What to do with preschoolers when you are homeschooling older children?

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I had a friend recently ask for ideas on what to do with her preschoolers while schooling her older child. Since I have been in the boat of having preschoolers in the home while teaching school age children for the past five years, I have a few ideas up my sleeve.  I am not the most consistent person.  I like change.  Therefore, I have tried most of these ideas and have found success with them, but we mix things up around here quite a bit.

My 3 preschoolers.

My 3 preschoolers.

School Cabinets

I have special cabinets that hold the school age kids workbooks, teacher books, as well as different activities that are only supposed to come out for the preschoolers while the older ones are doing school.  I keep them in separate containers so I can hand each preschooler a bin.  Sometimes the preschoolers go to the table.  Other times I have them sit on a blanket and tell them they can only get up to go to the restroom.  I have found that Mr. Potato Head, Puzzles, Wooden Blocks, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoy Sets, Legos, and magnetic dolls all work very well for these types of activities.

Busy Bags

A few years back a friend organized a busy bag swap, where several moms assembled the same busy bag 10 times.  They then swapped their bags with nine other friends.  Each mom ended up having ten different busy bags for their preschoolers to use during school time.

Nabi Tablet time

On some days I will give my little ones the opportunity to play on the NABI Tablet.  They enjoy greatly this time of exploring on technology.

Computer Time

We have a few kid computer games that we picked up years ago.  I will sometimes let them play these.  Or sometimes I will let them play games on Starfall.

Dewberry taking her turn playing Bob the Builder.

Dewberry taking her turn playing Bob the Builder.


On some days I pull out the play-dough. I have found this to be especially effective during read-a-loud times, and I hand everyone some dough to create with.  If I am doing this for the older kids, I try to encourage them to mold something that they hear me reading about.

Paper Designs

I give the preschoolers paper and magazines to cut, tear, and glue.  They can try to make a collage or picture with it.  Sometimes they tear out pictures they like.  Other times I will ask them to tear out items pertaining to a theme such as a certain color or foods they like to eat.

Educational Videos

Some of my favorite are Your Baby Can Read series (If you can find copies.  No, your baby will not be reading great novels as a result of this program, but the program helps develop language and aids young children in their reading skills.  It has been helpful for my children.), LeapFrog: Letter Factory, and LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory.

Spiral Notebooks-Journals

All of my preschoolers currently have a spiral notebooks, just like their older siblings.  They have a sticker book, which is the only place they are supposed to put stickers. I can give them a sheet of stickers which can keep them busy for 30 minutes.  They also have a thankful journal that they are to draw a picture of things which make them thankful.  They later tell me about their picture and I record what they tell me.  They have a nature journal in which they are to draw a picture, make leave rubbings, or collect leaves and flowers to tape on the pages.

Dewberry's thankful journal.

Dewberry’s thankful journal.

Strawberry's thankful journal.

Strawberry’s thankful journal.


Kids like to sort and they can sort anything.  I have them sort by color, shape, and size.  Sometimes I will give them things with instructions to put the items in order from little to big.  We sort beans, buttons, beads, Cuisenaire Rods, Pattern Blocks, plastic-ware or silverware, etc.  Really, when it comes to sorting items there is an endless supply of things that they can sort.

Coloring and Drawing

Sweet Potato, as preschooler, coloring while sisters are doing school.

Sweet Potato, as preschooler, coloring while sisters are doing school.

Free Play  – Imaginative Play

Free play and imaginative play is very important for a child’s development.  However, may not always be doable while trying to school other children.  Some days, my preschoolers do an excellent job of having this play time without being a distraction to others.  On other days not so much.  However, this is in my tool bag of appropriate things for them to do during the others school time as long as everyone is getting along and the noise levels stay manageable.

Music & Dance Time

Sometimes I send the little ones to their rooms and let them listen to music to dance to. They listen to a variety of things from classical, to Clifford Music, to scripture memorization music.


On many occasions my older children have felt slighted that they had school work to do and the preschoolers are doing activities that looks like play to the older ones.  For this reason, I try to make a point to let the older ones have access to some of the toys and various materials that the little ones get to use.  This may be achieved by letting older ones use the toys or manipulatives in another room where younger ones are not to disturb, sometimes during nap time, and other times they are allowed to get those materials and work alongside the little ones once the older ones have finished their school work.  I particularly noticed the need for this when my older kids where just barely starting their formal education.  Occasionally, the older ones still ask to use some of the toys and manipulatives that the littles had out during their school time.

Am I missing something?  What do you do with your preschoolers while schooling the older ones?