Understanding how and when to engage a young mind in early learning activities can be a source of uncertainty for parents who just want to give their kids the best possible start in life.
The good news is that the natural curiosity of toddlers will lead them to natural discovery anyway, regardless of what you do. But you can increase the opportunities for learning and the variety of exposure through targeted activities – this has become known as tot school.
Read on for a full understanding of why tot school activities will benefit your children, and some introductory ideas to get started.
What is Tot School?
If you haven’t heard the term – which has become fairly widespread across the internet – don’t let it fool you. Tot School isn’t really a school at all.
It’s not even a curriculum. Rather, it is a term coined by a 6-year-old little boy back in 2008 in a conversation with his mother.
To put it simply, the concept behind the term “Tot School” refers to the idea of learning through play at home. It’s taking your child’s playtime, their toys, and activities, and being more intentional with it to find teaching opportunities.
So, in a way, many moms are already participating in Tot School with their kids at home.
Typically, moms who are intentionally looking to incorporate Tot School into their child’s routine start between the ages of 2 and 3.
However, this isn’t a tried and true rule. After all, it’s not actually a school or curriculum you are looking to start.
You know your child best. Some children are ready to start learning through play as early as a year old.
Others may be closer to pre-K age before they are able to really take in and retain what it is you are trying to teach.
As the founder of Tot School put it best, “Stages are more important than ages.” Only you can determine what is best for your child and know what they are ready for in their current stage of life.
Benefits of Tot School Activities
From an early age, your child should be engaged in play. Whether you realize it or not, regardless of your intentions, your child is learning through play from the very beginning.
Several necessary skills are being learned through play, such as sensory skills, fine, and gross motor skills.
When incorporating Tot School, you need to keep play at the center. Some children are particularly resistant to formal learning when they are young.
Once they realize you are trying to teach them something, they become hesitant and possibly even resentful that you are taking their playtime away.
By taking the opportunity to incorporate learning into playtime, you allow your child the opportunity to learn at their own pace.
They may even pick up on much more when they don’t feel like they are being forced into it.
Things to Incorporate in Tot School
When deciding what to incorporate into Tot School with your child, it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, the simpler the better.
Children learn in a variety of ways, and choosing quality over quantity when it comes to toys and activities is always best.
Start with some engaging and open-ended toys. These are things that offer more than one way to play, including a variety of blocks (Legos, wood, magnet, etc.), drawing materials, magnets and stickers, and puzzles.
Basically, anything that builds, stacks, creates, or engages the imagination.
With open ended toys, child can learn about cause and effect (what happens when the block tower gets too tall?), problem solving (where does this piece fit into the puzzle?), and even social skills through creating their own scenarios and stories through play.
You will also want books, and lots of them. Most children love to be read to. Actively read WITH your child in order to introduce them to letters and their sounds as well as basic concepts of life and literature.
Not all children like to sit still long enough for a full story. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t still benefit from books.
Just having them available can pique their curiosity. They may create their own story by looking at the pictures, have an idea to create or draw something of their own, or they may become interested as they see the words they cannot read on their own.
There is a reason arts and crafts are a big part of the preschool curriculum. Kids not only love making a mess, but they also get a sense of pride in the things they create.
You can utilize art supplies to spark creativity, teach about colors, and even develop fine and gross motor skills.
Music can play a huge part in learning for children. You probably know from experience how much easier it is to remember something when it’s been put into song form.
Singing together can help them learn important things you want them to remember. It is also just fun.
Allowing your child to make their own music also has its benefits.
Finally, get your kids moving. Not only do they have a ton of energy they need to burn off, but they can also develop great skills and learn through movement.
You can teach them hand motions to a song you want them to remember the words to.
You can also teach them skills through sports and play, encourage their sense of exploration, and even improve their health by spending time in the sunshine.
5 Example Tot School themes
One way you can intentionally incorporate Tot School into your child’s day is to utilize different themes.
Themes in Tot School don’t have to be complicated. It can involve make believe play around the theme, or incorporating different toys, songs, crafts, and stories around a central theme.
Keep in mind that planning and creating your own tot school activities can be very time-consuming. So we always recommend that you take advantage of subscription boxes that cover a range of STEM activities.
But if you prefer to be hands-on in creating these yourself at home here are some examples of some great Tot School themes to try.
Parents have gotten really creative with the airplane theme.
You can time this one around a trip you are going to take in order to help your child better understand what the airport and plane will be like, or you can just do it for fun for your child who may be fascinated with anything that “goes.”
For your nature or animal lover, or in coordination with the beginning of spring, the bird theme can really be fun for your little one.
Feel free to incorporate anything to do with birds, eggs, and feathers. You can even do a nature hunt with binoculars in your backyard.
The star theme can be incorporated in a number of ways. If you want to do a week about shapes, the letter S, or even space and star-themed activities will fit right in.
Going along with the shape ideas, the circle theme really has a lot to go on. Show your little one how to sort shapes, discovering how many things around them are circles.
You can even have lunch or snack time centered around the theme.
And one more shape themed tot school idea. The square allows you to incorporate things like building blocks, leggo, plus some more rigid coloring and play-doh activities.
Building familiarity and recognition with these common shapes will help build your toddler’s enthusiasm for play time.
Hopefully, these few ideas show you how easy it is to incorporate Tot School into your child’s daily routine.
Many of these things you may already be doing, but being aware of how much your child can learn through play can help you be more intentional with turning playtime into a teaching opportunity.