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Tot School FAQ

I get a lot of questions about tot school and how and why I do things the way I do. Before I start to answer some of the tot school frequently asked questions, I just need to say -- I don't have all the right answers. I've been doing this for about a year, and yes, I've learned a lot about what works for my child. That may not be the answer for yours so don't be afraid of trying something, or doing something that works for you!

14 frequently asked questions for tot school.

1. How do I start tot school in my home?

My favorite advice -- just start! Don't over think, everything doesn't have to be perfect and you don't have to do everything at once. Pick an activity to do and start there, if your child is having fun, grow from there. Way back when Henry was 13-months-old, I started one afternoon with two bowls, some balls, and a kitchen scoop -- Henry had so much fun that we just never stopped. Everyone has a beginning and it's fine to keep it simple. 

2. Is my child too young?

This is a hard one for me to answer because I don't know your child. But, I will say, Henry started at 13-months-old and did great. If I was to have another child, I would probably start even earlier. For me I would start with a simple baby school about the time my child could sit up on their own. 

3. Do I need a dedicated tot school space?

While I've been fortunate enough to have a dedicated tot school space, I 100 percent don't think it is necessary. Most tot school activities could be done anywhere. For us, it is better for Henry to be separated from his regular toys when he is doing tot school or else he is too easily distracted. Also, I like the dedicated space because it allows me to keep all of the materials out without having to worry about Henry's safety. A lot of the things we use at tot school are too small for Hen to use unsupervised  So, if you don't have a dedicated space, just make sure you have a space where you can safely store what you are working on that week.

4. How long do you spend doing tot school each day?

During tot school time,  I think it is extremely important to follow Henry's lead. During tot school time, if Henry is into an activity, I go with it. If he's not interested in tot school that day -- fine, I never push it. Therefore, the amount of time really depends on Henry, some days its 10 minutes, others it's 2 hours. Generally, we average between 30 and 60 minutes each day. Again, I cannot stress enough, follow your child's lead -- just let it be fun.

5. Is there a particular time of day that you do tot school? Why?

Yes, we do tot school in the late afternoon, or sometimes after dinner. We've picked that time, for one reason -- that's when we're home. In the  mornings, we are usually out-and-about or have a class/activity scheduled. So, there usually isn't time for tot school in the mornings. If we were home more in the mornings, I would have no problem doing tot school then. 

6. How do you make Henry sit and do an activity? Does he always finish?

Short answer - I don't and he doesn't. Again, tot school is all about learning through play. I want to instill a love of learning, and to do that, I keep things fun so no forcing him to do anything or finish anything. Henry doesn't always finish a tray or an activity. And some days, especially in the beginning of the week, he will bounce from activity to activity very quickly -- but that's ok. The only thing I make him do is help cleanup one activity before he begins the next. I will also say, the longer we do tot school, and the older he gets, the better he has become about sitting and doing an activity from start to finish. Over time, he starts to understand that the materials have a start and an end, and he works to find that end.

7. How many materials do you prepare each week? Can I do more or less?

I always prepare 3 tot trays and at least two other activities. The number of activities we do, or get to, each week depends on how much time I have to prepare, how interested Henry is, and how much time we have for tot school. On a busy week, we may only do the two extra activities, or we may do 5 -- it really depends. The one thing I don't set up a ton of is art projects -- Henry just never shows much interest and they end up causing frustration for both of us. I think the number of activities you plan is really up to you. Gauge your child's interest, and realistically think about how much time you have, then plan away.

8. How much time do you spend preparing for tot school each week?

This is a tough one, because I don't keep track really. A lot of "preparing" is surfing Pinterest, or reading blogs. Then, there is creating materials, and finally clean up/set out. In total, I'm guessing between 3 and 4 hours a week are spent on these activities. 

9. What is your tot school budget?

Again, this is a really tough one because I'm not the best at keep track. I don't have a set budget per week and some weeks are more expensive than others. But a lot of my materials are things I bought when I first started and use over and over -- so there are certainly higher start-up costs. I'm guessing, per week, I spend maybe $5.00-$10.00 now {if you include things like printer ink and laminating paper}. But, you could spend a lot more, or less. I make a lot of my own materials, which keeps my costs low.  

10. How did you pick your curriculum?

Honestly, I don't really have a set curriculum. I have set concepts that I want to teach, like letters, but beyond that, I go with the flow. I do it this way because it gives me more flexibility to follow Henry's lead. If he's in a sensitive period for matching then I can incorporate more matching activities. 

11. How do you choose your activities each week?

Well, I have a concept that I want to teach, right now its the letter of the week. Then, I have skills that I want to emphasize, or I've noticed Hen is in a sensitive period for something. These generally include matching, pouring, fine motor, gross motor, etc. Then, I choose try to choose an activity that combines the concept and the skill. I get ideas from other blogs, Pinterest, just googling and I make many of my own. 

12. Does tot school have to focus on Montessori-style learning?

Montessori is a learning philosophy that I really knew nothing about prior to starting tot school, and I still have a LOT to learn. For me, I'm just drawn to its child-led approach. I think it fits well with my overall parenting-style and I think it is easily adapted to fit our situation. A lot of what I do is not "traditional Montessori" but instead is Montessori inspired. While I would love to do more traditional Montessori activities, I just cannot afford the materials right now -- so we make do. Tot school is really just making learning fun for your tot, so there is no reason that it has to fit one particular learning style -- so if Montessori doesn't appeal to you, you can still have lots of fun with tot school. 

13. Do you force Henry to finish an activity?

I kind of answered this above, but I wanted to be very clear. No, I don't force Henry to do anything. I see my job to prepare the environment to facilitate learning, beyond that Henry is in control. He chooses when he starts and finishes an activity. While it may be hard to give up control, I find he learns best when he is in control of what he is doing. 

14. How do you handle clean-up time?

In the beginning, I let Henry destroy our tot school area, then we did a big clean up at the end. But, over time, and as I've learned more about Montessori, I really see the value in having an orderly environment. In order to learn, Henry needs his space to be uncluttered and he needs to have that structure. So, we now clean up each tray prior to starting the next one. At this age, Henry is responsible for cleaning up most of the tray. He's not perfect, and some days he is down right sassy and so things don't get cleaned up. But we work on it, every time. I've really seen this improve his ability and willingness to clean up over time and most days it is not a struggle, and he does contribute quite a bit. But, he almost always needs a reminder to clean up, and help doing it.  



Thank you so much for this post.... I've been wanting to start but have been wondering a lot of the same things.
love it! I think the key is to follow the lead of the child, just like you said!
Deb Chitwood said…
Great post, Nicole! Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. You're doing awesome things with your tot school. I love the approach you're taking. Having Henry put things away before getting out something new is something you'll definitely appreciate over the years. My now-adult kids (former Montessori kids) are much more organized than I am! I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:
I finally got to read this and I am definitely not disappointed :) I am hoping to establish a good tot school routine with my youngest, just to make sure I am spending some quality learning time with him, this summer, and one thing I have learned is that I am always learning! :) I really appreciate this post.
the brain said…
THANK YOU for your series on Tot School!!

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