Lectures & lullabies: can you study with a toddler in the house?

A new baby can spark a whole new view on life – perhaps leave from your usual work has made you realise you’re ready for a change, or having a little one looking up to you has made you aspire for more in your career.

Whatever the reason, and despite the odds, you’ve decided to return to study in the first few years of your child’s life. Go, you!

But is it really possible to make a winning combo from brainery, books and bibliographies – and blankies, bottles and bibs? At the start, the lengthy naps and immobility of 0-6 month olds may offer lots of daytime opportunities for you to read, research and ace those essays. Then the thrashing-on-the-floor, tantrum-filled toddler phase sets in – and your lecture notes are criss-crossed with crayon, your books ripped to pieces and your laptop peanut-butter-smeared!

A full-time stay-at-home partner, a 24/7 nanny or 50 hours per week of daycare are the obvious answers to how to study with a toddler – but let’s get real, managing any of those options on a student budget is about as likely as your toddler eating what you cooked them.

So how else can you balance the (sometimes) fun of mumming and the stimulation of studying?

Top tips for studying with kids

Gather your village

Call on aunties, uncles, grannies, grandpas, neighbours and BFFs. Most family and friends will actually enjoy a regular hour or two with baby each week, especially if it’s to help support your study goals, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Through uni and parenting groups, you can also seek out other mums in a similar studying situation and trade babysitting duties. Dropping tot off for even a two or three hour playdate can be enough for you to get on top of your homework.

Designate a clear study space

Keep the jammy fingers and dirty nappies away from your iPad and essays by designating your place in the house to study. This might be a desk, a beanbag or a yoga mat. Just make sure it’s barred with a baby gate if someone else is watching your child, or adjacent to a safe play space such as a playpen if you’re running solo.

Keep them busy

Set up a play area next to your study space and fill it with activities that make toddlers poke their tongue out in concentration. Think macaroni ‘bead’ threading, play-doh, musical books and stacking blocks. Don’t forget to give them a lunch box filled with healthy snacks they can help themselves to while they play!

Set a daily schedule & try to stick to it

If there’s one benefit toddlers have over babies, it’s that they tend to take one long nap in the day rather than a lot of short ones. Get your bub on a regular schedule and prioritise your daily study tasks for this block of time.

Toddlers can also be trained into an early bedtime and should be sleeping through the night more often than babies – get your tot on a 6pm bedtime and use the early evening to finish off anything urgent.

If you have a partner, ensure that they also work with your schedule to arrange their commitments and activities in a way that supports your study goals.

Make the most of flexible timetable options

If you’re returning to study a bachelor degree, you’ll love VU’s new First Year Model. In your first year, you can ease back into uni life by studying only one unit (subject) at a time for four weeks, with four days relaxation time between.

Each unit has just three face-to-face sessions each week of two to three hours. These are offered in multiple combinations of days and times (morning, afternoon and evening), letting you choose a timetable that best suits your family life. It also gives you the opportunity for two full days off-campus per week.

Ask for help

If you’re returning to study after a break from formal education, you might need a refresher on your study skills. Most unis offer numerous on-campus resources to help you with time management, research methods and more.

At VU, Learning Hubs offer workshops and advice on writing, maths, careers and employability, and library and research skills. There’s also support and advice available on things like finance, housing, health and welfare.

Upskill online

If the idea of balancing babysitting, classes on campus, part-time work and bedtimes all feels too much, you can always pick a course that is taught online. Several of VU’s courses offer online learning, and there is now full online delivery of the Graduate Certificate in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration.

About the author

As a toddler mama, Maya Linden is a veteran of the juggle and the struggle of keeping little ones entertained while trying to read, write (and watch reality TV) undisturbed.