Tot School Planning Made Simple

When I first learned about a concept called “Tot School” I thought, awesome!  Fun ways for my little ones to learn at home and still have fun.  However, I had absolutely no idea where to start.  Pinterest was incredibly helpful and painful all at once.  There are forms, suggestions, pictures, theme ideas, it was 100% overwhelming and I was making zero strides in successfully implementing Tot School into my own home.

I did a lot of thinking and contemplating as each method I tried failed time and time again.  Then I realized what my problem was:  I was spending too much time looking for and creating resources and not enough time actually DOING Tot School with my child.  So I started to think about the other habits and items that I had incorporated into my home and what made them successful.  First of all, I am a list person.  I always have been – even when I was teaching.  Writing lesson plans was the bane of my existence, all I needed was a list.  So that’s where I started.

Tot School Learning List

Tot School Learning List

I pulled a regular, 10 cent, nothing special notebook out of my bin of school supplies and opened it up to the first page.  (There is nothing quite so wonderful as an empty notebook staring back at you, don’t you think?).  I then started to think about the concepts that I wanted him to learn.  The basics of every child’s education:
1. Number Recognition and Counting
2. Color Identification
3. Letter Identification
4. Shape Identification
5. Recognize a Calendar and its components

So the first things I listed in my notebook where the Month, followed by the number, color, letter, and shape that we would be learning for the month.  Now, most curriculums (preschool included) focus on one of the items per WEEK.  However, I found that when I tried to do that a few things happened:

First, my son wasn’t retaining any of the information.  He wasn’t being exposed to the information long enough for it to actually “click”.  Second, there are days that we did not get to Tot School (reasons vary, such as Sweet Pea being sick, we had a play date – which usually means the day is shot because nap time follows play dates, we had a family adventure day, etc. etc.), so if we had a busy week, Munchkin got barely any exposure to the materials I wanted him to learn.

One Month Topics
My son is only two and half, so I feel that focusing on one of each item for a month is plenty (this is my third month trying this method, with much more success).  It gives us PLENTY of wiggle room if we have a lot of outside the house activities and he seems to be retaining information better.  My goal and hope is to slowly decrease our theme/concept time from one month, to two weeks, and then eventually to a week.  However, that means that I absolutely, must be on top of the ball.
Dinosaur Playdoh Mat
After deciding of our concepts (number, color, letter, shape) for the month I chose two themes.  The first theme generally has something to do with the type of season and then another theme that Munchkin may be interested in.  For example, in February our themes were Valentine’s Day and Winter Olympics.  In March, we are focused on St. Patrick’s Day and Dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day or the month of March, but Munchkin is in LOVE with dinosaurs.

Gathering Materials
After I have my items for the month chosen, THEN I start by visiting my favorite sites and downloading their Tot and/or Preschool packs for kids.    I print everything off that needs to be printed on paper, followed by printing things that need to be on card stock and then laminated.  I then make a list (which I title Learning checklist in the notebook) of the worksheets and laminated activities that I’ve chosen for the month.

I do not, I repeat DO NOT, print entire tot packs.  I only print pages that are things he enjoys (such as dot marker pages) or pages that I want him to focus his skills on (such as putting together two piece puzzles and memory games).  I save the tot packs on my computer for later use when he’s ready for other things (such as shadow matching or nine piece puzzles).

I keep a set of file folders that are labeled with (dot pages, number, letter, shape, graphing, color) and file away all of his activities into the folders.  Once I have the paper activities, then I allow myself to visit Pinterest.  I start looking for tot trays, tot boxes, craft projects, and snack ideas that fit into our themes and concepts for the month.  One of two things usually happens:

1. If it is an easy craft that I can recall with a few words, it goes into the notebook.

2. If it requires steps that I won’t remember off the top of my head or a need a visual concept, I copy the photo into a word document and print it.  These go into a separate file folder entitled “Planning Pages.”

I have six busy boxes that I fill with various activities, such as lacing cards, memory game, puzzle, etc. These busy boxes do not change throughout the month.  I have four tot trays that contain easy activities for him to pull at any time (magnetic letters, dot markers, etc.).  Once he, successfully, completes a tot tray activity, I remove it and replace with a new one.  (Munchkin likes to complete activities over and over, so he usually does the tot tray three to four times in one sitting).  I keep a pocket file chart near our tot school area that contains everything we will need for the month.

Busy Box and Tot Tray Shelf

Busy Box and Tot Tray Shelf