Tot School: An Introduction

This week Sister Stinky had her first week of tot school!

I know what you may be thinking...isn't she a bit young

But Tot School isn't mere's a time for us to be together, for me to observe her and how she interacts with her world, and for her to be able to try different activities that I normally wouldn't have the time or patience to do with her.

For more about Tot School, you may want to pop over here and then here, just to get an idea what I'm talking about.

I think the latter of those two websites describes Tot School really well, though - it is just a time set aside to interact with your toddler every day. This can look however you want it to look, depending on your family and your educational philosophy.

Our family (in particular me, but I'm starting to win the Abbot over a little, too) leans toward the Montessori pedagogy for young children. Basically, this means I favor lots of hands-on activities, experience with "practical life" work, and an emphasis on developing the senses. Maria Montessori said it best, "Follow the child." I want to do what I can to follow Sister Stinky's lead and provide her with the opportunity to explore and learn about the world at her own pace.

This first week of Tot School has been a huge learning experience for me. I've had to learn to let go a bit. I've taught older children before (in a catechetical setting) and there it was feasible to follow a certain curriculum. However, if I'm to "follow the child" then it's best for me to come to our Tot School with a planned activity, but ultimately be willing to make modifications as necessary. This week, for example, Sister Stinky has been very interested in pouring and transferring (pincer grasp and whole hand grasping) activities, as well as sensory activities. The first day I tried to engage her in a more structured way, but I could quickly tell that doing that was preventing me from really observing her, to learn how she learns best.

So, the second day, I pulled out the playdough and we spent over an hour working together. First, we got used to holding it, pressing on it, and flattening it - the objective being to work on building up her hand muscles (which will be helpful in the future when she learns how to write). But then, very organically, it turned in to a lesson on transferring and pouring. I began rolling up the playdough into small balls, because she likes playing with balls, and then I began putting them in to her plastic cups one by one. She followed suit. Then she began moving them between cups, and even imitated me pouring! Unlike the first day, the second session flew by because she was truly absorbed in the activity and I focused on quietly engaging her and observing her.

We did a number of other activities that included the senses and transferring practice (in these pictures you can see our special "red, white, and blue" activities for the 4th of July). We did dry pouring with beans (which turned into a very messy but fun transferring practice session!) and tracing with a paintbrush in a sand tray (which quickly became more of a sensory experience than a tracing session, which was totally fine!). To give you an idea of what a typical Tot School lesson is like, I'll give you a basic schedule:

1. Opening: Sing our "Hi, Hello!" song and say our opening prayer.

2. Lesson: Do 1-2 interactive sensory or Montessori-inspired activity

3. Clean-up: Restore our work/materials back to their places.

4. Literacy: Read a book (of Sister Stinky's choosing...or mine if I can't stomach the thought of reading Chicka-chicka ABC one more time).
5. Closing: Let Sister Stinky select an instrument from the basket and sing "All Creatures of our God and King" verse, followed by a closing prayer.

That's it! The whole process can be as short or as long as you want it to be - anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half! It's up to you and your tot.

Because we are a domestic monastery, I wanted to include our beautiful Catholic faith into our schooling experience - hence opening and closing with prayer (ideally praying by her prayer shelf). We've also dubbed our school, "Deo Gratias Academy" as a way to recognize that our lives and our learning pour out of a heart of gratitude for all God has done for us. I hope to help her to see, as she gets older, that all things can be a prayer - even her studies, and even Tot school! As St. Therese (one of the patron saints of our family) emphasizes in her Little Way - all things, even little ones, can be done with great love for God!

So far, Sister Stinky is LOVING tot school! This is probably greatly due to the fact that she thrives on one-on-one attention (when the Abbot joined us for Tot School on the 4th of July she was literally running around and shrieking with pure happiness). I think it has been a good practice for me, too - forcing me to put in to practice some of the wonderful ideas I find on Pinterest and out in blog land! Most importantly, it's been a beautiful time each day - no matter how brief, that Sister Stinky and I can slow down and connect.

Do you do anything like "Tot School" with your little one (or hope to when your baby is old enough)? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Linking up to Montessori Monday!


  1. Can I come down and hug her? Please?! I love that adorable face in the last pic:) As I'm a very visual/hnds-on person, I like the idea of Tot School. Ther's lots of good occupational therapy for imporoving motor skills (says the girl who had OT & PT for 14 years, haha).

  2. Awesome hands-on tot school ideas, Michele! I love your philosophy ... and the photos are priceless! Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Kids' Patriotic Activities Pinterest Board at


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