I have been waiting for this time to come! For two years, I have been holding back my teacher-self, but since Cricket recently turned 2, I decided it was ok to let go of the reins a little bit and start a more formal approach to our time at home. I call it Toddler School.
It's been awesome.
Seriously. We have both had such a great time in our first official month of "Toddler School."
What is Toddler School? (Or Tot School or Mommy School or whatever you want to call it.) It's just a way to introduce some learning into your toddler's daily life. Most daycare or mother's day out places do this in some form. This is just the version for the stay-at-home toddlers. It's not forced. It's not "sit down and do school" work. It's fun! It is just being intentional about teaching while you go through your day.
I have geared our lessons around the alphabet. We are slowly going through each letter, learning the sound it makes, words that begin with that letter, and famous people and places that begin with it. This is a very basic way to do a unit study that helps direct both me and her. It takes us about two weeks to get through one letter, which is fine by me. I want to enjoy it and really cover the things we learn about, not rush through it.
Ok, so what exactly do we do? It looks like this.
Calendar: After breakfast (and after I've finished my coffee) at some point, I'll ask Cricket if she wants to do her calendar. This is a great little blank calendar I use. I got mine through Usborne Books. Amazon doesn't sell it, but you can find it here. (That's not an affiliate link. Just thought you might want to find it.) It just has cute pictures they can color, and all the months are blank, so you can start it whenever you want. We started ours in April.
Every day, we count all the days up until we get to the new day (which also reinforces one-to-one correspondence, number recognition, and left to right prereading skills). I write in the new day and she colors it (and usually a couple of other days for good measure). We say the days of the week together, and we review what month it is. (She learned the days of the week very quickly just doing this once a day.) I show her how we can use the calendar to find out what day it is (introducing graph concepts).
This is what it looked like by the end of the month:
Bible Verse: Then I pull out our Bible verse ring and we say the Bible verses we have learned. (I printed off these amazing ABC Bible verse cards for free!) It is so fun to watch her memorize verses, and she is so proud of it!
Coloring Page: Then we color a picture. I print off a bunch of coloring pages ahead of time that go with the current letter, and she usually colors one a day. I try to find two famous people that begin with that letter, one man and one woman. I also find one place (country, city, continent, whatever), at least one animal (usually we end up with a bunch), and one object. I find my coloring pages just by Googling, but here are a few sites that have been really helpful.
Alphabet made with animals
Pages with the letter and several corresponding pictures
Lots of pages with historical figures and animals
Good pages for women in history and lots more
When she is finished coloring, I display them so we can talk about them throughout the time we are working on that letter.
After I took the A pages down, I taped some page protectors on the cabinets in my kitchen so I can just slide the sheets in easily and not worry about trying to get the tape off the paper each time. When we finish with one letter, I put all of her coloring sheets in one page protector in a binder. By the time we're finished, she'll have a whole "book" of pages to look through!
Games: I have a few "learning games" that I pull out after she finishes coloring. Cricket loves these and usually asks for them several times a day. I found them at 1+1+1=1, which is a fantastic site for all kinds of printables and ideas for what she calls "Tot School." My approach is a little more laid back that hers, so I usually just print off a couple of the games on cardstock, like the three piece puzzle, the lacing card, the shadow matching cards, and the sequencing cards. Those are perfect for her attention span, and they don't break my printer ink and cardstock budget!
Reading: Then, we read her library books on the different things we found that start with that letter. Cricket loves to read and will regularly bring me all 10-15 books that we have checked out to read through. This is great learning time, and great snuggle time! While we are reading, I make sure to point out examples of our current letter when it comes up.
That's all the "official" time we spend on it. Usually the whole thing takes about an hour, depending on how many books she wants to read, or how much she gets into her coloring. It has become a nice morning routine for us, so we both really enjoy it.
The key though, is that I integrate it into the rest of our day, pointing out that she is brave like Amelia Earhart when she climbs the steps by herself, or that she is learning so much like Einstein when she pulls out books to look at. We talk about words that we see that start with A, find the letter A in her Alphabits, and look for Australia on the world map shower curtain when she goes to the potty. We use her letter A cookie cutter when she plays with her play dough. It just becomes a part of our day.
Here is a picture of my "lesson plans" for one day.
I don't really "plan" very far ahead of time. I usually write most of it down at the beginning of the day. They are just a few simple things in each subject that I want to cover, or have already covered in our morning time. When I look at this list, it encourages me! Look at all that she is learning in just one day! It reminds me to be intentional, so I will point out a few things about bees when we are playing outside, or tell her how I measure ingredients for her morning smoothie. Anything is a teachable moment for her!
I hope this helps, and maybe encourages you to try to add a few learning elements to your toddler's day. The main thing is to keep it simple. No big curriculum or expensive manipulatives needed. Just the things you have around the house, some library books, and a few things printed off the Internet! That's all you need!
Next post, I will show you specifics about how we did the letter A unit.