A brief scroll through Pinterest (if there is such a thing as a brief scroll through that black hole) might leave you thinking that teaching young children at home requires a purchased curriculum, a stack of workbooks, a lesson planning book, a degree in early childhood education and a stocked craft closet the size of a New York City apartment.
But if I'm being perfectly honest, I'm too busy making meals, running a business, doing loads of laundry, being pregnant and - recently - doing LIFE with three kids under 3.5 years old to set aside time to plan and prep cutesy toddler and preschool learning activities. I haven't even planned what's for dinner tonight (or showered today - thanks, newborn!) let alone prepped a letter of the week activity or a craft related to a book we've read.
Here's the good news, fellow parents, you can educate your young kids at home without a lot of weekly planning or prep. And without a lot of money. Even if you work outside the home. Even if your kids attend childcare.
If you’re interested in minimalist (little to no prep), child-led (no pricey curriculum) Tot schooling or Homeschool Preschooling (for the tired, frazzled parent without aspirations of being a preschool teacher), read on to learn how we fit learning into our every day lives.
Our Totschool / Homeschool Preschool Subjects:
I love the fact that as a family we get to choose what "subject areas" we want to focus on teaching. Especially since I want to buck the trend of pushing academic concepts on kiddos very early. As a pediatric Occupational Therapist and early childhood development expert, I trust in the value of play and everyday life to teach my babies what they need to know at 1, 2, 3, 4 years of age. Here are the "subjects" that I aim to include in everyday life to tackle all areas of my kiddos' development:
Gross Motor (active, big muscle play)
Fine Motor (little muscle coordination)
Speech & Communication
Daily Life Skills (independence)
Our Totschool / Homeschool Preschool Classroom Setup:
Um...we don't have a classroom. Sometimes I see adorable classroom setups in people's homes on Instagram or Pinterest and get jealous or motivated to set something up (that motivation lasts 36 seconds until I'm distracted by refereeing the 40th sibling dispute of the morning). But truly we don't need a classroom because "school" happens throughout the day and everywhere we go.
Here are the most important learning locations:
-The Kitchen Table: just slide the magazine and newspaper clutter to one end and avoid the sticky syrup zones
-Playrooms, bedrooms and other toy zones
-Bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room and other "work zones" of the house
-The backyard and front porch
-Stores, the Post Office, doctors' offices
Our Totschool / Homeschool Preschool Schedule
Yeah...you probably could have guessed it by now but we don't really have one of those either. What we DO have is a daily and weekly rhythm that includes all of the subjects I outlined above.
Here's what that rhythm looks like in our home:
Daily Life Skills (mealtime, dressing, grooming)
"Room Time" / Independent Play* with toys and books
Morning Outing (errands/appointments, park, gym, museum, meet-up with a friend, etc.)
Daily Life Skills (shoes/jackets off, handwashing, mealtime)
Nap (for little sister - almost 2 yrs. old) and Quiet Time (for big brother - 3 yrs. old)
Table Time* Fine Motor Play or Sensory Play
Neighborhood Walking Outing and/or Outside Time at home
Daily Life Skills (mealtime, bedtime routine)
Bedtime Routine: reading & songs
* "Room Time" / Independent Play: This is 25 minutes when the kids go in their separate (toddler-proofed) rooms with baby gates on the doorways and play on their own. I use this time to get dressed and ready for the day and/or to nurse newborn sister. Wish your kiddo played more independently? I created a free video lesson just for you. Click here to watch the lesson now.
* Table Time: This is a time when I sit down with one or both of my "big kids" and give them my focused attention and support to do fine motor or sensory play that requires supervision or assistance.
Sometimes we just have free play and/or messy play with special materials like scissors, glue, chalk, stickers, waterbeads, play-doh, etc. Other times I try to incorporate something I’ve noticed one or both of them has been interested in lately (recently, for example, ants). We might make ants out of playdough or ant hills out of kinetic sand. I might turn their fingerprint stamps or Do-A-Dot marker spots into little ants by drawing legs and antennae. I might draw a line of ants on a strip of paper for my older toddler to snip with scissors.
I might turn to Pinterest for a fun activity that I already have the materials for. But, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t have creative energy or a bright idea because I know just interacting with developmentally appropriate fine motor and sensory play materials is benefitting them!
Not everyone's daily and weekly rhythms will look like ours but I am confident that every parent - no matter how busy or frazzled - can include teaching their toddler into their everyday grind without feeling overwhelmed.
Two of the most important things are (1) understanding what your one year old is learning or ready to learn - what's "developmentally appropriate" as professionals like me would say, and (2) seeing how simple tweaks can make your everyday activities more educational and enriching.
Need help mastering those two concepts?
I've created a whole online course for parents of one year olds that covers exactly that - very specifically what developmental skills your one year old is ready to learn and super simple ways to teach them. Learn more about the course by clicking here or on the image below: