelearning in ways I cannot fathom.What she ‘lacks’ in verbal skills, she makes up for in problem solving.It took me a long time to get that, and when she is climbing the stove for the 10th time during dinner, I still forget.

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