Woohoo we’re actually embarking on Tot School!
This has something I’ve been thinking about and researching for so long now, but I never really got my head around actually putting it into practice. Up until now we’ve been doing craft and fine motor activities here and there but Tot School felt like it needed a degree of organisation and I just wasn’t ready for it.
My kiddos are two and a half and they both have a speech and language delay. We’re waiting on a formal diagnosis but Master J is almost certainly on the autism spectrum. And these things present us with challenges, because they’re not developing at the same rate as a typical toddler, and they need a little more support to help them.
And for me that’s where Tot School comes in.
This isn’t about me sitting them at a table and drilling them to learn their ABCs. It’s about having a structure I can work within so that I can invite them to play with different activities and try and introduce them to new things.
It will still be child led. And it will still be based around play. And if they don’t want to take part in any activity on any given day then so be it.
The structured element is for my benefit, so I have a plan of activities we can do on any given day and so I can observe them and watch how they’re developing. So that I understand more about what kind of external support they might need.
I searched online for a Tot School Curriculum that I could just pick up and run with, but I couldn’t find one that I really liked, and that seemed to be right for my kids. So I decided I would just create my own. I’m documenting it here in case it happens to be a good fit for your child too, or even a springboard for you to use to create something that’s tailored to their skills and development needs.
These are the elements that I have decided to include in our Tot School Curriculum.
I spent a lot of time wondering how I was going to choose topics and decide on an order for our Tot School Curriculum, and I finally decided on a Letter of the Week approach. Each week we will cover one letter, and as well as focusing on letter recognition that will also be the prompt for choosing the theme of the week.
I did quite bit of reading to see what order the letters should be introduced in (and there are so many combinations!) and finally settled on the order suggested by the folks at School Sparks.
I liked their philosophy behind the order in which they introduce letters because both of my kiddos have a speech delay, and the School Sparks approach is to start with the easy sounds first. Those that are easiest for a child to feel, hear, identify and produce, because they are formed with the lips, teeth and the tongue touching the teeth (forward position).
Each week we’ll do some fun activities to help letter recognition, including talking about the theme of the week, going on a Letter Hunt, and reading books.
My kids both love books and we usually just sit and look at whatever book they choose from the shelf. As we move through Tot School I am going to select a number of books each week that fit with the theme.
If you are following along with our Tot School Curriculum there is no need to rush out and buy new books, if you have an ample supply of books in your home you’re sure to have something that fits, and if not you can take a trip to the library to see what’s on offer.
I will link up our book selection to Amazon just in case you really don’t have anything suitable for the theme.
A Weekly Poem
Each week I’m going to try and find a poem that fits the theme too. Children love rhymes so now is a perfect time to introduce them to poetry.
Over time I want to try and introduce a Poetry Tea but right now I need to work on having my kids actually sit still at the table long enough to read a poem and eat their snack. To begin with we’ll probably do the poem as part of bedtime.
Miss E loves numbers, she can count on her fingers and loves to point out the number 2 whenever she sees it. I recently read this article which talks about sensitising children to numbers at an early age. We can do this by naming the number of objects in a group so that they understand the word, but also the quantity. This is early maths and will help them not only be able to count, but also to be able to add and subtract.
Each week we’ll be focusing on a number (starting at 1 and working our way through to 25, and then finally 100) and adding some fun activities into our days to work on number recognition.
Shape and Colour Recognition
Each week I plan on introducing a colour or a shape (alternating weeks) with a range of simple activities we can do to help the kids recognise them.
I’ve added colours into the curriculum just based on the order in which they appear in the rainbow song, and the shapes have been added in by started with the most simple and moving up to the more complex shapes.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are finger and hand skills such as writing, cutting, opening and closing objects and manipulating buttons and zippers.
Developing the muscles in the arms, hands and fingers is really important because delayed development can cause a knock on effect to so many other skills. Poor fine motor skills affects their inability to play independently, can delay their sensory development, means they can’t feed or dress themselves and results in increased frustration when they can’t play with their toys or read a book in the way they want to.
Development fine motor skills is like building a house; you can’t start by putting the roof on, you have to start by digging the foundations and work your way up in a certain order. There is a great chart here that explains the order in which the skills should be developed, and a checklist here so you can measure your child’s progress. I have copies of these in my Tot School Binder to help me make sure the kids are on track, and to help me tailor fine motor activities accordingly.
Each week I’ll be providing the kids with a range of fine motor activities they can do relating to the theme of the week. Some of them will be art and craft based because that’s a great way to practice fine motor skills and then have something they can hang on the pin board and look at as we talk about the theme during the week.
Gross Motor Skills
I always thought that gross motor skills, like the ability to walk, run, jump and throw were a natural part of development. I certainly didn’t ‘teach’ my children to crawl, it seemed that one day they were lying on the floor and the next they were up on their hands and knees and motoring across the room.
But that’s not quite true. As a child grows they develop the basic skills they need to crawl, walk, run, jump and throw, but they need some help from us to develop these physical skills; so that they become ‘competent’.
Think about a subject you did at school that you weren’t very good at, like maths or sports, you probably stopped trying after a while, and may even have gone out of your way to avoid those things in later life.
Turns out it’s the same with gross motor development in a child.
Miss E is a very competent runner, from the moment she could walk she realised she could get places more quickly if she ran, so she ran everywhere and runs with grace. Her brother on the other hand is a very clumsy runner, and almost looks like he’s falling through space as he moves. And so he chooses to walk instead of run. I’d often comment that he “could” run but that I never really saw him do it. But recently we have been playing running games in the back garden; chasing a hula hoop or a football, or even just holding hands and racing back and forth. And he is flailing less, and as he is gaining confidence he is now running more often during the day.
Who knew. Practice makes perfect when it comes to gross motor skills!
If a child feels physically awkward then they will avoid physical play. And that is not a good thing because an inactive child will grow into an inactive adult, who may have problems with their weight and therefore their health.
You can check your child’s physical development using this chart and this checklist. I have printed these out and added them to our Tot School Binder so that I can keep a close eye on physical development.
Because mastering gross motor skills is just as important as fine motor, or speech and language development I am making sure that we dedicate time every single day.
We go swimming once a week, and to a toddler gymnastics session where there is lots of opportunity for climbing, jumping, running and throwing. Both kids love to jump on the trampoline, or the bed, and Master J likes to make mountains out of the sofa cushions to climb over.
Pretend play is another key part of development for toddlers and so I’m going to include at least one activity each week into our curriculum. My imagination isn’t what it used to be and I struggle to come up with things as the kids are playing, so I’m hoping that taking some time in advance to sit and come up with a basic framework to expand on will help us do more pretend play.
There are so many skills to be learned while baking; fine motor, gross motor, speech and language, letter recognition, number recognition, shape and colour recognition, early math and science, patience while you wait for the goodies to bake, and then of course at the end of it you get to eat the fruits of your hard labour!
Each week I’ll be including a recipe in our Tot School Curriculum, but I can’t promise it will always fit the theme exactly.
The other thing I’m keen for my kiddos to do is get outside and explore nature and the Great Outdoors.
Miss E loves flowers (watering them and picking them, even when she’s not supposed to!) and Master J will happily dig in the mud for hours (even when he’s wearing his best clothes!)
So each week we’ll have a nature activity included, and I will try and collate a master list just in case you start working through the Tot School Curriculum at a different time of year to us and need to do a more seasonally appropriate activity.
A Weekly Field Trip
I’m keen to take a field trip each week too so that we can get out of the house and explore some place new. Some weeks the field trip might tie in with the theme, other weeks it might be as simple as going to a new play park for the afternoon.
When my list is finished I’ll share it here.
Wow that feels like an awful lot to get through each week and I might have to tweak as we go along. I want to leave time each day for some child led play but neither of my kiddos takes a nap so we do have a whole 12 hours a day at our disposal!
I think we all need a little more structure in our lives right now, and just knowing what I can do each day to keep them entertained, and help them learn and develop will make life a lot less stressful.
Tot School Supplies
You don’t need to run out and buy lots of new stuff to do Tot School with your toddler, I want to try and do as much as we can with objects we already have at home.
There are a few things I couldn’t do without thought:
- Inkjet Printer – I love this printer! Not only can I print out all the printables, colouring pages and checklists I might need, but it has a scanner too so I can scan in the kid’s artwork and at the end of the year I can turn it into a photobook!
- White Paper – Because you can never have enough white paper on hand.
- Laminator – I confess I am addicted to my laminator! I love to be able to create card games, and lacing shapes and laminate them up so that they last a whole lot longer.
- Laminating Pockets – Because the laminator is just a paper weight without them.
- LessonPix Subscription – I use this to make all of my printables and colouring sheets and it’s an absolute bargain at $36 a year
- Wax Crayons – For all the colouring
- Washable markers – Because sometimes the colour strays off the paper…
- Construction Paper – for craft activities
- Cardstock – for craft activities
- Craft Supplies – for craft activities
- Amazon Prime – I put off signing up for Amazon Prime for so long, but now I can’t live without it. It is just so easy to order what I need and have it turn up on the doorstep – without having to drag two toddlers out to the store!
- Library Card – So we don’t have to buy too many new books!
~Clare – currently pinning to Fun Toddler Activities.