What is Tot School & How To Get Started

Though I am not technically a teacher, as a former children's pastor, I consider myself a teacher at heart and this definitely shines through in how I emphasize educational activities with my son. Not only is it something I value but I truly enjoy things like writing curriculum and putting lessons together. That being said, my education philosophy definitely leans toward delayed formal academics. At this age, this means, I want to refrain from putting my son into preschool and any "teaching" I do at home needs to be heavily play-based, with no worksheets!

So, what does a mom that loves to teach but doesn't want to rush into formal academics do to teach her toddler? 

Tot School! 

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WHAT IS TOT SCHOOL? 

First of all, tot school is not really "school". The story goes that the term "Tot School" was started by a 6-year-old but I have seen a variety of definitions. Basically, it is a one-on-one learn through playtime for toddlers, with mom's undivided attention! (Of course, if there are older kiddos around, they can be involved but the point is that this is a time for mom and toddler.) 

Though, it's not really "school", using the term "tot school" (or any term you come up with on your own. We sometimes call it "mommy school" or "Kai Kai school".) can help make sure that this time is a priority in your day. Also, as toddlers get older and become more aware of school, they will enjoy having "school". 

Tot school is not doing "lessons"  or worksheets but, rather, a focused time where you are able to sit and read, play or do crafts with your child, giving him quality attention. 

WHO SHOULD DO TOT SCHOOL? 

Tot school is great for any busy mom - stay-at-home moms, moms of multiple kids, work at home moms, working out of the home moms... really any mom and toddler can benefit from tot school because it makes quality parent-child time a priority. 

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WHY SHOULD MOMS DO TOT SCHOOL? 

Learning through play is essential to so many parts of early childhood development from speech to motor skills. Spending one-on-one focused (quality) time is also essential because relationships affect every area of your toddler's development!. Making the time to spend quality time where your child has your undivided attention, is vital. 

HOW DO YOU GET STARTED WITH TOT SCHOOL? 

You are most likely already doing tot school but if you want to bring some structure (and when I say "structure" I really mean for the mom more than the child), here is how I do it: 

  1. Choose activities based on the child's interests & age.
  2. Set aside time each day to do these focused activities. 

It's really that easy! But let me break it down a little more. 

Choosing Tot School activities. 

I strongly believe in choosing activities based on the child's interests. For example, several months ago, I started to notice that my son was naming colors quite a bit. Even if they were wrong, he was clearly taking a liking to colors. So, for the next few weeks, I chose a different color to focus on during our "tot school" time. We made these color books because he also loved (still does) to do "projects", especially if they include glue! We also did some other activities that helped with color recognition.

When my son started his Bible club at church, I started choosing weekly activities based on what he was learning there. While this was helpful for me to come up with activities, they were not based on his interests. So, I stopped doing themes for a while and solely chose activities based on what my son was expressing an interest in or based on holidays. 

I have since picked choosing themes back up, again, based on my toddler's interests. I started a Pinterest board with activities, books, and songs on various themes. So, now what I do is at the beginning of the week, I choose a theme that I know my son has interest in and then I select some activities and write them down. I also write down, songs, books, and snacks that go with the theme, if any. (Get your own Tot School Weekly Planning Sheets.) 

Tot School Activities _ Toddler _ Drawing _ Cardboard _ Box _ www.fortheloveofmom.org

Set aside time each day for Tot School. 

I want to reiterate that Tot School is not intended to be formal but focused play-based learning time with mom. As a work at home mom, my son has a lot of independent play time or time where he is playing near my desk while I work and we are generally interacting with each other (like I am singing in his "band" while I type at my computer) but that is not quality time. During Tot School time, he has my undivided attention while he plays and learns!

If you're like me, you have a busy schedule during the week. Perhaps you have older children that you are homeschooling or driving to and from school or maybe you have other activities that fill up your days. Tot School does not have to be at a specific time, it doesn't even have to be at the same time each day. Again, the important thing is that you make time for it each day. I do, however, recommend deciding in advance what time you will do Tot School for that particular day.. and stick to it! We have something scheduled every morning during the week, so afternoon is when we do our Tot School.