Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Choosing Tot School Curriculum

     The concept of "tot school" has exploded in recent years. There is now an impressive amount of material and/or curriculum available online. It's so much that choosing what to do and how to do it can be very overwhelming. 

     We've tried a couple different ideas and even one curriculum package. However, they've not been a good fit for us, and were discontinued. Eventually, I saw that I needed to reevaluate our needs and choose a curriculum that suited us best. 

     I've written about our homeschool curriculum choice for 2016 (two years old) in two upcoming posts. Beforehand, though, I wanted to share about how I arrived at those choices.

1. Understand that "tot school" is not preschool.
      As tot schooling has grown in popularity, I've noticed an influx of preschool concepts being applied to two year olds. Although a two year old may be capable of these concepts, they may not be developmentally appropriate. A two year old's world is much different than a three or four year old's. It's tempting to begin introducing these concepts early, especially with so many fantastic materials available. I, too, find it exciting to see what my two year old can learn and accomplish at such a young age. However, I have to remind myself that he's only two and preschool concepts can wait until preschool. There are many more concepts that can be taught at two years old. Futhermore, simple playtime is learning at two years old. There are numerous abstract concepts that are being learned through uninstructed play. 

2. Evaluate time 
     We began "tot school" when Tennyson was 18 months old. As much as we enjoyed those times together, they required me to spend a significant amount of time beforehand planning and preparing. My time availability over the last several months has become increasingly limited. I'm kept plenty busy caring for two very young children and our home!
       When time is severely limited, an exchange or a sacrifice is often required. What would you have to give up in order to "tot school" your toddler? Would you have to allow the house to be messier? Would you have to allow your appearances to be a little unkempt? Would you have to allot little to no time for yourself and your own interests? Would the exchange or sacrifice be consistent with your values and philosophies for your family?
        Or, perhaps the exchange or sacrifice comes in the form of finances. Perhaps it becomes more advantageous to purchase pre-planned and packaged curriculum or materials. Would this, too, be consistent with your values and philosophies for your family?

3. Evaluate financial investment
       If the desire is to have a designated time and "tot school" activity each day, then there will likely be some degree of expense. The extend of that expense will likely be dependent on the method chosen. Some methods require very specific materials. For instance, weekly themes are wonderful but require very specific items that may only be utilized a few times. Another example is the method-specific materials associated with a Montessori approach. As mentioned earlier, if you choose a pre-packaged curriculum then these will usually have a high upfront cost. 
       Whatever the method, I highly suggest preparing for the expense. We've known we would like to homeschool, and so each paycheck we've been setting aside a small amount for this purpose. I've calculated the amount needed for our desired method, and we'll begin that method officially when that total amount is saved. Once that curriculum is purchased, then we'll immediately begin putting aside the same amount to purchase the next curriculum. This way, we've already made education costs a part of our life without it impeding current living standard or causing us to go in debt. In the meanwhile, I set a small budget each month for purchasing things like new books and/or new educational toys for each of the children. A monthly (or maybe even weekly) budget amount can be an excellent idea for being financially prepared. It may be helpful to set a weekly amount to spend when making weekly themes available. This way, you're not tempted to accidentally spend too much. Again, regardless of the method, it's wise to work towards being financially prepared for known expenses. 

4. Evaluate home storage space 
       Purchasing or printing materials for "tot schooling" means you'll need a place to store those items when not in use. Do you have adequate space for displaying current activities? Do you have adequate storage space for those activities when not in use? Will you mind your dining room or other room of your house to look more like a school room if necessary? Would your husband mind? For us, we have a rather small home and are limited on what can be stored nicely. Therefore, I'm very selective about what items we bring in and/or keep. Our limited space has served to narrow our curriculum choices. 

5. Choose a method
     There are three very common methods for tot schooling- theme-based units, book-based units, and Montessori (though there are many others as well). I mentioned these several times in the above criteria because those factors will assist in determining the method that is best suited for your family. You may find that one method, and that be all you need. Or, you may find that you are interested in multiple methods and able to do a combination approach. For me, I can easily become overwhelmed my viewing too many methods at once. I prefer to choose a method, and then fully explore and invest in it. I may need to change methods to find a better fit, but will still only pursue one method at a time. Like I said, combining too many methods and materials is very overwhelming for me. I don't want to put too much stress or strain on homeschooling at a two year old level. I want to keep things as simple and fun as possible!

     I've prepared posts for the next two weeks detailing our plan for Our 2016 Homeschool Curriculum. Though I use the terms "homeschool" and "curriculum," and have even talked extensively in this post with those ideas, our intention is not serious or structured school. My main goal is to simply have a designated time and activity in each day to have one-on-one with each of my children. One-on-one time is so important, and I find that it is easier to ensure we hold that time when an activity is prepared and waiting for us. I've tried several approaches to create this time. The criteria listed above has come to be how I finally narrowed down a method that was most appropriate for us. The upcoming posts are the conclusions I've drawn for what "tot schooling" looks like for our family. 

      If you're interested in creating a very simply and inexpensive "purposeful playtime" or "tot schooling," then stay tuned! :)

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