I recently opened a daycare center in my home and watch a 20 month old plus my 15 month old daughter. I thought with having this other child that it would be a good time to start Tot School to expose Sicily to some structured activities. It took us quite a while to find a routine that worked for all of us, but I think we have something that works that I wanted to share with you today.
Related: What is Tot School
What is Tot School?
Very simply, Tot School is structured activities that you plan for your little ones under the age of 3. Tot School is not formal and requires no curriculum. I look at it as a way to prepare her for more formal preschool at home. We try to plan 2 structured activities a day mixed with a lot of books and unstructured play time.
Related: Why Play is Important to a Child
Skills for Tot School
I’m not worried about teaching my toddler numbers, shapes, colors, and letters at this point. Tot School should be focused on fine motor and sensory skills with lots of sensory play and outside exploration. Being a toddler is all about exploring their world. Get to know materials and objects, especially things you will use in your home preschool. At this stage, she gets to explore every thing, so when it’s time for more formal preschool, she will be familiar with the objects and know how to use them.
Related: What Toddlers Really Need to Know
Sensory play is huge for toddlers. It’s something I plan 3 days a week and it’s the only type of play that she will engage in for an extended period of time. This week alone we played with dried beans, flour, and water. Each time she spent more than a half hour engaged in learning about those materials. We talked about the textures, practiced pouring, scooping, and making a huge mess!
Related: The Importance of Sensory Play
Social skills are also important at this stage in a toddler’s life. With my home day care, she gets some social skills with the other kids I watch. We also like to go to the library for story time. You could join mommy and me groups, take a toddler class like swimming, or join a toddler co-op.
Planning for Tot School
Tot School should not take hours to plan and prepare for. I use Pinterest a lot to find ideas, and use items around the house as much as I can.
Planning is where I made my biggest mistakes and started to overthink it WAY too much. I started seeing tot trays I loved and wanted to do without even thinking about my daughters interests or abilities. It led to a few weeks of frustration, rearranging, and finally learning to follow my child.
When planning for Tot School, think about your toddler. Think about what he can and cannot do. What skills does he struggle with? What has he been interested in lately?
Our second week of Tot School was all about animals because Sicily was starting to show interests in animal books. She wanted to know what sound every animal made, so I planned our activities around animals. This ended up being a horrible week in our Tot School.
Even though I followed the lead of my daughter, it was with her interests not with her abilities. I spent hours, and I mean hours, planning out all these tot trays and setting it up just right. I was so proud of what I did and was ready to start Tot School on Monday. Well, 10 minutes in and we were both frustrated. Every single activity I worked hard on and planned was WAY over her ability level. I let my imagination and the excitement of finding cool activities on Pinterest overcome me.
So the next week, I realized that she was interested in the bus that stopped in front of our house. She ran to the window every morning and learned how to say the word bus. She became obsessed with finding buses in books, so I started planning Tot School around buses. This time I remembered both her abilities and her interests. I planned simple activities that related to buses, but also activities that related to her skills. At this point, most of the activities are revolved around her fine motor skills instead of themes. I created 4 fine motor activities for the week along with setting out a toy bus. For our sensory exploration, we had a bus car wash and I made sure we were outside to see the bus every afternoon. This worked much better for her.
Related: The Toddler Experience: A Hands-On Toddler Curriculum
The other little boy I work with is a tad bit older than Sicily, but knows most of his letters. He sat and played with magnetic letters for 45 minutes yesterday, so next week we will plan some letter activities. This isn’t something a typical toddler should know, but since he shows interests in letters we will learn about them.
The point with these three stories is to plan according to your child. Think about their interests and their skills when planning. Follow their lead. I created a simple planner for you to download that will help you stay organized when planning for Tot School.
Our Daily Schedule
At this point, our daily schedule is just starting to fall into place. When we started Tot School, Sicily was still napping twice a day. Then she went to napping once a day about 2 days a week and two times the other days. This made it difficult to keep a specific schedule. Again, follow your child’s lead when planning a daily schedule.
Related: How to Create the Perfect Tot School Schedule
It’s important to have a structure to your day, so your child knows what to expect. However, at this age things don’t always go as planned. If they need a nap when your suppose to be doing school time, let them nap. If they need a snack an hour before snack time, let them eat. It’s okay to get off schedule as long as your keep the same structure each day.
I try to plan our “school time” when she is most aware. This is usually after morning snack and afternoon snack. I plan two activities each day, so we do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You want to plan these activities for a time when you know your child won’t be hungry or sleepy.
Toddlers do not have long attention spans. Some activities are set for 30 minute time intervals, but only last 5 seconds. That’s okay! I will keep the activity out for her to come and go at her leisure. I think of the time I scheduled as a “teaching” time where I show her how to do the activity. That way she can do it when she is ready and on her own time.
For example, on Monday I taught her how to do this pom-pom push activity. She spent 2 minutes watching and joining in with me, but went to something else shortly after. However, she kept going back to this activity all week. I think she has spent over an hour working on the pom-pom push over the week.
This is our daily schedule, but keep in mind that your day may look a bit different depending on your child. That’s the beauty of homeschooling. You get to work around your child and make it work for her.
7:30 Get ready for our day- get dressed, brush hair, brush teeth (We use this time to bond, be silly, and learn practical life skills. She is starting to do most of this on her own.)
8:00 Free play/ Stories
9:00 Morning Snack
9:30 Tot School (We usually do the messiest activity in the morning.)
10:00 Free play/ Stories (I usually keep out our Tot School activities from the week for her to do again if she wants.)
12:45 Story Time
3:30 Afternoon Snack
4:00 Tot School
4:30 Free Play/ Stories
5:00 Dinner and Family Time
8:00 Bed Time Routine and Good Night
Tot School should be stress free, simple, and fun. There is nothing academic that a toddler needs to know. If they show interests in colors, shapes, numbers, and letters than by all means plan activities to teach it, but don’t force it. Trust me, your child is learning more through their play than you can possibly imagine. They are learning how to be themselves in this big world.
Your Turn: How do you plan for Tot School? I would love to hear about your schedules and favorite activities.
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