“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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!