Do you sometimes find yourself at a loss as to what to do with your toddler? Do you have trouble coming up with activity after activity to match their ever so short attention spans? Do you wake up filled with dread because it’s raining so you’ll be stuck in the house all day just staring at each other?
Those are some of the reasons why you should introduce Tot School into your day!
It’s not really school for tots, it’s just a phrase to describe you spending focused time with your toddlers, helping them to learn new skills and reach their developmental milestones through play.
I spent hours reading about all the fun toddler activities that you could do with your kids as part of Tot School, but then I kept putting off actually getting started. Because there were so many wonderful activities I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start.
So I started looking for a Tot School curriculum, something that pulse all of those great learning activities together into a structured plan I could follow with my toddlers. I couldn’t find one single curriculum, but I did find a handful of programmes that I could mix together and that’s what I want to share with you here today.
What is Tot School
Let’s start with the basic question, What on earth is Tot School?
Like I say, it’s not school, it’s “the time each day you spend with your tot, exposing early learning skills through fun play”.
That’s how Carisa describes it, and as far as I can tell she is the font of all knowledge (and maybe the inventor) of all things Tot School!
Why should you introduce Tot School?
Tot School is really just a way of structuring the fun toddler activities you probably do already. Toddlers love routine and structure, and I’ve found that since we implemented a daily routine so my kids know that sleep is followed by play, then breakfast, then play, then lunch, then nap etc that they are much calmer and less prone to throwing tantrums!
To me adding in the Tot School element is the obvious next step. While I want them to have time each day for independent play I think it’s just as important to have one on one time with some structured learning activities to help them meet those all important developmental milestones.
What does a Tot School curriculum look like?
There is a whole wealth of information out there about Tot School, invitation to play, sensory bins, Tot trays, quiet time boxes… Oh my! It’s enough to make your head spin.
So much information I didn’t know where to start. Should I focus on letters, or colours, or shapes or themes? What I really wanted was a Tot School curriculum where someone would tell me what to focus on week by week and which activities I could do, then I could add in some of the fun toddler activities I’ve collected on Pinterest to make sure the play was age appropriate.
Finding a Tot School curriculum isn’t easy!
I searched and searched and couldn’t find anything until I happened to stumble on the Encompass Preschool Curriculum. This 26 week programme is aimed at three and four year olds but when Kathy sent me a complimentary copy I realised it was exactly what I needed to help me bring some structure to my Tot School.
I can’t quite believe that Kathy is selling this curriculum for such a low price. It has everything you could possibly need from a day by day structure, lesson plans that you can edit, printables for use in circle time or morning boards and a whole stack of printables for you to use with your children each day to guide their learning.
I love how each day there are activities to cover a letter, number, colour or shape and motor skill as well as some science and social studies and a poem or rhyme. There is also a bible study element included.
Kathy has designed the curriculum to be delivered four days a week in sessions of an hour to an hour and half so it’s very manageable, and while she has included all the activities you need to help your child develop the appropriate level of skills she does encourage you to swap activities in and out to suit the needs of your child.
I plan on using the structure to determine the colours and shapes and numbers for us to cover each week, but swapping out the activities for some more toddler friendly ones. I then plan to go back to the beginning and work through again, each time working towards the activities Kathy has included as the kiddos grow older.
Whether you’re looking for a Tot School curriculum or a Preschool curriculum I don’t think you can go wrong with Kathy’s programme and encourage you to click through and check it out for yourself
Developing pre writing skills
Have you ever heard of pre-writing? Well if you have you were one step ahead of me! I didn’t realise that before a child could learn to write they needed to learn about lines and shapes, until I read Heather’s book: Basic Shapes for Beginners.
Heather sent me a complimentary copy of her book and I am excited to include this in my Tot School curriculum. She’s an Occupational Therapy Assistant and decided to write the book when she saw so many children struggling with their handwriting skills, because they hadn’t been exposed to pre-writing activities!
The book has been written with children aged two to five in mind, but I’m going to get started a little earlier with my two who are 19 months old.
A five year old could probably master the skills in about six to eight weeks, but I’m going to take things slow and steady with my toddlers and keep coming back and repeating the activities as they grow and can understand more.
And I love her advice about using small crayons and pencils because ‘adult sized’ ones are far too big and can hinder their development!
Don’t forget that Tot School is all about fun, so this book isn’t just about sitting at a table with a piece of paper and pencil or crayon. The activities that Heather has included are all about interacting with shapes, by using play dough, sensory bins, pom pons and pipe cleaners.
You can find out more about Heather’s wonderful Basic Shapes for Beginners book by clicking here.
Developing their characters
When I think about helping my children to learn it’s not just about developmental milestones like being able to read and write and count, it’s about them learning to be kind, and patient and to share.
As a mother I believe it is an important part of my role to help them develop their characters so they grow up to be good people.
The Little Lads and Ladies of Virtue ebook was created by Kathie Morrissey to help you develop your children’s character by working on 24 character qualities including attentiveness, courage, helpfulness and humility to name just four. Kathie sent me a complimentary copy of the ebook and copybook.
It is a religious based ebook, but I think you can work through the activities even if there is no religious focus to your Tot School. It’s also aimed at slightly older children in the Preschool and Early Elementary age groups, but I think you can use some of the activities with older toddlers, and then work through the activities again as they grow. It’s also a great resource if you are homeschooling older children and want to include your toddler in the lessons.
I really like how Kathie has pulled together five days worth of activities for each character trait so your child will have five days to learn about each one. She has included some ideas for role play and fun activities as well as a daily prayer and three ‘Wills’ for each trait for the child to learn.
For example Gratitude includes an activity for writing Thank You letters, and a game they can play with other children to think about what they are thankful for. There’s also a role play activity for them to think about how they would act in a situation where they receive a gift but it wasn’t what they were hoping for, or mom cooks a meal and they don’t really like it.
Kathie has also designed a Copybook to go with the ebook which includes some wonderful colouring pages and handwriting practice.
This ebook is the perfect companion to the Encompass curriculum and you can click here to find out more about the Little Lads and Ladies of Virtue.
Mixing in some toddler friendly activities
So now I have a curriculum and a pre-writing workbook and some guidance on character development, and I’m just going to mix in some fun toddler activities to make it all age appropriate for my kiddos.
Annette from inallyoudo.net was kind enough to send me a copy of her Farm printable which is packed full of wonderful activities from animal sudoku to matching games and even a colour in your own farm activity. If you head over to her blog you’ll find a whole page full of wonderful free printables with some great toddler friendly activities.
My other go to girl for printables and toddler activities is Cassie over at 3dinosaurs.com. She has the most amazing printables and I really want to tie her Jump into Summer learning programmes in wherever I can. You can click here to go and read more about them.
For the more hands on activities including sensory bins and busy boxes I’ll just browse my ever-growing fun toddler activities board over on Pinterest.
And it looks like we’re all set to embark on our Tot School adventures! How about you? If you’re planning on Totschooling your little ones, or you already are then please leave me a comment so we can learn from each other.
~Clare – currently pinning to Fun Toddler Activities.
Disclosure: There are some amazing moms in the homeschool community who put a lot of time and effort into creating materials the rest of us can benefit from. Four of them were kind enough to send me complimentary copies of their ebooks and printables to assist in my research, and so I could share the information with you. This hasn’t influenced my thoughts on these products at all though, if I didn’t think they were awesome I would definitely tell you so!