"…And she smiles at the future." ~Proverbs 31:25

Posts tagged ‘tot school’

The bonus post (Tiny Tots Week, Day 6)

Just when you thought we’d covered everything you could possibly want to know (and then some) about play-teaching toddlers and preschoolers, here’s one more “bonus” follow-up entry with a few more ideas on some of the subjects we covered in the past week…

More thoughts on tot school fun: (See the original post here.)

In answer to the logistical question of how and when we do tot school, I have to tell you honestly that it’s different every day. Normally, I try to do some fun activities with Remington early in the day, while she’s happy and interested. But sometimes circumstances dictate that other things have to come first.

Often we do the activities with her strapped into a booster chair, mainly because it seems to help her maintain focus on what we’re doing and it keeps our supplies from getting strewn all over the house. But other times we do tot school outside, or on the floor, or in some other random place, and occasionally we skip the PLANNED activities all together. (She doesn’t often let me get away with that, though!)

But even on the days you don’t sit down to a concentrated time of learning, remember that your child is learning all day as you interact and play with him! Don’t restrict tot school to certain times and places, and don’t restrict it to only your own ideas. I would certainly never have planned to have Remi measure Addy’s knitting needles, but there was a ruler sitting around, and her two-year-old curiosity just got the best of her…

(By the way, it was “a million.”)

Besides our sit-down times, we do tot school in the car (listening to CDs and talking about everything we pass), in line at the grocery store (looking for shapes and colors), before naps (reading books together), while fixing meals in the kitchen (counting forks and napkins, measuring, and pouring), during family devotionals and while lying in bed at night (listening to Bible stories), and so on. For a toddler, life is all about learning. The focused activities are special and fun, but they’re the extras.

Here’s an example of “spontaneous tot school:”

Yesterday was Saturday. I didn’t have a single formal activity planned for my toddler—we were just going to hang out. While walking around outside, she became intrigued by the colorful fall leaves on the ground. She started collecting them, and as she did so we examined each one and talked about the different colors and about why leaves fall from the trees.

We took them inside and ironed them between two sheets of wax paper to make a fun little autumn place mat for her spot at the table. She totally got into the ironing part!

We counted each leaf as she put it on, and she made them into families (which is why you’ll notice some of the leaves are stacked…Those are the mamas and daddies holding their babies.)

She spelled her name for me while I helped her cut the letters out using my Cricut.  (I put the letters on the wax paper so it would actually spell Remi, but she did all the rest, and I left everything just the way she put it, which is why the hearts are upside down and most of the leaves are turned over backwards. The colors were so vivid on the front sides…but this was her masterpiece!)

No planned activity. Plenty of learning fun. Oh, and as usual, she wanted to take a picture of me, too. I think I’m raising a little photographer! (But she has some practicing to do…)

Photo by Remington

More thoughts on doing tot school on a shoestring: (See the original post here.)

Please remember that my little toddler is our fourth child, so I’ve been collecting fun resources for quite a while! And one thing I’ve always done is to buy ahead. That means that if I find a great resource at a great price, I’ll pick it up now to have on hand when we need it. (Think of it like stocking up on groceries when they’re on sale or you have a good coupon.)  Here are a couple of personal examples from this past week:

I loved these colorful wooden shape puzzles with numbered pieces, but I knew they’d be a little advanced for my two-year-old. (This was confirmed after purchase!)

But, I also knew that they’d be great to have during her preschool years, and that they probably won’t be available for $2.50 each in the Target Dollar Spot by the time she’s ready for them. So now, they’re ready for HER.

I found a whole set of these telling-the-time puzzle cards at a thrift store for fifty cents:

I have no desire to teach Remi how to tell time right now, or any time soon. She’s only two!  But these cards are super cute and will be great when we’re ready for them…and she’ll probably still play with them now, just matching the pieces that fit together…and did you hear me say they were FIFTY CENTS?!?

Speaking of thrift stores…Unless you are just rolling in money or don’t have anything else to spend it on, don’t be above buying second hand. My husband will tell you that I go a little crazy cleaning things I’ve bought used, but once that’s done we have all kinds of fun resources at incredible savings.

For example, Amazon sells this product (called Max Discovers Shapes & Colors) for $13.99. I found mine at the same thrift store where I bought the time puzzle cards. I paid fifty cents.

The instructions were missing. But I can tell you right now that we are going to be matching shapes and colors, copying patterns, extending patterns, and probably lots more with this set.

I found this Imaginarium art kit at a yard sale yesterday, also for fifty cents. Everything is in the box, including full bottles of paint!

Just remember to keep your eyes open wherever you are, always being on the lookout for fun, inexpensive ways to play and learn with your little one. I found these last week at Dollar Tree (for a buck) and immediately thought of tons of ways to use them in our tot school!

One addition to my favorite toddler resources:  (See the original post here.)

Since the original post was monstrously long, I waited to share this last suggestion with you here. One of my very favorite and most budget-friendly resources for teaching toddlers is…the internet! There is an unbelievable amount of free inspiration online. I use the internet for ideas and to download free printables, which I can tailor to our specific needs. For example, after our recent family camping trip, I printed lots of fun camping-themed activities for Remi to have fun with in tot school. Here are just a few of the ones we did that week:

"T is for tent" Do-a-Dot paint marker page

Matchng camping supplies

Arranging lanterns and canteens by size

Matching camping items (like sleeping bag and campfire) to their shadows

The activities were more meaningful to her because of what she’d just experienced.  Whether you are going to the zoo, the farm, the circus, or Grandma’s house, internet resources can help you make your tot school relevant to your situation. I got the downloads for the activities above here and here.

One final thought on tot school organization: (See the original post here.)

After a time of trying to keep up with lots of little zipper baggies full of pieces from cute activities I’d printed from the internet, I finally came up with an EASY way to store them where I could see them, get to them, and put them away again easily. I took a 3-ring binder, added page protectors, and inserted each set into its own sleeve. I can easily flip through and find what I want this way, and NO MORE WANDERING PIECES! Yea!

The activity showing is from a now-defunct website (or I'd give credit).

Well, this is officially the final post of Tiny Tots Week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and gotten some helpful ideas.

By the way, it THRILLED me to hear from some of you who have already tried out some activities, or have been inspired to think of your own. If you’ve done either, I’d LOVE to hear about it!

Thanks for stopping by.


Tot School organization (Tiny Tots Week, Day 4)

Tiny Tots Week continues! Now that you’ve gotten an idea of the fun you can experience doing Tot School, as well as how you can enjoy it on the cheap, let’s look at some ways to keep all the fun organized. I’ll share two big things today: How I organize my supplies and how I organize my plans. These are the things that work for me, although I’m continually tweaking to make things better. As always, I hope you’ll share your own ideas in the comments below.

1. Organizing the stuff

First off, I try to keep as many of our tot school resources as possible together in one place. This makes it so much easier to actually sit down and do the activities. I use a set of wire cubes (purchased from Target) and a set of plastic shelves (picked up from a yard sale) to corral our tot school goodies. Both are set up in our school room near the bigger kids’ learning materials.

I keep the things that have lots of pieces (like pompoms, cotton swabs, and dry pasta) in baskets on the higher cubes, just so they don’t end up all over the floor. Stickers go here, too…for obvious reasons.

On the lower cubes and shelves, I keep the items it wouldn’t kill me for her to get into, like her chalkboard, stacking cubes, and so on…

…as well as floor puzzles, book & tape sets, Little People toys, magnetic sets, and lift-the-flap books.

By the way, that package to the left of the shelves in the above picture contains a big foam floor puzzle. Here’s what it looks like when it’s done, Remi style.  (And yes, she was wearing a Pull-Up when I took this picture…really…I promise!)

Next to the cube tower is another set of cubes (on floor level) which contain the items I want my toddler to have free access to, like blocks and sturdier toys. (The lidded tubs contain multiple-piece toys, but since she can’t open the snap-on lids, we’re safe…for now.)

In addition to these items, I have quite a few supplies stashed away on a couple of bookshelves tucked back in the schoolroom closet. These are kept behind closed doors, either because they are things that she can only use with me (like scissors, crayons, and Play-Doh) or because they present a choking hazard (like beads, marbles, and games with tiny pieces).

(Granted, some of these aren’t really dangerous; I just got tired of having them as floor decorations…)

You may have noticed one of my main principles for organizing tot school (or just about anything else) is this: Label everything! Unless it is 1) in a see-through container, or 2) in its original container with a descriptive label clearly showing from its position on my shelves, it gets a label. Even a lot of my clear containers are labeled, just because I have multiple storage pieces that are similar and this makes it easier to quickly identify what’s inside each.

By the way, those blocks in the top container aren’t wood. They’re foam! And I love them more than I can say. They’re quiet (nice when the tower falls) and they’re soft (nice when she’s happily hurling them across the room), and I found the whole lot at a garage sale for exactly two bucks. {happy dance} If you can find some, buy them. Today.

2. Organizing myself/my plans

So, there’s a glimpse into how I contain all the little goodies we play with in our tot school. But, I’ve learned that the more fun stuff you assemble, the easier it is to forget 1) what you have to choose from and 2) what you haven’t played with for a while. Here’s the system I came up with to make sure I’m providing my little one with a variety of different experiences which address different areas of growth and learning.

I started with a plastic file box (labeled, of course!) so I’d have a place to keep all my plans and ideas together, even if the supplies they use are on different shelves or in different rooms. (Like the kitchen, remember?)

I then made a card for each type of activity I want my toddler to be able to do. (My cards are 4 x 6, just because that’s what I already had on hand.) Most of the time, I just make a note of the supplies needed for the activity, and the plan is obvious. Here’s an example from one of the activities I showed you in Tuesday’s post:

If there’s a chance I won’t remember what I’m planning to do with the supplies by the time we get to the activity, I make some additional notes or sketches to jog my memory.

Finally, I made a set of dividers with the different categories represented by the various activities I’d planned.

Obviously, you could skip this step, and if you’re just starting out, maybe that would be best. I just found that it made it much easier for me to rotate through different kinds of activities if I divided them this way. While I don’t really want our tot school to be a structured endeavor, I also don’t want to get into a rut of working puzzles every day but never focusing on my toddler’s motor skills, or building with blocks every day without ever practicing visual discrimination. And it probably doesn’t even matter, as long as she’s playing... I just want to be well rounded in my efforts and I know my own tendencies. Some people have organized minds…I don’t. So, I rely on external organization (i.e. lists, card files, etc.) to keep me on track. Go with whatever you own personality dictates.

If you do decide to divide the activities this way, I suggest labeling each card with its related category (See the top line in my examples, above) to make it quick and simple to re-file the card when you’re finished with it. (If you have a question about what’s included in any of my categories, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain and/or give examples to clarify.)

Once you have your supplies and your ideas organized, it is so simple to sit down and enjoy fun learning activities with your child whenever the mood strikes either of you!  Here’s how I do it:

1. Grab a card from the file box (from the next category, OR whatever category we feel like enjoying)

2. Grab from our stash whatever supplies are listed on the card

3. Find a good place to “work” (Read: PLAY)

4. Have fun together—learning, making memories, and probably making a mess along the way, too

5. Stop while she’s still having fun, so she’ll look forward to next time

6. Re-file the card in the BACK of whatever category I took it from (if I didn’t do this right away), and put away the supplies for another day

I should tell you here that if she is really loving a certain activity, we may do the same thing for several days in a row before retiring it to the back of the section. We are NOT slaves to this system!

NOTE: Don’t forget to take some pictures during some of your activities together. Your tiny tot is growing up too fast, and you’ll always want to remember how much fun this time together was for both of you! Get a good shot or two, then put your camera away and just be in the moment with your little sweetie.

I hope you’re enjoying Tiny Tots Week, and that you’ll jump in and share your own great ideas with us in the comments section below. Tomorrow I hope to show you some of my very favorite resources and my own toddler’s all-time favorite activities. In case you missed any of the other posts in this series, here’s the rundown:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tot School on a shoestring (Tiny Tots Week, Day 3)

I’ll admit it: It’s hard for me to pass up a good deal on a good book. Or an educational game. Or anything else that looks like a fun learning experience for my kiddos. I don’t spend much on clothes, make-up, or electronics, but learning tools are a weakness for me! (Is that weird?)

Cute, colorful toddler and preschool learning activities present even more of a temptation. But, since I have three older kids to educate, too, and expenses for their books and field trips tend to add up quickly, I have a very limited budget for those fun toddler items. If you are in the same boat, never fear! So much learning can take place in your home, with just a minimal investment of funds.

Finding new ways to use what you have = super cheap-o fun!

Here are just a few of my favorite ways to keep it cheap when playing, purchasing, protecting, and storing:

1. Playing on a shoestring

There is great fun to be had in your home without breaking the bank to make it happen. Want to know the secret? Use what you already have!  

Dump a package of dry (uncooked) beans in a big bowl and give your child something fun to scoop them with so he can dig around and play.

I got my scoops at the dollar store, but you could use measuring cups from your kitchen drawer and not spend a dime! I also got the big plastic bowls there–a set of TWO for a dollar–so she can transfer the beans from one to the other. I store the beans in the (stacked) bowls on a high closet shelf.

I’m telling you right now that I don’t think there’s a child alive who wouldn’t enjoy getting into a big bowl of beans like this! You’ll be amazed at how long it will hold your little one’s attention.  Will your tot make a mess with these? You’d better believe it!

Probably a big one, too…

…but the clean-up is actually fairly easy and your little one can be taught to help you as part of the activity.

Rice and salt are also fun things to dig around in. I hide tiny toys in the containers so she can dig around and search for surprises. (I’ve pulled some to the top so you can see them, but usually they’re hidden and she has to find them.)

Obviously, these, too, need to be stored on a high shelf with tight lids, and I wouldn’t pull out either if the vacuum were broken…Otherwise, clean-up is quick and easy.

Just as I was about to toss the packaging from some Play-Doh I’d purchased…

…I realized the pre-cut circles in the sturdy box would provide ready-made holes, perfect for inserting round blocks or clothes pins. Let your toddler have a pile of “stuff” so he can discover on his own what fits through the holes and what doesn’t. Remember, at this age, playing IS learning. (You can also make holes in an empty cereal box and let your child try to poke in pieces of uncooked, tube-shaped pasta or crayons.)

You know those free calendars you get? Don’t toss those, either.

Instead, spend a few minutes cutting out the pictures of trees or animals or pretty flowers for you little one. The same goes for the fun cards your kids receive in the mail or on birthdays…

Store the cut-out pieces in a box with a non-toxic glue stick, and your child is ready for some big-time gluing fun!

What do you have sitting around your house that you can re-purpose into a learning game for your toddler or preschooler? My tot had a blast filling up an empty ice tray with her counting bears, and using a long-handled spoon made it a challenging exercise in dexterity.

She told me she was “making ice,” and when she was done she asked if she could have some real ice to play with. (Yeah, right.)

I save all those plastic eggs after Easter because my toddler loves, loves, loves to play with them. She opens them, closes them, shuffles them around, and yes, throws them.

I washed out a plastic Parmesan cheese container once we’d emptied it, and it’s perfect for challenging little hands to fit cotton swabs into the holes.

I keep all the “mess-ups” from our printer in a special tray underneath it, and I let Remi use them for gluing, sticking stickers, practicing cutting, and scribbling on. Cost = zero. 🙂

Do you have dominoes? Your tot can practice stacking them and building towers.  A deck of playing cards handy? He can sort them by color and, eventually, by suit. Cereal in the pantry? Cheerios, Apple Jacks, or Fruit Loops your child strings onto a piece of yarn or string will produce a great, edible necklace. What else can you come up with as you look around the house?

I bought my 9-year-old daughter some of those pink, sponge curlers from the dollar store, but noticed they kept leaving her bathroom drawer and ending up all over the house. The toddler was the culprit. It turns out she thoroughly enjoys taking them apart, putting them back together, opening them, and snapping them shut. And they are QUIET! So, they’re now part of Remi’s tot school repertoire. (Sorry, Addy, but at least your hair looks pretty when it’s straight.)

Hopefully you’re getting the idea that you already have plenty of items around your house that are fun and educational for your little one. I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out how what we already own can benefit our tot school, and now even Remi is getting in on that action. Here’s the game she made up for herself today:

The wooden block usually holds our steak knives, but Remi wanted to know if she could play with it with the butter knives. I gave her some old, mismatched ones (Why do we have those, anyway?!) and she had so much fun putting them all in the slots and then taking them back out again. I lost track of how many times she ended up doing this.

2. Purchasing on a shoestring

If you do want to go beyond what you already have available at home, please, please do not feel like you need to go out and buy all the latest and greatest supplies, all at once. Just keep your eyes open for deals and pick them up as you can. I have built up quite a stash of tot school materials, but I did it over a long period of time and bought MANY of them at yard sales, thrift shops, homeschool association used book sales, and day care/preschool closings.

Many of the items on our shelves--and even the shelves themselves--were purchased second-hand.

And remember, the dollar store is your friend! That’s where I got these butterfly hair clips (3/$1), pompoms, and ramekins (3/$1), and they can be used for all kinds of transferring and sorting activities.

I also got this little plastic bird feeder at the dollar store, and its round opening is just right for fitting in pompoms, Teddy Grahams, or marbles.

Do you shop at Target? Their “dollar spot” often has great things to use in your tot school, like these Animal Action cards. They are not only cute (I love the clean background!), but they encourage my baby girl to wiggle, waddle, and bounce. All for a buck and tax!

3. Protection on a shoestring

If you have a toddler, you already have messes. If you are going to do fun learning activities with your tot, your mess potential can only increase.  Being the cheapskate careful spender that I am, I’ve found some cheap-o ways to protect floors, furniture, and work surfaces, like these cutting mats I got in a 2-pack from Dollar Tree:

We use these at the table under EVERY paper we draw on, paint on, color on, or use markers on. We use them under our Play-Doh when we’re sculpting. We use them while we’re gluing. And they look awful, but just look at how nice they’ve kept the table, all for only 50 cents a pop! (I keep four of these in a cabinet next to the table where we work and play, and all the kids use them during potentially-messy activities.)

If you don’t take a print newspaper (We don’t), cut or tear the seams of a large yard bag to spread out on the floor under your little painter. And if you don’t happen to have an art smock, no worries…Daddy’s old T-shirts work great, too! If they’re in good condition, I also recycle those plastic table cloths we use at birthday parties to cover our work table or floor during messy projects and activities. No stress over trashing the floor or furniture means more fun with my little one!

4. Storage on a shoestring

I know, I know, the temptation to stock up on attractive storage containers can be quite the draw, especially once you’ve corralled all these great tot school supplies that need a good home. Don’t give in! Shoe boxes work just as well, and you can save your money for more important things, like the contents of the boxes. Just make sure you label them, then stack away. 

My favorite free storage option: Save the empty baby wipe boxes.

They are the perfect size for much of what you’ll be storing…

…and they stack well on the shelves, too.

So, there you have it…a no-money-is-no-excuse plan for educating your tot at home. Now, go raid those kitchen drawers, bathroom drawers, pantry shelves, and craft cabinets! You’ll find a treasure trove of fun toddler activities for you and your little blessing to do together to make learning a treat. And by all means, please let me know what you come up with! (I love your comments!)

Oh, and please come back tomorrow and I’ll try to help you organize all your great finds!

Here’s what’s on the schedule for the rest of Tiny Tots Week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tot School Fun (Tiny Tots Week, Day 2)

Young children LOVE to learn new things, and I love being there to watch my little one’s eyes light up as she discovers and experiences new things every single day.


Before I go on, I need to get one thing off my chest. As far as education goes, I strongly believe that there are only two things that you really NEED to be doing with your toddler:

1. Read to her. A LOT.

2. Play with her. A LOT.

Young children learn by playing. This isn’t just my opinion; there is a ton of research to back it up.

Our hula girl doing her funny little dance

My own experience with my oldest children also validates this position. They are both excellent readers and communicators and have done well all through school, although we did very little in the way of formal schooling when they were toddlers and preschoolers. We read A LOT, played A LOT, and interacted A LOT, and learning took place naturally, as it does with all young children.

So, if all you do with your tot is read, read, read and play, play, play…you are doing enough! (Read that again and again until it sinks in.)

I adamantly insist that you not feel guilty if you are not doing any type of formal education with your little one. Having said that…I also know that some little ones–especially those who have older siblings who are “doing school” at home–are more than ready to get in on the action and have their own “school.”

My youngest falls into this category. Her whole face lights up at the mention of the phrase, “tot school,” and she’ll drop whatever she’s doing and come running the instant she hears the words. If I don’t bring it up, SHE will ask ME. She is only two and a half, but with three older homeschooled siblings in the house, she wants her special learning time, too.

Of course, I am using the term “school” very loosely here, in reference to short, simple, FUN activities that my toddler and I can enjoy together when we have the time and inclination. There is no schedule. We don’t do it every day. Sometimes we do it more than once a day, IF she wants to, but never for more than about 15 minutes at a time. So please, if you take away some of these ideas to try with your little one, let him be in the driver’s seat. Enjoy the activities only until he loses interest (or ideally, before), then switch gears and do some more another day. The learning will happen; just have fun!


So, what do we do at our house when it’s time for tot school?  Well….in addition to reading zillions of books, working lots of puzzles, and doing the typical toddler play activities like scribbling, dancing, singing, and pretending with dolls and animals, these are a few of the more structured activities our toddler enjoys:


Transferring objects from one container to another is always a hit with young children. You can see from Remington’s smile how much she enjoys this activity!

On this particular day, Remi started moving the marbles into the empty water bottle with her fingers.

Eventually we moved to transferring them with a pair of kitchen tongs.

Both activities are great for promoting hand-eye coordination. (I think next time we’ll try a spoon.) And she had just as much fun pouring the marbles back into the original container.

In the end, she wanted to play with the marbles–examining them, rolling them around, and making a LOT of noise with them!

Here’s another transferring activity Remi enjoys. The idea is to use the scoop to move a pompom into each indentation of the paint tray. (All these pieces came from Dollar Tree.) You could do the same with your kitchen tongs and an empty ice tray.

It’s not as easy as it looks…at least not when you’re two… and at first I was a little afraid that she’d get frustrated when she “missed.” But, I needn’t have worried. Look at her reaction:

Each time a little pompom rolls away, she gets more tickled. I have priceless videos of her laughing hysterically every time she messes up. (Yes, it’s just one more example of HER teaching ME. What if that were my reaction to all MY mess-ups?)

You can also have your toddler try to transfer beads with a scoop, or cotton balls with a clothes pin, or dice between plastic cups. Don’t worry about success–just let him have fun! (In this case, that IS success.) He will get better with practice.


Stringing beads is another great way to “work on” hand-eye coordination.

We have wooden beads, plastic beads, giant buttons, foam pieces…She loves to string them all!  Lacing cards serve the same purpose and are also fun. Or, try stringing loop cereal or tube pasta. Once the concept of stringing is down, you can start working on patterns.

Counting Games

Personally, I think children should be taught about shapes, colors, letters and numbers  through fun and games, NOT flashcard drills. Here’s one example of how to make that happen:

Some days at snack time, I will draw a simple blue oval on a piece of paper and tell Remi that’s the pond. I give her some Goldfish crackers and she counts each one aloud as she places it in the pond.

However many fish she can move into the water…i.e., however high she can count…is how many crackers she gets to eat for her snack (although we’ll soon have to discontinue this as her ability increases!)

This is a good motivation for a hungry toddler to practice counting higher, and a fun way to learn one-to-one correspondence as well. To change things up, you could draw a simple tree and let your little one add Cheerios as “fruit,” or have her add raisins to an animal for “spots.”  Let your imagination run wild and see what games you can come up with.


Learning to sort by color, size, or other similarity is a valuable skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Counting Bears are great for this…

…but your little one could also sort blocks, beads, marbles, buttons, Skittles or jellybeans, colored paper or felt pieces, plastic coins, Fruit Loops, Unifix cubes, crayons, game pieces, pompoms, colored pasta, Legos, foam shapes…You get the idea!  She can sort the pieces into a muffin pan, an egg carton, paper cupcake liners, an ice-cube tray, or whatever other divided container you can find. Just put one item of each color (or size, etc.) into each compartment to get her started, and let her figure out what goes where.

Small spaces

Poking an item into a small hole requires concentration and dexterity. There are lots of ways to practice this. I love these pictures of Remi inserting dry spaghetti strands into the holes of a shaker jar…

…because so many of the pieces ended up in her mouth!

(No, she’s not holding them in her mouth…She actually crunched them up and ate them.) Putting plastic coins in a piggy bank is another good activity of this kind.

Messy art

I know, I know, you were hoping I wouldn’t say it. But making messes is what little ones love best, so we might as well let them do it artistically! I don’t know any small child who doesn’t love to squish Play-Doh or plop paint.

As you can see, Remi’s style is great, gloopy gobs of pink paint…always pink…on top of more big pink globs. She’s very consistent! I have learned to let her do this on the tile, even though that means lugging the easel down the stairs. It’s worth it to me not to have to worry about cleaning paint spills out of carpet, especially since she sometimes “forgets” to stay on the paper…

(Ummm….Maybe we need bigger paper?) The immense pleasure this experience brings a young child is worth the mess and trouble…at least every once in a while. (Remi would do this EVERY day if I let her. I don’t.)

On days when you can’t handle the potential mess, try putting some thick paint into a zipper bag for your toddler to squish around in his hands.


Simple sticker books are big with my little one right now, too.

She also loves just placing random stickers…on paper, her clothes, and her skin. (It’s a good time to teach where stickers do NOT go, too.)

Independent play

In addition to the activities Remi and I do together (where I’m not teaching, as much as playing along, giving guidance, and encouraging), our tot school also includes some solo activities that can keep her busy while I’m working with the other kids. Toddlers and preschoolers are busy little people. If not provided with safe, fun activities to keep them engaged, they’ll find something else to get into! During this time, it’s good to have some parameters for your little one. We do this either by strapping her into a chair near the table where we’re working…

…or by giving her “blanket time.” Which of those we choose just depends on the activity (and how antsy she is at the moment). If it requires some space, I’ll put the building blocks, animals, Little People, play food and dishes, dolls, or whatever she’ll be doing on a blanket and she must stay on the blanket with the toys.

Reading to her babies during blanket time

Other blanket-time activity ideas might include cars, trains, Duplos, and stacking items like cups and boxes. If the activity is messy, I put her on a felt-backed plastic table cloth on the floor to play.

Often these independent play times produce a lot of NOISE…but this way I always know she’s safely occupied and within sight and reach.

I’ll be sharing lots more ideas during the rest of this week’s posts, so please come back daily and feel free to share your own ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear what keeps your little one happily learning. And don’t worry, tomorrow I’ll tell you how to enjoy the process without breaking the bank! Here’s what’s on for the week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, the bonus post…

In the meantime, you might want to check out this site where I got some of my activity ideas.

Thanks for stopping by!

Helping our wee helpers (Tiny Tots Week, Day 1)

I often lament the fact that children have the strongest desire to help when they are least able to actually be helpful (read: toddlers)…and then, when they are old enough to be capable of truly helping out, that desire has all but vanished. (I think this is especially noticeable in a household containing both toddler and teenagers.) Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make it easier for our toddler to “help” out around the house, and thought I’d share a couple of those ideas with you here.

For example, it seems all little ones have that burning desire to help water…well, everything.

But water is heavy, watering cans are unwieldy for small hands, and most of the water ends up on everything but the plants.

My solution? Use two pitchers instead.

I fill one completely full of water for me to hold, and we start with hers empty. Before she waters each plant, I pour just a little water into her pitcher from mine so she can then pour it on without flooding the poor plant or dropping the full pitcher. I am constantly refilling, but she is having a blast and some of the water’s even going where it’s supposed to! (And she loves the refilling as much as the watering.)

By the way…Yes, I am aware that she’s wearing a bike helmet and a nightgown. She’d gone out for a scooter ride first thing in the morning, before even getting dressed. How I’d love to be able to wake up and hit the ground running like that. {sigh}

Side note: This system also works well for little ones who are transitioning from a sippy cup to a regular cup. I start with a full cup of milk next to me, and she has an almost-empty one. Each time she drains it, I add more. This way, she’s getting practice drinking from an open cup, the inevitable spill isn’t going to be as tragic as it would if the cup were full, and I’m not having to go to the refrigerator every two seconds so she can have a refill.

Toddlers also crave any chance to sweep. (Amazing, right?)

But as much as they love it, those big brooms are just not made to be used by people with such tiny bodies.

Just look at her face as she struggles to hold the broom upright.

However, a whisk broom is just the right size for little hands. She can actually move the dirt around this way, and even see some results. (Inside the house, we let her use our little brush and dustpan set, which she adores.  No matter who’s sweeping with the big broom, the toddler is our resident pile sweeper, and she can actually get a fair amount into the trash can this way.)

What are some simple ways you’ve found to help your little helper? Please leave a comment to let me know.

NOTE: This post is the first in a planned week-long series on helping and educating toddlers and preschoolers. For those of you who don’t have little ones in the home right now, you are more than welcome to come along anyway…If nothing else, you’ll see a really cute toddler in action. 😉   (Yes, of course I’m biased…I’m a mom!)

If not, I hope you’ll join me again next week when WhyAmySmiles goes back to its regular posting schedule. Either way, please pass along this blog address to those you know with little ones, and encourage them to join me here for the following posts this week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

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