Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tot School Series: (Part 1) Beginning Questions

Both my sister-in-law and sister have recently asked me for some ideas for teaching their children and as I started compiling my list of ideas and resources I realized that this would probably be helpful to others as well(and probably myself when I go through it all again in a year or two with Audrey :)). Thus was born this series entitled - Tot School Resources & Ideas.


Carissa at 1+1+1=1 does a great job of defining what Tot School is (she is, after all, the one from whom I copy the term Tot School, and who’s blog comes many of my ideas). But to put it simply in my own terms: Tot School is set aside time devoted to your developing toddler. This is time of playing, teaching and focused interaction with somewhat structured activities with at least broad goals in mind for your individual child.

My recommendations will mostly be geared for kids between 18 months – 3 years (give or take). Keep in mind that each child is different though, so your child may start some of these activities earlier and/or go later. Treyton started after 2, while Lexie started at around 16 months. Lexie is pretty much done with Tot School and I will move her on to Preschool over the summer (she turns 3 in July) while Treyton did Tot School until he was almost 4 years old, he started preschool after he turned 4. 

Treyton was not, slow or dumb, he just developed differently than Lexie, and while Lexie is able to hear and RETAIN lots of information, Treyton needed longer to develop those set of skills, but some of his other skills were more finally tuned like motor skills, building and visual activities (ex: building blocks, puzzles, find-it activities, maps, dot-to-dots, etc). 

As a parent you need to be aware of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and cater to them. Do not teach your child according to what your expectations are, teach your child from where ever they are at. And (I know it’s hard, but) DON’T compare!! :)


Because Tot School looks a little different for each family, it’s probably easiest to start with a few things that we DON’T do for Tot School in our family.

I do not use any one real "curriculum" - most of what I will be “passing along” will be links, games and activity ideas from several sites, and resources. While researching and scouring the internet for the best ideas for your family/child is not hard work, it does take some time. Depending on your personality you might enjoy this, you might not. If you don’t I recommend finding one or two sites that you like and trust and just using the resources they have. (If I were to recommend only one sit for Tot School information it would be 1+1+1=1). In saying that I don’t use any one curriculum, I want to clarify with the fact that our Tot School is fairly structured, we just do different types of things from week to week. Simply put, I pull from a lot of different resources to put together what works for our family.

Along those same lines - we do not use rigid lesson plans or a set schedule of when we do tot school every day at this age. Tot School for us is just taking the time every day during school to spend one-on-one time with the toddler(s) of the home, in order to pay attention to their educational milestones, needs, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. Naturally I had more of a set time with Treyton, because he was an only at the time. With Lexie she is not only the second child, she is also much more independent and temperamental which means there are times that I have to wait for her. Often we do school on her terms and she wants to do it , otherwise, it’s pointless.

The important part is doing something, not having strict schedules or curriculum.

Kind of random and totally personal preference, but: I do not focus strongly on letters at this age. While I am not against teaching some letters (especially letters in the child’s name), my primary focus at this age, is on colors, shapes and then numbers.

Until recently I have not used many worksheets for Lexie (and I didn't for Treyton at this age either). After they get started getting their colors and shapes down, then I might start using worksheets for review work. To initially teach the shapes and colors I primarily use toys, games, real-life examples and even some laminated printables/games (see below). When we would use worksheets they were usually for tracing, learning how to hold a pencil or time occupiers while I was working with Treyton. Early on it’s almost all scribbling and such and that was okay with me. I would say that prior to 2 1/2 we used very few printable worksheets. From 2 1/2 up it depended on the child. Treyton used less worksheets and coloring pages than Lexie at this age, but increased more after he turn 3 1/2.


One of my main points of advice (that I had to learn the hard way with Treyton) would be - when the child is done with structured learning for the day let them be done, and if it at all possible try to stop “school time” well before this happens. If the child becomes frustrated with learning a specific thing (like colors), let it go for a while, focus on something else, like shapes. I know this seems like a given, but when you are actually teaching, it’s much harder to do.

Okay, so now, on to WHAT WE DO.

In my best effort to NOT overwhelm any of you, I will breaking down what we actually use and do into a few posts:
  • Educational Toys: I actually already have two posts on this (click here and here), I am planning on doing a new post on our Tot toys, the ones we use most and that continued to be our favorites. Toys and playing (in my opinion) is the BEST way that I have found to engage my children to want to learn. (Which by the way, is the goal of tot school.) It’s not so much what they learn, as much as that they want to learn – so keep “school” fun! Spending time playing with your child and teaching through that play is more effective than anything else that I have done and priceless memories are made in the process.
  • Printables: this includes games, activities, units, file folder fun as well as worksheets. Like I mentioned before I recommend taking it easy on worksheets especially in the beginning (earlier ages), but some of the other printables are more like games than worksheets and we used them as such. Printables are also more useful with second born’s in that they see their older sibling doing worksheets and they want to do what they are doing.
  • Literature/Storytime: this will include a list of our favorite books, book units and methods (similar to the Five-in-a-Row approach), how we learned from them, how I planned and implemented my resources, the sites I used, where I came up with some of my ideas, what the kids liked and what they didn’t like
  • Extras: this post might include movies, arts & crafts, favorite TV shows, computer games, homemade activities and/or other resources I come up with along the way.
I’m sure I will find more than even what I’ve listed here to cram into more post but for now, this is the plan. I hope that you will be able to find something useful in what we have done. And keep in mind, I am sharing what has worked for our family, it is not necessarily the only way, or the best way for your family. Personalize any thing you do find to make it fit for you and your child!!

Good luck, and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will try to address them in an email or future post.

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