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Preschoolers: A Help or a Hindrance?

Michael is diligently doing his math when 4-year old brother Joey swoops down from a chair into Michael's lap. Papers, books, and pencils fly everywhere. Then the inevitable happens. Michael screams at Joey, and Joey responds in kind. And you spend the next 45 minutes trying to calm down the boys and get Michael back on track with his work.

Worst case scenario, right? Wrong. Although interruptions may not always be as dramatic, they often happen when a young sibling who is not school age is present. Many times that child feels left out, since "Mommy is giving Michael all the attention." How can a home educator cope with the situation?

Your first thought may be to find a way just to occupy the child, so he will not intrude during your teaching time or during your older child's study time. Although uninterrupted blocks of time may be one of your goals, you should also make an effort toward creating a positive situation for the young child. The best possible solution, of course, involves meeting both of the children's needs. Here are a few suggestions.

First, whenever possible include the younger child in the learning experience. Let him sit on your lap during reading time. He will enjoy the story and feel that he is important enough to be included. You may want to allow him to add a few comments or questions to the discussion afterwards. Even if the story has concepts that are too difficult for the child, he can still enjoy looking at the pictures and being a part of the group.

Have your school-aged child read to his younger sibling. This gives the older child practice in reading aloud and helps to build a close relationship between the two. The younger child also gets involved and benefits from the experience. He may acquire new vocabulary words, learn lessons from the story, and develop an appreciation for his older sibling.

When using manipulatives to teach a point, let the young child play with manipulatives similar to those used for instruction. Not only will this participation get the child involved in the lesson, but it will also help to develop his coordination.

Involve him in educational games whenever possible. Have him participate in games that are on his ability level. If the games are too difficult, give the younger child responsibility for some aspect of the game. For example, he could keep all the discarded game pieces or be in charge of the timer if the game requires one.

He can also help you by acting out certain aspects of the lesson, or he can act in plays with the older sibling. Obviously, he will not be able to do Shakespeare, but he can act in children's plays and act out Bible stories. He will enjoy being allowed to participate in the "school" activities, so if he can help in some way, be sure to include him.

When teaching Bible lessons, help the little one learn short phrases from Bible passages. By beginning Bible memorization early, it may be easier for him to memorize longer passages in the future. He can also participate by holding visuals during the lessons. Have him listen to the lesson as you teach the older child, and on occasion have him pray. He too can learn how to pray and can begin to understand the importance of prayer. Allow him to ask a few questions about the lesson and to join in the singing.

If possible when the older child is doing an assignment, set the other child down in the same room with materials so he can color, scribble, paste, paint, or tape. He may want to pretend he is doing his own schoolwork. Children are very creative and by providing your child with the right materials, you can enable him to entertain himself. If he is old enough to use blunt scissors, you can give him some old magazines to cut up. He will probably invent his own way of using the cut-out pictures, especially if he has plenty of tape or paste, construction paper, and crayons.

Try to provide independent activities for the youngster. Have these items on hand for use: blocks, toys, easy puzzles, cloth picture books, children's records/tapes, and VCR films. Have special toys for special occasions (e.g., manipulatives, play dough, beads, Christian story and song cassettes). A large, empty box also makes an excellent toy and can give your child hours of entertainment as be decorates it and plays in it. The child can play while you are teaching.

Spend some time with the younger child in which he gets your undivided attention. You do not have to spend large chunks of time, just five minutes or less each half hour. These short periods when you hug your child or spend time playing or talking with him will show him that he is important too. You can take time to give him this special attention when the older child is doing independent work.

With busy schedules and so much material to cover, do not be afraid of taking advantage of the younger child's nap time. While the other one is asleep, you can cover some of the more difficult and time-consuming materials. This allows you to have some uninterrupted time for teaching and to concentrate on hoe to communicate the lesson material to your older child.

Have older children or grandparents help take care of the younger ones. Assign half-hour baby-sitting times for the older children when you are not teaching them. Your older child can learn responsibility by having to dress a young sibling or by supervising eating times and play time.

At first you may find that you have to spend some time getting "activities" set up for your youngest and extra time cleaning up at the end of the day. As you begin to include him in the learning process, however, you will find that it becomes easier and more natural.

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