I never heard of tot school until I had a toddler. I studied early childhood education in college, and I knew all about developmentally appropriate materials and how to make learning themes to cover the developmental domains: fine motor, gross motor, language, science, socioemotional...
That's all great when it's a job or class, but things are a little different when you've been up several times at night, have cloth diapers and laundry to take care of, meals to fix, and a baby who wants to breastfeed every 5 minutes!
I realized she was clinging to me wanting to breastfeed so much partly because she was bored. Yes, ignoring all of her fascinating toys and only wanting me! Imagine that. The only days she would entertain herself for 15 minutes were days when I had a basket of laundry to fold.
So I dug out my college projects. Unfortunately, most of the activities applied to older children. What do I do with one that's still cruising? Ok, there were some ideas, but realistically, I am not going to spend an hour cutting out shapes or an hour cleaning up fingerpaint. I needed quick and easy activities. I discovered a wonderful blog 1+1+1=1and her concept of "Tot School". Exactly what I needed!
Here are some awesome tot school activities and cheap homemade toys we were inspired to try that have been a real success:
This is still a winner at 16 months and somehow never gets old. I leave a basket of clothes on the floor, and she explores it, very easy!
How is it educational? I ask her to hand me certain things or find certain colors. She's building vocabulary, learning to interact, and exploring textures.
Get her to stand up then bend over (still holding on) to pick up the clothes, and it becomes a gross motor activity, too. When she's ready, we can do sorting activities with the clothes.
Someone was eyeing my yarn and knitting project, so I used some scraps to make about 5 yarn pompoms and let her drop them into a clear bottle. Turn and shake it to get them out. Repeat.
At 15 months, we moved on to lots of actual pompoms stored in an old Daisy sour cream container with a lid and moving them into a large empty Juicy Juice bottle, also with a lid. The lids are half the fun now!
I bought the Half Pounder of Assorted Pom Poms with plans that these will serve our craft needs, and the variety of colors and sizes will also be great for sorting. Choking hazard? I've seen her lick them and make a face due to the fuzz.
I'm convinced that pompoms are one of the greatest toys ever. She loves them for playing. I love that they're quiet and they don't hurt if I step on them!
I bought this variety pack of Multi Stripe Stirring Straws with future color sorting activities in mind. For now, she puts them through the holes in the lids of an old Parmesan cheese container. It's an excellent fine motor activity since they're so long and thin.
We started out on the side of the lid with one big hole, and now she can do the other side with the small holes, too.
This activity does take a little more supervision than the first two I listed because the straws can easily be lost, and I don't want them chewed.
I plan to use them with Stacking Pegs in the future, as well.
The Connect Four game pictured here is my old one. We started using it at around age 16 months.
I prefer wooden toys, but I will compromise with a little plastic if it gives me some time to prepare a nutritious meal!