Hi there! I’m Elle. I’m a 25-year-old mom of one (Peanut) with another one on the way (Jellybean, or Bean).
Currently Peanut is about 22 months old, and I have been desperately wanting to start incorporating preschool-type learning activities into our daily routine (I was home with her full time until she was 18 months, and now I work on the weekends). I plan on homeschooling her and Jelly Bean when they are old enough, so starting to get into a rhythm with learning activities now seemed like a good idea.
One day while scrolling through Pinterest during nap time (I am an unabashed Pinterest lover – here is the link to my Pinterest if you care to follow me/check out my pins), I came across the phrase “Tot School.” Peanut was “too young for any kind of structured schooling,” but I immediately pinned the picture to my Kids: Learning board, jotted the phrase down on some now-long-forgotten piece of paper and promptly forgot all about the phrase. Then a few days ago I came across it again.
Last night after she went to bed, I hoped on the computer and started researching Tot School. Here’s what I learned: 1. She probably wasn’t too young for this type of structured schooling. 2. I’ve been doing Tot School with her for ages – I just didn’t have a name for it, nor did I bother planning ahead. 3. It’s not hard at all, and no planning is required (although I am totally a planner, so I’m going to plan things out even though it isn’t strictly necessary. 4. I have everything I need to start right now, and so do you!
I like things organized and pretty, so here is what our new Tot School station looks like:
On the top right, you can see four Tot School Boxes with pink labels. There is a fifth box on the bottom left because it needed a little more room. The top left is the additional tools I set aside for today’s Tot School Boxes (an empty wipes container, a set of measuring cups, and two empty baby food containers – I am a big fan of reusing recyclables around the house for other things). Bottom right is just a big box of diaper wipes that I need to find room for elsewhere, but for now they live here. And yes, that’s Peanut’s little pink booty down there in the corner, photo bombing me no matter how many times I try to take the picture…
I know the original Tot School uses trays, and while I think that’s a fine idea, it just doesn’t work for us. 1. I don’t have trays lying around. 2. I have plenty of these boxes lying around because I use them to store arts and crafts supplies and a lot of Peanut’s other toys in already. 3. I like that they have lids so she can’t get into things without our help (yet). Use what you have, and what makes sense for your family.
I took some baseball card sleeves and cut them down a little, then taped them to the front of each box, so that I would be able to put labels in the boxes every day with what kinds of skills we wanted to focus on. Not all of the boxes will get swapped out every night (maybe only one or two, if Peanut’s done exploring the items in them), so this will help me remember all of the ideas I came across/came up with for each toy/item. Also, if Jeremy or his mom is watching Peanut, they will also be able to check out what types of learning skills to work on with her.
Box 1: Foam puzzle pieces with letters on them.
Labels: Building. Letter Recognition. Colors.
Box 2: Sidewalk chalk.
Labels: Drawing/Coloring. Shapes. (Could also have put in Letter Recognition, Writing, Math – Addition, etc for older toddlers)
Box 3: Rainbow pom poms.
Labels: Transferring (from one container to another). Colors. Counting.
Box 4: Bottle caps. Some are plain water bottle caps. The milk bottle caps I have put the capital letters of the alphabet on (and when I have enough I will also make a set of lower case letters, and maybe some numbers too). I also saved the bottle caps from her glass baby food jars, some of which have animals on the top. I am planning to create a matching game for her when we have enough of them.
Labels: Letter Recognition. Transferring. Counting. Matching.
Box 5: Musical instruments.
As you can see, almost anything in the house that’s safe for your baby/toddler to play with can be turned into Tot School items. And almost everything can have multiple learning skills associated with them. What is really cool about this whole thing is that I am coming across new ways to use the same old stuff around my house (I never even thought to use my pom poms!) and create new experiences for Peanut.
It’s important for kids to have a balance of different types of activities. Interactive play, independent play, physical play, mental stimulation, etc. Tot School falls into the interactive play category, as well as mental stimulation, and sometimes can also include physical play. For Peanut, we also include independent play on a daily basis, reading (story time before bedtime, and she also chooses books from her bookshelf for us to read during the day), and physical play (we take her to MyGym 3-4 times a week, as well as to play dates and to the park). So now being able to add in the Tot School at least once a day will really round out the types of play and stimulation she’s receiving, and keep me from going crazy trying to come up with ways to keep her entertained when she wants to play with me and I have no ideas!
Here’s the two of us after Tot School today! Peanut was happy as a clam, and so was I!