Starting tot school

I found this idea online last week called tot school and I loved it.  I have always wanted to homeschool Mingli, and I have been impatient lately to get started, but I thought I had to wait until he was older.  My degree in college was early childhood special education, I love teaching, and I have so many ideas of stuff I want to do with him, so it has been hard to wait.  Then when I was making my planner and looking at different pages other people had put in their planner I discovered someone who had a tot school planning page.  I started looking into it and get really excited.  I have been doing some informal things with Mingli, but it didn’t occur to me that I could already start doing more formal things with him.  Well, I guess I did think of doing formal things with him, but what always came to mind were flash cards and things, and I don’t want to do that because I don’t believe that is developmentally appropriate for a child his age.  The different tot school ideas sounded like so much fun.  I found a quote that I really loved that basically summed up what I want to do.  It is from http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/TotSchool.html, “Tot school is focused time with your tot, exposing early learning skills through fun play.”  I found lots of different ways to structure tot school, so after looking around I thinking about Mingli and what would work best for both of us, I decided that we are going to have a daily theme (lots of people do weekly themes, and I think I will when he is older, but for right now it is daily), and each day we are going to read a few books going along with that theme, then have three activities that we will do.  All of the activities are designed to be fun for Mingli, and as soon as he gets tired of an activity we stop, even if he only does the activity for less than a minute.  I am also planning activities that are free or cheap and do not take a lot of time for me to plan or prepare.  This week was our first week of doing it, and it was a lot of fun.

We started on Tuesday with the theme of animals.  We were not able to get to the library before Tuesday, so we read books we already had at home.  The books we read were Touch and Feel Farm Animals and Mama and Baby.  Mama and Baby doesn’t have any words, so we just looked at the pictures and talked about the animals in them.  Next we sung a song I found online here.  Mingli liked the actions, even though he only did some of them.  After that we played with the new animal puzzles Mingli got for Christmas.  He is getting pretty good at them and can almost always put them in the correct place, and can now some of the time get them in without any help.  He also knows all of the animals on the puzzle and will pick up a piece if you ask him where a specific animal is.  He can say most of the names as well, but they are not very clear.  The cutest is the giraffe, which he calls “raffe.”  When we were done with that we moved onto the zoo play set Mingli got for Christmas.  Part of this was helping Mingli learn how to use it.  He has never used a play set before and doesn’t play pretend yet, so I modeled some different things to do with it.  Mingli copied most of them, and then he also made up his own ways of using it as well.  I could see that it was challenging him and making him think in new ways, which I loved. Some of the skills worked on were language, fine motor, gross motor, music, cognitive, problem solving, social skills, and pretend play.  Pretty good for an hour of play.

Wednesday our theme was colors.  I was pretty excited about this day.  After our books we sorted colored paper.  I put a red, yellow, and blue piece of paper on the floor, then put some ripped up pieces on the floor next to them.  I helped Mingli put the ripped up pieces of paper on the sheets that I had laid on the floor.  I thought it would take a little bit of time for him to get it, maybe even multiple days, but after me helping him with about 4 pieces he could do it all by himself without getting any wrong.  After a while he could hand me a piece if I asked him for a specific color, and he could say red and blue.  At one point I put a yellow piece on the blue sheet to see what he would do and he immediately picked it up and put it where it belonged.  When he was done with that we went to the bathtub and did finger paint.  I knew he would make a huge mess, so I figured it might be best to do the finger painting in the tub so he could make as big of a mess as he wanted without me worrying about it.  He had so much fun, and even ended up sticking his face in the bowl a few times.  He ate the finger paint, which I knew he would, but I made my own finger paint out of flour, water, and food coloring so it was completely edible.  When Mingli was done we just turned on the water and rinsed off, which Mingli found just as fun as the finger painting.  I had blocks planned as our last activity for the day, but Mingli didn’t want to do it.  Blocks is one of his favorite toys, but I tried to get him to sort the blocks by color like he did with the paper, and that just stressed him out, so he started putting them away.  I made a rule when I started school with him that anytime Mingli was done with the activity we were done, he is too young to be forced into any learning activities, so our last activity only lasted less than a minute.  Some of the skills we worked on were cognitive, fine motor, art, and language.

Thursday was smells.  I took everything out of our spice cabinet and showed Mingli how to smell the spices.  The first one he leaned forward, put his nose next to the spice, and sniffed like he had seen me do, then jumped back and said”oh!”  It was such a funny reaction.  He loved smelling the spices after that, and even started saying “smell” as he would sniff them.  After that we played with some conditioner bags that I had made.  This is something I I found a while back, while I was still in school.  You dump a bottle of conditioner into a gallon sized ziplock bag (make sure the conditioner is colored and scented, the cheap stuff works really well), seal it up, then lay it on a flat surface.  You can then use your finger to move the conditioner around and sort of finger paint with it, but without the mess and it smells wonderful.  Mingli did this for a couple of minutes, mainly squeezing the bags, then was ready to move on, so I pulled out the Koolaid playdough I had made.  Again, this activity only lasted a couple of minutes before Mingli was done with it, especially after finding out how awful the playdough tasted.  I thought tot school was over for the day, because Mingli had finished all the activities I had planned, but then he reached for the spices again.  We spent the next several minutes smelling all the spices again, then Mingli wanted to try opening and closing them himself.  I had told myself that I was going to do activities as long as Mingli wanted to, but I discovered that there is only so long I can play the open and close game before I start going insane.  Mingli wasn’t too happy when I decided that the game was over, but he did enjoy helping me put away the spices.  Some of the skills we worked on were sensory, fine motor, language, decision making skills, and art.

On Friday we didn’t do tot school because Mingli had a dentist appointment during the time when we usually do it, so we skipped it.

All in all it was a great first week.  I am not really sure who enjoyed it more, me or Mingli.  I could see that Mingli was really being challenged with some of these things, but that he was loving that challenge.  Just a couple of hours ago I caught him sorting his blocks by color all by himself.  It was a proud mommy moment.  Mingli is a smart boy, and he was so ready for the challenges of tot school.  I am so glad that I found this idea.

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