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Tot School Essentials

I get a lot of questions about starting up tot school. What do I need? Where do I start? What do I do? How long? What if my kid hates it? And the list goes on. And I LOVE to share what I've learned. 

I still can hardly believe that Henry and I have been going strong with tot school for over a year now. Back when I wrote this post, I spent hours reading, researching, planning and buying everything I thought I needed. Over time, as I've begun to incorporate more Montessori principals my list of Montessori inspired tot school essentials has changed and evolved.

Montessori inspired tot school essentials, a list of essentials if you want to tot school at home.

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 

If you're thinking about starting tot school, or just wanting to incorporate some learning into your play, here are my top list of things you'll need: 

1. Storage, storage, and then some more storage. Stay organized, or this happens. For most of my storage needs, I turn to Ikea -- specifically the Trofast system. I also go through a TON of sandwich bags which help to keep everything organized inside the bins.

2. Laminator. Not a week goes by that I don't use my laminator. I have a small laminator that I love. One tip -- buy these refills, they are WAY cheaper. 

3. Trays. I use plastic IKEA trays, but I hate them. I use them because they are what I bought when I first started and they are one thing I'm looking to replace. I dislike them for a few reasons -- One, Montessori principals encourage using natural materials that are more ascetically pleasing; Two, they are way too big for Henry, he can't carry them by himself which frustrates him and they are usually too big for the activity I have for the week; Three, they need handles, again to make them easier for Henry to use. Personally, I've been eyeing up some wooden trays from Michaels, and have been on the look out for them to be on sale. 

4. Baskets/containers/smaller trays. I'm constantly collecting these. I used to just throw everything on one of the trays an call it a day, but as I learn more about Montessori, I've learned the importance of making the tray beautiful and orderly. The smaller containers also seem to add to the fun as Henry loves to play with the containers. I find these all over the place - Target dollar spot and Goodwill are my favorite spots to find things. Montessori principals lead me to buy more natural materials like wood, glass and metal. Although, I still buy plastic things like ice cube trays, bowls, and special containers -- I try to stick to natural for my every-week trays.

5. Acrylic Paint. In a pinch, you can make something for a tray.

6. Felt. This is another one of those things with endless possibilities.

7. Pom-Poms, Buttons, Beads, and little objects. These things offer so many possibilities  sometimes just changing up the medium -- like using water beads instead of pom-poms, or pouring buttons can totally change a simple activity to help it fit a theme. Plus they are amazing for fine motor practice.

8. Holiday Items. After a holiday, check out the clearance items. Shop for next year and start building a collection. Its always awesome to have some cheap on-theme items to pull out and make cute stuff.

9. A good printer. I print a lot of stuff and having a nice printer really helps cut back on the hassle.

10. Art Supplies. Dry erase markers, dot painters, washable markers, glue, crayons, scissors, construction paper, and washable paint are all musts for us. Sometimes Henry uses these things for projects, and sometimes I use them to make our activities. 

What are your tot school essentials? Anything I should add to the list? 


Angelina said…
Love this post, makes it very clear, especially for beginners! I had a large collection of "Montessori items" when I lived overseas, and am having fun building it up again! Great blog! :-)
AlissaBC said…
This is so helpful! Thanks!
Jelli said…
Thanks for sharing what's in your Montessori arsenal, Nicole. I'm still learning about Montessori, but it seems like a great way to teach my little girl. We've got some of these supplies on hand, but a long way to go. Hope you and Henry have a fantastic week!
Jen said…
Love it! I would add in for organization snap folders to keep the printables of each "theme" organized - I get them at the dollar store and love them (and the fact that they cost $1...). There are also some really nice metal trays at the Dollar Tree you might want to check out - they are near the kitchen/foil section. They look much nicer than what I would think a dollar would buy!
Kirstylee said…
This is a great list. Right now I am on the lookout for the some small pouring containers. I've been looking for little pitchers or liquid measuring cups, but they are all much bigger than I want. Where did you find your pouring containers?
I got mine at Homegoods in kitchen section. They were meant for syrup!
Great list! I'm preparing to put some Montessori shelves for my kids, and I'm planning to visit Goodwill to see what I can find to put on them.
Your post made me smile A LOT. I've been home schooling for well over a year now, but we switched to the Montessori Method at the beginning of February. I think you nailed everything in this post. I'm actually looking forward to yard sales this summer hoping to pick up some cool trays, naturally made containers and some fun activities to put on trays. You can check out our activities at Thanks for making me smile!
I enjoyed the post Nicole! Came by from Montessori Monday to see your essentials for tots since I'll be starting mine in September. Her older brother was older when I first started him on the method so I thought I'd get some tips from the trenches! :) How about a work mat? Does your tot use one? -Valerie @ Sorting Sprikles
Marnie said…
What a useful post! Thanks for linking up to our Virtual Sharing Fair! I am sharing this post on Carrots are Orange FB page! ~ Marnie
That new printer is a good match for any household. The toys and art supplies are cute and necessary. It would be lovely to have it in your home and enjoy learning like that every day.

I enjoyed ideas I got from the list as well. It's not giving off the appearance of an arrangement that is packed with lots of things. It's simple and makes a statement by being like that. Nice collections and pictures and I'm sure they evoke good memories and ideas.
Deb Chitwood said…
Great ideas for anyone wanting to use Montessori principles for little ones, Nicole! Thanks for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Montessori Homeschool Classroom board at
Stephanie White said…
I would like to start totschool with my daughter. Shes 2. I have most of what you have listed here already, but Im unsure how to begin schooling with her.
Stephanie White said…
I would like to start totschool with my daughter. Shes 2. I have most of what you have listed here already, but Im unsure how to begin schooling with her.
Jennifer Hughes said…
In addition to Monday Kid Corner Weekly Linky Party, this week's theme is MUD. Brush off those archives and link them up at See you there! Jennifer
Bookwizard said…
I did Montessori with my kids in the late 60's and early 70's I made most of my materials from scraps of lumber. With the Grandchildren whom we homeschooled till 4th grade we were more literature based using items to complement various books. By using some stories from Project Gutenberg I replaced names in the stories with their names and names of pets and friends using MS Word's replace function as we read they would say their names as they appeared in the stories and soon began to recognize other words as they were used. Now with the latest arrival we have sorted using the clear plastic shoe box sized containers from Home Depot for around $1 each. I built shelves to hold these and with them being clear it is evident what is in each bin. This allows us to name the things we need for the activity and she can get the bins and then putting the items back in their proper bin when done helps build organizational and sorting skills. We also use computers a lot as an engineer I had several and passed down the older machines. When our twin granddaughters were 4 they came and asked to make cookies I said I would need to find a recipe in about 20 minutes they came back with a print out on how to make chocolate chip cookies. I suppose they had watched me search and were able to find the page and knew how to print from using MS Paint to draw. I also used the "Dolch List" a list of sight words that do not follow the rules of Phonics and can make up around 70% of the words in many children's books of course Phonics was also a subject. We knew several 4 year olds that could read anything and one 3 year old that was taught to read by the older children in the home. So it is never too early and Montessori is a proven structure to use with other items of your choosing based on your children's interests.

One suggestion if you intend to print a lot learn to refill it is easy and there are kits on ebay and youtube videos showing what to do. I have used all brands but find Canon a bit easier you need a printer with separate cartridges for each color and rubber gloves. It costs about 25 cents to refill a must if you are doing a lot of folder games and the matching concentration type of games. I go through about a Quart of each color ink in a year and have found to have good ink at good prices. For black only printing I use a Refurbished Laser that cost $40 the toner is $20 on ebay and will print around 1000 to 1500 pages (2 cents a page) great for coloring pages and for self printing children's early readers.

Bill Lewis

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