Overview: Being a stay at home mom can be tricky, but adding home preschool on top of it can seem impossible. These are my tips to finding time to prepare and plan activities to teach my little ones at home.
I’ve said it many times before in other posts, but I’m a planner. I need to have everything planned out to the max or nothing gets done. This week is a perfect example! I wrote out our Tot School plans, but we accomplished nothing because I didn’t take time to prepare the materials ahead of time.
It can also be a challenge to prepare too far in advance when following a child-led program, but if you’re like me, you have to know what’s coming up. I have been working hard this past year trying to develop a system that helps me stay organized, but at the same time is flexible enough to allow for child-led learning.
Tip #1: Set Goals
We did random activities up until Sicily was 18 months. Then we officially started Tot School. This is when I really had to start working on a system to help me feel organized and have a plan for success.
In August, I sat down to create a few goals to help me get started. After doing Tot School for a few months, I re-evaluated those goals last month to prepare for this next year.
Fortunately, Sicily’s birthday is in January, so I use January as the new school year. It just makes it easier for me to start the new year close to her birthday instead of August.
By setting specific goals, I feel like I have a plan of where I want to go throughout the year. These goals help me choose activities that follow Sicily’s interests, but at the same time meet her academic needs.
It’s important to keep in mind that learning academics in the early years is a long slow process, so the goals I’ve set are little goals. My main goals focus on building a love of learning. Having goals helps me feel motivated to plan activities and prepare materials.
Related: How to be Successful by Setting Tot School Goals
Tip #2: Prepare Ahead
I try to plan out a month in advance, but this plan is very flexible. Each theme we do is two weeks, but if Sicily isn’t showing any interest in the activities we abandon the theme. On the flip side, if Sicily is really engaged, we extend the theme another week or two. It all depends on her interest level.
Related: Engaging Toddler Curriculum: Hands-on, Child-Led, and Process-Based
I use our weekly planner (you can download this by clicking below) to plan out our weekly activities at the end of each month. We usually do our shopping on Friday, so the Friday before the planned week, we grab all the materials we need.
Then my magic time is Sunday nap time and after I put her to bed at night. This is the time I switch out toys and prepare any materials I need for that week.
Sometimes I just lay out the materials I need in my daily baskets. Then the night before we do the activity, I will prepare the materials during our family TV time. I lay out materials and set up invitations/provocations right after she goes to bed every night.
Tip #3: Use Daily Bins
I have a small bin for every day of the week. On Sunday, I place all the materials in these bins that I will need each day. Some times I just lay the materials in the basket then prepare them the night before. If I’m feeling really motivated, I will prepare all the materials (cutting, laminating, etc) on Sunday then place them in the basket.
Tip #4: Utilize Small Chunks of Time
I use small chunks of time to help prepare materials. After dinner, we usually go downstairs as a family to just relax. My husband usually plays his video games, Sicily plays with her toys, and I use that time to prepare materials for the next day.
Tip #5: Be Flexible
This tip has been really hard for me to learn. Like I said, I’m a planner and without a plan I can feel the anxiety kicking in.
I’ve had to teach myself that her interests are more important than anything I’ve planned. If I notice a theme isn’t working, I move onto the next one without finishing the first one I planned. I’ll also push back a theme if the current one is a big hit.
I’ve also learned to take advantage of new interests on the spot. If something happened one day that Sicily was really interested in, I will come up with something on the fly for the next day to assess how interested she is in the topic.
If she is really interested, I will postpone all our plans and create a new theme to start the next day. I want to make sure I take advantage of her deep interests.
Related: The Secret to the Toddler Attention Span
For interests that are important, but not urgent, I keep a wonder journal. This is where I write down all her questions and interests. Then when I need a new theme, I open the wonder journal to see what she has been interested in lately.
Remember Tot School and Home Preschool should be a fun, relaxed time. Sometimes the best learning activities are the ones you didn’t plan at all.
Don’t forget to download my weekly Tot School planner.