People are always asking me how I homeschool with a toddler around. This post does not address that question nor the lack of an adequate answer.
But this post will give you a few ideas on how to inexpensively keep a toddler occupied for ten minutes. What you do during that time is up to you (homeschooling or otherwise...)
Several years ago I made a whole bunch of busy-bag-type, quiet, manipulative activities for Ruth. All of the kids enjoyed them and eventually the pieces were scattered to the four winds. It recently occurred to me that James would probably like something similar and I pulled some supplies together and did these while Russ had the kids out for a morning.
These activities are so simple it hardly seems worth typing out actual instructions. Consider this post more of an invitation for you to take a look at what I've done and to use (and probably improve upon) these ideas. I'll give you a couple ideas on supplies and how-to's, but I'm pretty certain the photos will mostly speak for themselves here :)
Collect and wash out food storage cans - the kind that have a rubber lid
(Like the cans from ground coffee, cocoa mix, and mixed nuts. I even let my kids share a mini can of Pringles because I wanted that size can...)
Cover in colored paper, contact paper, craft felt, or fleece using a glue gun. I love using fleece because it's a fun texture for little hands to hold :)
For a pompom push activity, use Dollar Tree pompoms and cut a hole in the plastic lid slightly smaller than the pompoms. (I used a craft knife.) There is immense satisfaction in setting those pompoms on the hole and popping them down :)
This "tweezers" and bow ties activity is, hands down, everyone's favorite. To make the ties, I cut two strips of craft felt, lay them one on the other, tie them in a knot, and trim the ends. Doubling up the strips just gives them a little more body and they're easier for little hands to grab with the tweezers. They are actually wooden toaster tongs, but they're perfect for little hands learning to pinch and grasp things :)
To make a craft stick color sorter, I used colored sticks from the dollar store and coordinating Sharpie markers. I used the craft knife to cut slits in the lid (again, not so big that the sticks slide right through, but a little tight so that there's some tension and the sticks have to be pushed nearly all the way). Then I colored around the openings on both the top and underside of the lid.
This button drop activity is self explanatory. My only suggestions are that you use chunky buttons (easier for little fingers to pick up and are less of a choking hazard) and line the bottom of your can with fleece or other fabric to absorb the sound of the falling buttons. Otherwise, that repetitive clanking sound can get very... repetitive. And awful.
So, there you go! Four super simple ideas that may not keep the toddler busy during all the homeschool lessons, but it will probably keep him busy and quiet for a few minutes when you really, really need it. In my experience, it's best to keep things like these packed away (not on the regular toy shelf) because then when they come out they're more "novel." And also - maybe only use one at a time. Otherwise, there will be buttons and pompoms and bow ties and craft sticks all mixed up all over
your my floor. Ok? Don't forget!