Tot School


“Tot school” is a term someone coined for doing activities with a toddler. I’d never heard it before having a toddler, but it’s real.  My favorite site — and inspiration for a lot of what I do — is 1+1+1=1.  They have a fantastic amount of information about this kind of thing.

Many parents will say that there’s no need for “tot school” since they never did it with their child.  But really they did — they just never used the term. Every time a parent does something that helps their young child learn (talking to them, letting them help cook, etc.), that could be called “tot school.” The difference is that some plan for those moments and some don’t (and lots of parents fall somewhere in between).

I’m a teacher, so it’s part of my being to plan. Of course, it’s also part of my being to be lazy and perfectly content to sit home all day. So, once my daughter turned one, I started developing some basic guidelines to follow and a few planned activities each week, you can see my general goals below. These goals were more for me than for her.

When she turned two, I got a little more organized and focused. My goal was to start training myself to think about learning differently than I’ve been trained to as a classroom teacher. Guiding one child is much different than the kind of training I had learned for teaching large groups of students.

Here’s what I did: choose a theme, find ideas, get books, scour videos and apps for appropriate (and non-annoying) ones. Then I write down one activity to do each day (or sometimes I don’t get that organized and just look at the things I’ve saved on Pinterest and do whatever will work that day). Since she’s young, most of the activities lasted for about 10-15 minutes. The really good ones may kept her occupied for 30-45 minutes.  (This only happened once or twice…and usually involved vinegar and baking soda) Most of the time, I had been looking for activities she could do by herself, since that’s what I did with my middle schoolers. But, not surprisingly, it turns out toddlers need a little more attention. 🙂

So, after 8 months, I started finding a good balance of activities she did on her own, and ones I do with her.  I also realized that she’s much more willing to do things if her “desk” (a side table I found at a garage sale) is next to mine.

The planned activities are in conjunction with everything that we do on a daily basis: cook, clean, read books, play, go outdoors, etc. Tot school is not supposed to be about sitting down and doing academics, it’s supposed to be about creating a few fun opportunities for kids to be creative, explore, and play (and thus learn). I like to think of it as a mindfulness or intentionality in creating a loving and rich learning environment.

For some, like me, that means having a plan, and for others their home is naturally like this without planning. To each their own! My goal in posting what I’ve done, is to ease some of the burden of planning for others, since time is not something most moms of little ones have a lot of. I hope you find some great ideas to help with your own tot school!

One Year Old

Here were my general goals for my only child when she was one.

By 15 months, I had these as general goals for every day:

  1. Go somewhere where other people are
  2. Be outside for at least two hours
  3. Put up calendar date (I got something like this calendar and put it on a bulletin board in her room).  This kind of thing was done when I remembered…and I still forget over a year later!  Ha! (I’ve since gotten rid of it, and wouldn’t do it again if I knew what I knew now.  🙂   Even at 4, when I pulled it out again thinking she’d enjoy it,  she didn’t really.  And, I realized that it really isn’t a natural way to use a calendar.  It’s great for a classroom circle time activity, as it is a way to know that every day every kid gets access to a calendar, but I got a real one for her instead, and we talk about dates in a natural way throughout the day, weeks, months and years. 🙂 )
  4. Help make food
  5. Read for 15 minutes

By 18 months, I was also doing these each week:

  1. Planned sensory activity
  2. Planned art activity
  3. Listen to a different kind of music

By 20 months, I had added one or more of the following to do each week (depending on the week):

  1. Planned science
  2. Planned dramatic play
  3. Planned music

And again, these were just to have a plan in my head.  If we got busy with life, I knew she was doing a lot of the same stuff, I just hadn’t planned it (i.e. playing in mud is a sensory and science activity).  I didn’t worry if we didn’t get to any of the planned activities.

Two Year Old

Goals for the Year

Themes

  1. Shapes (age: 24 months)
  2. Beach and Ocean (age: 24 months)
  3. Cave (age: 25 months)
  4. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (age: 26 months)
  5. Family (age: 26 months)
  6. Fall (age: 27 months)
  7. Airplane (age: 28 months)
  8. Thanksgiving (age: 29 months)
  9. Nursery Rhymes (29/30 months)
  10. Winter (age: 30 months)
  11. Community Workers (age: 31/32 months)
  12. The Five Senses (age: 32 months)
  13. Spring (age: 32/33 months)
    Got pregnant and was too sick to do anything for months!  Including writing the previous posts. :/

Social Activities

These are ideas I wanted to do with my two year old, but I knew our friends would love to do them with us. So I turned them into little social get togethers.

  1. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Party (2 Year Old)
  2. Fall Themed Party (2 Year Old)
  3. Airplane Dramatic Play Party (2 Year Old)
  4. Nursery Rhyme Themed Party (2 Year Old)
  5. Community Worker Dramatic Play Party (2 Year Old)

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