You don't need to rely of television/screens.
For us, we wanted to make homeschooling work without relying on television or screens. During the school year, we do not do any screen time during the week. We do a family movie night on Fridays and the three oldest kids were allowed to watch a program or use the computer while Iris napped on the weekends. That worked beautifully for us. Having these clear boundaries meant we virtually eliminated conflict over screen time. And the kids came up with the most creative ways to fill their time.
Even though I tried to read up on how to homeschool with a toddler at home, there weren't that many articles out there on the topic. But the ones I did find shared one unanimous point : Make sure you meet your toddler's needs first in the morning. I wholeheartedly agree with that. For us, this meant starting our school day with work the kids could self-start.
Start the day with self-start work.
This would include things like handwriting, journaling, artwork and even math. The Singapore Math books are very well written and Jude was able to start almost all of his math assignments without me teaching them. Later in the day, together we would re-work the problems he got wrong or discuss the topics he found confusing. I know of other families who use Singapore Math and do the same thing.
Get outside in the morning.
After the older kids started their morning work, I would take both Tarikua and Iris outside to play. This way they could burn off energy and get fresh air and sunshine. Indigo was not old enough to do Singapore Math alone so she would often bring her math outside and we'd talk through it while I watched the little girls play. Then I'd push the little girls on our swings while she worked on her problems. Being she was only in first grade, the concepts were quite simple and it didn't take long to complete her assignments most days.
Try sensory play.
We liked to get outside every morning, but sometimes the weather didn't cooperate with our plan. Our winter was especially cold (for us). :) On those days, the girls didn't always want to stay outside for long. In that case, I found doing sensory activities to be key. We made and played with play dough... a lot. This recipe is our current favorite. We made slime. We made sensory bins. Beans in a tupperware on a picnic blanket indoors were a big hit. Outdoors and in warmer weather, ice and water in buckets with cups and spoons were something that kept Iris entertained for a long time. We would sometimes add food coloring or glitter to the water to make the ice more exciting. (And making it is part of the fun, too!) Iris loved to play with this pegboard. Coloring, dot painting and watercolor painting were also popular choices.
Think about using a pre-packaged curriculum... if it's easier for you.
We tried the Little Acorn Learning package during our winter months and I was amazed at how much Tia and Iris loved the songs, finger plays and stories. (I liked their 5 day package best.) We didn't follow the suggested routine or do the verses, but there were some fabulous - and special and memorable- crafts. We baked a Three Kings Cake on Ethiopian Christmas and made fairy food for the fairies in early spring. The girls loved it and I liked not having to scour the internet for craft ideas.
Enlist the help of your older children.
Don't be afraid to enlist the help of your older children. There were times when I needed to work with Jude or Indigo individually to explain an assignment or project. On those days, I would ask the one I wasn't working with to play with or read to Iris for a short time while I explained a lesson to their sibling.
Use nap time... but not all of it.
Our routine was for the three older kids to have time to page or read through books while I nursed and rocked Iris to sleep for her nap. This was when I would catch up on my own reading, too. It gave us all some quiet time. Afterward, Jude and I would spent 15 minutes or so on his language arts program (Grammer Island). When those 15 minutes were over, we often individually had some quiet/down time to work on our own things.
I'm most comfortable having a routine but not a strict schedule. There were days when I was struggling with terrible morning sickness or Iris was having a particularly challenging day and we tabled what we were working on until Dan got home in the evening. Especially in my first trimester, we had quite a few days like this. We would accomplish what we could and save the more intense one-on-one work for when Dan was home to supervise the other kids.
Another way in which we were flexible was that we somewhat regularly did school outdoors. I would work with the kids individually at the table on our back porch or on a picnic blanket on the grass while the other kids played. Being outdoors somehow makes everything better. :)
In general, we were often re-examining our routine and tweaking it as necessary.
You own the curriculum, the curriculum does not own you.
We found it helpful to be flexible with our curriculum, too. When we had some water damage to our floors last winter, we took a break from science and social studies for a few weeks until our life was less chaotic. It was easy to make it up when we were settled in back home.
Consider incorporating 'school' into your bedtime routine.
One thing I loved about Indigo's curriculum (Oak Meadow) was that they ask that you read all of the language arts stories at bedtime as bedtime stories. The next morning Indigo would do artwork and some writing about the story (and it was good self-start work). This supplied us with months of wonderful stories to read and I didn't have to squeeze them into our school day. Jude liked to listen in, too.
We also did most of our social studies and science stories at bedtime as well. I had my kids rapt attention, I think because they knew the more interested they seemed and the more questions they asked, the longer they could delay bedtime! :) But I'm a sucker for my kids' enthusiasm for learning - ulterior motives or not - and I'm a night person, so this worked for us.
One thing that I learned through a Waldorf course on rhythm (which I'd highly recommend) as well as through various Waldorf audios is to make sure to have all of your children help you with chores. There are only so many hours in the day and when you are homeschooling instead of sending your kids to school, you have less time to do housework. Also, having your kids at home means your house probably gets messier than it would if they were at school.
By Jude and Indigo's ages (9 and 7) there is a lot that they can do to help out... most things, in fact. Even five year old Tia is great at picking up. Iris is a little young to do much more than pick up after herself, supervised, but she is seeing her older siblings model that we all work together. We started with something we called the '15 minute clean up' near the end of each day where we would set a timer, turned up some music and all clean for 15 minutes. If the house looked particularly messy, we worked together for 30 minutes. After working together for over a year now, it's less formal and the kids are in the habit of all picking up together, without needing to set a timer.
There are many ways families do this. Some hire a mother's helper to offer support. Others have their older kids attend a co-op one or two (or more) days a week. Some families have their younger children attend a preschool or mother's day out program. Last year, we chose to hire a babysitter to help us with driving. Every Tuesday afternoon my three older kids went to a playgroup with our babysitter while Iris and I stayed home to preserve her naptime (and give me some blessed quiet time). I would often go to Jude's piano lesson alone with him, while the babysitter stayed with the girls. Then the babysitter would take Jude to his children's chorus rehearsals and I would hang out with my girls.
Homeschooling does not have to be all-or-nothing and you don't have to do it alone!
Repeat after me: Self-care is not selfish.My husband and kids are the most important people in the world to me. But I don't want to model to my children that taking care of myself is selfish. Because, truthfully, when I feel depleted, I am not the kind of wife and mother that I want to be. For me, part of staying balanced given I'm with my kids so much of the time is to have regular time alone and to do things that help me to grow personally. Being a wife and mother is a big part of who I am now, but it's not my entire identity.
Being my time is so limited in this stage in my life, I found it helpful to evaluate which activities rejuvenated me and which ones left me feeling depleted. Personally, I found limiting my time on social media (and limiting my online time, in general) to be essential. Facebook almost always left me feeling drained and Instagram felt like a time black hole where time evaporated before my eyes. So I quit them both. I rarely watch television or movies. There are too many other things I'd rather be doing.
On the other hand, I do, however, love reading blogs. They often leave me feeling inspired. I mostly follow them on Feedly. Sewing projects leave me feeling energized and recharged. I often listen to audio downloads while I sew. Doing these things help me feel like I am growing personally. I want to model for my kids that I have my own interests, too, and that I live a passionate life.