(I've had a couple of people inquire about the article I had published. This is the version I have saved in email, before the editor took care of my wordiness.)
The best way I have found to occupy busy toddlers is to include them! This means you must plan for your toddler just as you plan for your school children. Jot down a list of things your little one can do in the areas of taking care of himself, chores, and school. Even play time can have a little structure. Also, never underestimate what a young child can do. They will certainly surprise you if you spend some time instructing and training them.
In our home, we have a chart on the refrigerator with a small picture of each task in the order I would like for them to be done each day. You can use your own digital pictures in a Word document or just cut and paste from a magazine. Above each picture is a simple description; for example, "Brush your teeth!" has a picture of a little girl brushing away. After about a week of walking my children through the list they can do it by themselves, with my five-year-old daughter helping my two-year-old son just a bit. Meanwhile, I can nurse my baby or get breakfast ready.
For personal care, our list includes going potty (my son is potty training), getting dressed, putting away PJs, combing hair, and eating breakfast, which is when I teach the children from the Bible. Our Bible time includes a "hymn of the week" and learning the Apostle's Creed; more on that below.
During chores, my children make their own beds. No, they do not do it perfectly, but they do their best! Then they can pick two chores each from a list of four. The first chore is emptying the bathroom trashes into the kitchen trash every day, even if they are not full (put a rubber band around the liner so only the trash dumps out). Next, I bought a Dustbuster for cleaning crumbs from under the table each morning, and for cleaning up hair from the bathroom floor. Two-year-old boys generally LOVE noisy chores like this one! The other two chores are sorting silverware from the dishwasher and helping with the laundry. You would be AMAZED at how many laundry steps young children can accomplish with a little instruction! (Think of a preschooler throwing wet clothes from the washer down to your toddler, who stuffs them into the dryer....)
Now we are ready for school. School in our home is known better as "fun time with Mama!" Both older children participate while my baby naps. At the table, my son can do sticker books, color, sort "counting bears," write on the slate or dry-erase board, or even just play with a toy. Reading time is all-inclusive as well, and my lap can be quite full, especially if it's time to nurse again! We use a literature-based curriculum so this might not work as well for those using traditional workbook-style curriculum.
Finally, remember that hymn of the week and creed? We teach our children these things so that they will be able to PARTICIPATE in worship on Sundays. How lovely to hear little lips singing God's praises, and reciting what they "believe!" Our prayer is that as they grow in maturity, they will understand these beliefs more and that God will reveal to them who they are and Who He is. During the sermon, I do allow very young ones to draw or color quietly, but they must participate when they are able to do so.
Once again, plan for your little ones, include them, and never underestimate their abilities. A little work on the front end will save a lot of work in the end!