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




Why do we homeschool?

I can vividly remember the moment when I first seriously considered homeschooling my children.  I actually only had one child at the time.  Tanner was around a year old.  There were so many emotions filling my brain.  I was scared to go back to work, and leave my baby with someone I didn’t know.  I was looking to the future trying to figure out how we would handle certain situations.  Who would take our kids to their after school activities if I was working 12-13 hour shifts at the hospital and Nick was flying, or deployed?  Who would take care of the kids if they were sick, in those same situations?  As a nurse, I couldn’t just leave patients at the hospital to go get a sick kid from school.  Especially if we were short staffed.  My husband is in the Air Force.  We do not live near family, so asking parents to help just isn’t in the equation, either.  These were the reasons my Nick and I agreed that I would stay home with the kids until they were at least school aged.

While I was enjoying my time at home with Tanner, I started looking online for ideas of things to do with him during the day.  Fun activities that could help him learn his shapes and colors.  That’s when I found Carisa’s blog, 1+1+1=1, and learned all about tot-school.  I spent every nap time reading about tot-school; how to set it up, materials to use, and how long to spend working with your little one. The most important thing was to make sure it was all play based.  There is absolutely no need to do anything structured at such a young age.  I waited until Tanner was 1.5-2 years old to start.  It was during that time, as I was watching my son learn and grasp certain concepts, that I fell deeply in love with teaching him.  Maybe I could actually do this!

Toddler working on fine motor skills

Toddler with color sorting puzzle

That was the beginning reason for me.  I just loved being able to witness his learning, and tailoring activities better to how he learned.  It wasn’t until he got a little older, when we had Wesley, and moved to Florida that my reasons started changing.  I did not like the schools in our area, and I didn’t like how the public school system was changing into something unrecognizable, compared to back when I was in school. I could go into detail here, but if you are reading my blog and are considering homeschooling your own kids, I’m sure you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

A small, but very important reason why we homeschool is because we move a lot.  It would save us a lot of hassle pulling the boys out of school and reenrolling them into a new school every few years.  Who knows what they could miss in between moves, as well.

I also want my boys to grow up with a strong Christian background, and I love the fact that I can incorporate that into their everyday learning.  I can honestly say this is a calling from God.  There were several months where Nick and I were on the fence about homeschooling.  I had the fears that I wouldn’t be able to do it and that I would fail my children.  But I can remember three very distinct moments, where it was like God shook me and said, “You need to do this!”.  Once I realized this is what He wants me to do, my fears started melting away.  Of course, I still have quite a few fears, and worries, but I’m working on them.  I believe it’s absolutely normal to have those feelings.

Please understand that I know there are people out there who would trade anything to be able to stay home with their kids and do this, but can’t for any number of reasons.  I promise I don’t take this blessing lightly.  I thank God and my husband often for this opportunity.