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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tot School

I became familiar with the term "Tot School" thanks to Pinterest. I often search Pinterest for play ideas for Calvin and Henry and I started coming across blogs that were referring to play-based learning at home with babies and toddlers as "Tot School."

The term seems to have come from blogger Carisa at 1+1+1=1 and she has great resources for Tot School on her blog, including an FAQ page in which I think she does a nice job of explaining the concept and the thoughts behind the concept. In her words,

"Tot School isn't really school at all, it is simply a name given to the idea of learning through play at home during the younger years. Tot School is nothing more than intentionally providing your tot with age appropriate activities that are fun and engaging. By choosing specific toys and activities, we expose our tots to a variety of early learning skills. Mastery is not the goal, FUN is!"

So all the art projects, sensory bins, DIY toys, etc. that I've been making/using/doing with Calvin and Henry could be called Tot School. But this year, I find myself wanting to take it a step further. Especially because we have decided not to pursue preschool for Calvin until after he turns 3. 

So here are my hopes for our Tot School:

I want to be more intentional in choosing concepts to introduce to Calvin and Henry. 

To do this, we'll have a weekly theme that I will use to guide me in planning play activities. For inspiration, I'm checking out this list of Weekly Learning Themes from ALLterNATIVE Learning. I'm also going to pick things that interest the boys and James and me, and I'll consider the season/time of year. I'm not going to go ahead and plan the whole year out because I want freedom to change things/skip weeks/be flexible. I can't commit to a whole year plan. I'll plan about 6 weeks worth of themes at a time. Here are the themes for our first 6 weeks:

I'm starting out with really basic toddler concepts/skills. These are things we talk about all the time, but using them as weekly themes will give me the opportunity to really focus on each one for a week. 

And you know I can't resist a holiday, plus Valentine's is my FAVORITE, so of course we'll do a whole week of Valentine's Day themed play :)

We will also have a Letter of the Week. For the first six weeks we will do the letters of Calvin's name in order. I like using his name instead of going in alphabetical order because his name is something more concrete and personal which gives him a way to connect meaning to the letters we are talking about. At first I tried to match the theme to the letter, but that was too limiting. 

I want to be more organized about planning and putting together learning activities.

So it's back to lesson planning! A very familiar concept for a former teacher like myself. And no, I do not have an adorable clip-art decorated lesson plan template to share with you, sorry! At the moment, I am writing out my weekly plan on graph paper. Very fancy. 

I want to keep it simple. 

Our therapy schedule is pretty packed these days and it's important to me that we have time to go out and do fun stuff and also have plenty of time for the boys to just be at home and free play. Plus, we've usually got play dates and doctor appointments scattered throughout each month. I don't want to feel like I'm adding a big commitment to our schedule. I really don't want this to be stressful for myself or for the boys. So I don't even feel like I can commit specific times of the day for Tot School. 

Instead, I'm just planning two Tot School activities for each day: one to go along with our weekly learning theme, and one for our Letter of the Week. My goal will be to do the theme activity sometime in the AM and the Letter of the Week activity sometime in the PM. This way, I'm free to structure they day however it works best for whatever else we've got going on. And if we don't have time for them because we've got a super busy day, we can double up the next day, push our schedule into the weekend, or skip activities altogether. No stress. 

I want it to be fun!

This is not at all about introducing what it's like to be in school. The boys do not have to sit still. They do not have to focus if they aren't able to. We are not tied to a lesson objective and there will not be an assessment at the end of the week. If Calvin is distracted, fine! If he's not having fun, forget it! We'll stop and do something else that's grabbing his interest at that moment. We can always come back and try again, or try it a different way that's more engaging for him. 

For example, last week I was trying to engage Calvin in helping me make a paper collage rainbow and in the middle of it Henry woke up from his nap. I put Henry into his high chair near where Calvin and I were making the rainbow. But Calvin completely forgot about the rainbow, and instead he went to the other side of the table where I'd left a bag of pom poms and started giving Henry handfuls of pom poms to play with! Did I make him stop and finish the rainbow? Naw. We never did finish that rainbow. He and Henry were having fun playing together with the pom poms and that was waaaayy more valuable and special than the paper rainbow project! 

Obviously this whole Tot School thing is mostly for Calvin's benefit, simply because Henry is at a very different developmental level. He's got other fish to fry before he learns his colors and shapes :) Still, I intend to let Henry participate in any way that he can. I want him to feel included. So I will modify activities when it's possible, or give him something else to do in the same space where Calvin and I are doing Tot School. At times, we will likely do Tot School during Henry's morning nap, just for convenience. 

I've gotta confess, I'm pretty nervous about starting this whole Tot School thing because I'm afraid I'm going to get overwhelmed and flake out on it. Or just come up with a new Brilliant Idea and flake out on the first one. If there's anything I like better than making a plan, it's changing a plan. Sometimes my flexibility makes me really flaky. 

So I'm keeping it laid-back in the hopes that it will feel low-stress, and I'll share our experiences here on the blog so you can see whether we make it past these first six weeks ;) 

Anybody else doing Tot School with your little ones? Or something similar? How do you organize your activities? 

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