Behind the Scenes ~ Tot School Tools


For the first in this series I am going to address the collection, storage, and usage of the many Tot School items we have and use at our house. Questions about these Tot-School related issues are definitely the ones I receive the most via email and comments!

Where and how did you get all of your Tot School items?

  • ASK! Seriously I just asked. I let both sets of grandparents, and anyone else who buys gifts for our tot that we would love school related items! I suggest Melissa and Doug items since they are easy to find. Thankfully in our great family, they even ask me for ideas a lot , we are very blessed and have received many of our purchased toys as gifts. We own almost all of the things featured here in our Tools for Tots store, thanks to the generosity of family and friends!!!
  • MAKE! Use the Tools for Tots webpage for inspiration and begin making tools for your tot! If you do this, be sure to share anything new you come up with so I can add it to the site!
  • LOOK! Look around your own house for what can be re-created into a Tot School tool, or what can be gathered together to make a cool tool. You can find many of those ideas on blogs, especially Montessori style blogs. Here is one example of a tool we use quite often (scroll to the bottom to see our straws, sticks, bottle activity).
  • SHOP! Keep your eyes open for bargains while out shopping, I have found awesome Tot-Tools in the dollar section at Target, at the Dollar Store, and just shopping in general.

How do you store all of the toys/tools once you start accumulating them, they seem to overtake my house and I often feel frazzled that I can’t find what I am looking for when I really need something quickly to engage my tot?

  • This is a problem I had for a LONG time, until I solved it recently. I had our toys/tools in various places and even though we had a lot, I found myself feeling at a loss on any given day(especially the days when K was being impatient). I began realizing my problem and decided to go with a master list, hoping this would give me something to spur my brain in those brain-dead moments. The list was great but it still wasn’t all I needed. Finally, I decided to store ALL of our tools (the ones I could) the same way and in the same place. I got gallon Ziploc bags and even some larger ones and I took every Tot toy/tool I had and placed each one in a baggie and sealed it. I then took all of the baggies and put them in one central place, for us it is in the wagon which is stored in our schoolroom. Yes it looks messy, but it makes sense to me :).Getting rid of the bulky boxes and such really helped me because I could get to and clean up a tool much easier. Plus, it solved the mixing of bought and home-made tools. I still have to store some of the bigger items in their boxes up on a shelf, like our ABC floor mat or bigger puzzles, but most of our tools are now stored using this baggie method.

How do you decide which tools to bring out each day?

  • This honestly depends on my mood…
  • TRAYS-Most days I set out 4-5 trays and dump a different tool into each tray and let K choose that way.
  • FREE CHOICE-Some days I tell K to go in and select his own tool out of the wagon, although we don’t do this very often.
  • MY CHOICE-Some days I just pick one tool at a time (mostly the days when I haven’t had time to really set up with thought) and hope it engages K!

How do you plan/prepare for Tot School each week?

  • Honestly I don’t much. I did at first but I realized that my planning brain did not jive well with my short-attention-span, opinionated tot. So, I dropped the planning mindset and went more with the *what works for today* outlook.
  • I do have spreadsheets that I record data on so I can help guide K’s exposure to early learning skills. I never call it *teaching* him, I personally do not believe in teaching a tot, just playing to expose early learning skills in a fun, engaging way.
  • When recording skills that have been exposed and mastered, I fill in the dates each time he shows knowledge of the skill (in case it was a fluke the first time). By the 3rd time, I consider the skill mastered. For example, let’s say on Monday 4/12/08 he recognized and identified a triangle with no help, I would fill in that date under the #1 section. Then a few days later, if he recognized it again, I would add that date to #2, and so on. I am not always on top of these sheets as I should be, but they do help in keeping me focused from time to time and are also nice to show Daddy when he has mastered a certain skill!
  • Here is my Tot School Goals Spreadsheet… (it includes the goals that are listed on the Tot School main page)
  • Here is my Letter ID sheet…
  • I make my forms like this in Microsoft Excel.

What is a normal day for you like? My tot seems to have no attention span!!!

  • GO HERE!!!! Read my minute-by-minute Tot School time and you will see that our house is probably much more similar to your house than you thought! Some days K loves everything I bring out, some days he hates it all. We have been officially Tot Schooling since he was about 22 months old and he is now almost 32 months old. His attention span and attitude still varies from day to day and I have learned to not let it stress me as much as it used to!
  • If you are feeling stressed about *teaching* your tot, go here and read my goals and beliefs about educating a young child. Hopefully you will see that educating a tot should just be about exposing early learning skills in a fun play-centered way (at least that’s what I believe 😉 ).

If you have any more questions for me under this topic, leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them there so all can see the answers!