Homeschool Basics

Tot School- What we did in our home

“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” -George Dorsey

When I wrote my ‘Why We Homeschool‘ post I explained how Tot School is really how I fell in love with the idea of homeschooling.  I loved being able to watch my children learn.  And I truly loved the fact that it was all play based.  It is so important for children to play.  There is absolutely no need for anything structured so early. I still have a mostly play based homeschool and my 5 year old is doing kinder/1st grade work.  Just because it’s “play” doesn’t mean it’s not learning.  In this post, I will show you a lot of examples of activities we did when my boys were doing Tot School. (Disclaimer, the picture quality will not be that great.  Most of these pictures were taken on a phone several years ago. Also, there are quite a few ideas with pictures in my Homeschooling with Toddlers post)

Tot School Trays

So, make it fun!

Make it colorful, make it noisy, make it messy! The one thing both of my boys loved the most, and still do, is sensory activities.

The very first sensory boxes I made for both boys were color based.  Each week we would spend learning one color.  You don’t have to have anything special.  With Tanner, I literally walked around the house and gathered little things that matched the color we were learning.  Toy cars, pipe cleaners, small stuffed animals, blocks, flash cards with colorful pictures, etc.  The fun came as the kids dumped everything out.  I also love using sensory bins with a”base”, such as: dry beans, large buttons, string, dry oatmeal, dried and colored rice and pasta. I then throw little manipulative toys, cards, etc into the base.  It can be a natural/nature learning experience as well, using sand, rocks, dirt, snow, and water/ice.

Tot School Sensory Bins Color sensory bin collage

I created a lot of different activities for the boys to do as well.  A favorite was popsicle stick shoebox puzzles.  I made one with colors, and one with shapes.  I also made a few puzzles that had velcro and magnetic backs.  It helped little fingers assemble the puzzle easier.  There is no need to spend a lot of money on this either.  You can even print out a coloring page twice.  Color and cut out the pieces of one, and let the child place the colored pieces on top of the black and white picture (like in the garden/flower image below).

Tot School Color Trays Tot School Shoe Box Puzzles

Tot School Activities

In the above picture you can see the oil drip pan we purchased for under $15.  We used that as a magnet board.  I hot glued magnets to colored pompoms, and sewed magnets into little felt shapes.  I always incorporated the colors and shapes each week.

Some other manipulative toys I created were really easy and made from trash.  An empty, clean parmesan cheese container is perfect for fine motor.  We used large popsicle sticks for the large opening, and coffee stir sticks for the small openings.  I also used a cleaned icing tub and a baby puff container.  I cut a small hole in the lid for fine motor control. The boys pushed pompoms into the containers through the hole.  Another idea, flip a colander over and have your toddler try to stick pipe cleaners into the holes.  It’s hard work for a 1-year old.

Tot School Fine Motor

Felt is a fun item to use in tot school, as well.  You can create your own felt board and felt pieces.  Some people use pieces to tell stories.  I used felt to learn shapes.  You can create a body outline and cut out pants and shirts out of different colored felt and allow your child to match the clothing on the felt child to the clothes he or she is wearing.

Tot School Felt Shapes

Some tips:

Don’t make tot school (or even preschool) structured.  It will only cause issues in the future for both you and your child.

Some topic ideas: colors, shapes, numbers, and holidays

Keep it simple.  Don’t force too much in one day.  Sometimes our learning was 10-15 minutes, and that is ok! Don’t get frustrated, their attention spans are so short.

Make the activities easily accessible.  Put the activities on trays, or in bins, on a low shelf or table top.  You may find your child playing with them many times throughout the day.

And once again, because I can’t stress this enough, make it fun! Play, play, play!

Tot School Shoe Box Puzzle



Homeschool Basics

Homeschooling with Toddlers- 3 Helpful Tips

Child doing schoolwork with toddler playing with "Homeschooling with Toddlers Text"

Homeschooling can be hard and overwhelming on it’s own.  But add a toddler into the mix and it can become much more difficult.  At least in my case, it was.

Nap time!

Homeschooling with toddlers in the household is pretty distracting.  The very first tip I can give, from my own experience, is to try to plan school learning and activities during nap times.  Of course, this doesn’t always work.  When Wesley was younger, it took him forever to fall asleep, and stay asleep, for naps. And he didn’t nap every day.  But when he did, we were able to knock out a solid hour or two of school work and crafts.  (We were doing pre-K reading at the time, so it didn’t take long anyway)

All by myself boxes and sensory play, always a winner!

Sensory bin picture collage

During those days that Wesley did not sleep, I needed to try to distract him with other activities while Tanner and I did school work.  Sometimes I would put together an “All By Myself” box for him to play with.  In these boxes I would have a puzzle or two, flash cards, an activity game (like lacing cards, or color sorting manipulatives), a smaller box of sensory items (dry beans and lentils, colored dry rice and pasta, large buttons of various colors and shapes, dry oatmeal, seashells, rocks, etc…), and tools and cups. Sometimes I would add playdoh to the box instead of sensory items.  We would always do school work with Wesley and the box right next to us because a lot of the sensory items were small, and he obviously needed to be watched while playing.  The only issue with using these boxes, was that Tanner really wanted to join in, as well.  So it was a nice incentive for him to finish what he was working on, so he could play with the boxes.  Also, I’d like to add that you don’t have to go spending a ton of money on this.  The Dollar Tree has a lot of very good manipulatives and crafty trinkets.

Color sensory bin collage

All by myself sensory box picture collage

Begin fine motor learning.

As Wesley got a little older, we started doing a little more fine motor play.  I gave him a dry erase board to scribble on, a fun dry erase book, and of course, crayons and paper.  Another great activity for toddlers is do-a-dot learning pages.  I really like the do-a-dot markers because they are like paint and markers, but not nearly as messy!  Which is wonderful when you’re trying to teach another child at the same time.  Toddlers are awesome at creating messes in the smallest amount of time!

Toddler sorting shapes

These are some of the things that really helped me out when Wesley was a small toddler.  If everything else failed, I would put a movie on and hope it distracted him long enough for a little productive school time.  Things have totally changed for us now as Wesley is adamant on joining us every minute, to do his own school work.