So I wanted to share with everyone some of our favorite resources for navigating Tot School. I have separated our resources into five different categories: Online Resources, Where We Buy Our Supplies, Books, Music & Media, and Tot School Supplies. I’ve also included some top 10 lists throughout. Enjoy!
Pinterest: This is my number one go to place to find inspiration and amazing ideas for Tot School! There are so many brilliant Mama’s and educators out there who have graciously donated their time and energy to showcasing and explaining various different activities and teaching strategies for anyone who is searching. Sometimes I recreate an activity step by step and other times I adjust it for Grace’s level and needs. I have found so many ideas, things I never would have thought of on my own or even thought we needed to do! And the freebies you can find! There are a plethora of free printable games and activities you can download (of course there are paid ones too). My only piece of advice is to create and email just for freebies because most of the time in order to get the free printable you need to subscribe to their site or blog’s emails. In case you were wandering, we have a Pinterest account with many boards including a Tot School Board where I pin the activities / printables we use for each of our themes! At the end of this blog post you can keep scrolling down and click on the Pinterest button to follow us!
Blogs: Through all the Pinterest browsing I’ve stumbled across a few blogs that are my absolute favorites for inspiration, activities, and printables. I’ve listed our top 10 (in no particular order) below:
Simply Learning (We follow this Family on Instagram too!)
I considered writing a short description for each of the blogs listed above, but I really don’t think I can do them justice. Just check them out for yourself. Each one has been an amazing resource during our Tot School journey!
Teachers Pay Teachers: This particular site has mostly paid resources but you can also find a pretty good selection of freebies! I will confess we have purchased a few things from this site, but mostly I take advantage of the free content. The site does require you to set up an account, but there is no cost involved to do so. Added bonus: most of the contributors on this site are teachers so I don’t mind to spend some money every now and then knowing I’m supporting those folks! You can check out this awesome resource by clicking here.
Where We Purchase Supplies
Target: Specifically Bullseye’s Playground. Y’all the sheer amount of educational items found in this section is amazing! The inventory changes seasonally and around Holidays so once it’s gone it’s gone! I’ve attempted to find some missed opportunities online and unless you are willing to buy in bulk it’s not an economical option. Plus, most of the time their website does not display their current selections in store. Prices range from $1 to $5 for items and most of the time everything is pretty good quality. Yes we have had a few duds which had to be returned. My tip here would be to make sure you count the pieces before buying in store to avoid a return later. Our favorite time of the year to buy is definitely back to school season when they have loads of learning puzzles, flash cards, and other supplies!
Dollar Tree: I don’t think Dollar Tree gets enough credit for their educational tools and supplies. We love Dollar Tree for Holiday themed sensory bin supplies as well as craft sticks, pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other manipulatives. We also love this store for their storage supplies. Shoebox size plastic bins from here have kept us super organized along with reusable bags and clear zip pockets to keep all our busy bag activities organized.
Amazon: We have a Prime Membership and use it to its full potential. Prices for specialty items are generally cheaper than in store (always compare prices though) and some items even arrive the next day instead of the usual two day delivery. We especially love Amazon for books and music…more on that later.
Etsy: So we may have only purchased one item for Tot School from Etsy, but I have a good amount of favorites saved for later. You can find some pretty spectacular printables you can purchase then immediately download made by some pretty amazing designers on Etsy. While not used as often, Etsy is still worth a mention!
We are now currently on Etsy…so we may have a little more bias towards paid resources on Etsy.
Library: One of the first things I did when starting Tot School with Grace was going to our local library and getting a library card. Our library is relatively small compared to other major cities and we have had good luck finding titles to suit our themes. We are also able to search for titles online which is a big help for knowing exactly what we are going to find and if it is currently available, so there are few surprises when we get there. Our library also has a great space for Grace to play and explore different puzzles and games, and they offer story times and STEAM activities during each month.
Amazon: We order books we can’t find at our local library on Amazon because most of the time you can’t beat their prices anywhere else. Books can be our biggest expense sometimes and using Amazon really helps to keep our cost down. Also, it helps to read reviews and see pictures of the books before we buy to make sure the book we are interested in meets our needs for our themed weeks.
Our Favorite Books for Tot School: While we have a lot of favorite books I decided to list a few of our staples for Tot School below, along with authors we love and series. Here’s our top 10 book list, again in no particular order!
Circle Rolls by Barbara J. Kanninen – Amazing story telling using various shapes’ attributes. By far our favorite book about Shapes.
Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd – Includes the colors Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Pink, Brown, Black, White, and Gray AND Numbers 1-10.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill MArtin Jr. and John Archambault & Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, and Lois Ehlert – Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is one of Grace’s favorite books, especially when W wiggle jiggles free! Seriously though, she started repeating letter sounds super fast with this book! While don’t currently own a copy of Chicka Chicka 123, we are excited to start using it for learning numbers and have no doubt Grace will love this one too.
Tiger Tales’ A is for Apple & 123 Count With Me – Um letter / number formation tracers for each page and flaps for Grace to lift! At the end of each book there are additional pages for beginning words and simple math.
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek – This book is brand new to our collection and is already loved by this Mama and does a great job of explaining those big feelings to a little one.
Any Michael Hall Title…We especially love My Heart is Like a Zoo – All of the titles we have read from this author do an amazing job of engaging readers’ imagination!
Eric Carle Books (authored & illustrated) – I mean they are classics and Carle’s illustrations are gorgeous. And there are so many lessons that can correlate with his books.
Hello, World! Series by Jill McDonald (We currently have Weather & My Body) – This series introduces science and nature to babies and toddlers and has beautiful illustrations.
Babies Love…Books: While obviously geared towards babies these books have been wonderful to introduce new topics and usually have flaps to lift and explore.
American Bible Society’s My First Read & Learn Bible and Zondervan’s The Beginner’s Bible – We love reading My First Read & Learn Bible before bed, and have actually read it straight through several times at Grace’s request. The Beginner’s Bible we currently have was mine when I was a little garland s in really good shape, and we will transition to this version she is a bit older. Bonus there is an entire YouTube channel containing the videos that go along with this children’s Bible that we have already started watching!
Music & Media
YouTube: I’ll be honest here…I was not a fan of YouTube before starting our Tot School journey, nor did I ever really use this service. That changed drastically once we got started on this journey and I consider YouTube an invaluable part of our resources. First of all it’s free! Second of all there are numerous educational songs and videos to choose from made by super talented individuals and teams out there that make learning fun for little ones! We use YouTube every single day. The way I utilize this service is by finding videos based on our theme and organizing them into playlists so that we can hit play and each video plays one after the other for that particular theme. Here’s a list of our favorite top 10 channels:
Pancake Manor This channel started our love affair with YouTube! This duo has all the typical nursery rhymes and sing-a-longs little ones love but with their own twist! We especially love their Color songs! We also listen to their albums in the car all the time!
Story Bots I believe this channel is now called Netflix Jr. so you will have to sift through other Netflix Jr. originals, but we love the Story Bots for fun and whacky learning songs about colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. Of course there is a ton of other videos and songs they offer as well.
Pink Fong You know that super annoying, but you-sing-it-all-the-time because you-can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head and your child LOVES it song? Yes these are the people behind Baby Shark, but they have some really great learning videos on all sorts of topics! We especially love their ABC songs that they literally have in any theme you can think of and their shape videos. Grace loves these videos and this Mama has already scoped out their phonics videos and can’t wait to use them!
Sesame Street While full episodes are generally not posted, we’ve made great use out of their collection of shorts for our playlists on a particular theme. Grace loves Sesame Street and their characters and they’ve been a staple for 50 years now in educational television. What’s not to love?!
Juicebox Jukebox This channel is the newest member to our Tot School rotation and while there is not a ton of content, their songs are great! We love listening to Shh, Apes!, What’s Your Favorite Color, The ABC’s of You, and Numbers are the Only Things that Count. Let’s be honest here, sometimes particular tunes especially played over and over again can get a bit irritating after awhile. These songs and videos do not rub the same way as others. While equally appealing to Grace, I love these tunes because I consider them our chill music, but the educational aspect is still there.
Barefoot Books While there are actual books that go along with the videos on this channel, their sing-a-longs can stand alone! We discovered this channel when we ordered one of their books for a theme and it not only included a CD of the book’s song, but also instructions on how to view the video. We have since used multiple songs on their YouTube channel for different themes.
Super Simple Songs This channel is our go to for typical preschool songs and nursery rhymes. Their videos are bright and cheery and they have a vast collection of rhyming songs and movement songs for little ones. They even have an app you can download (we have not tried that out yet).
The Beginners Bible This gem of a channel contains the original episodes I grew up watching! They may be dated as far as not being wide screen or HD but their content is not and they pair really well with The Beginners Bible.
The Berenstein Bears Again these are the original videos for the Berenstein Bears so the viewing quality is a little different, but their messages are timeless and another childhood favorite of this Mama’s and hopefully Grace’s!
Disney Junior Until Disney+ came out, our only way to watch Minnie’s Bow Toons was on this YouTube channel. Grace LOVES Minnie! Mama likes how short each episode is and we’ve used a few for a Tot School theme here and there, and every once in a while a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode. We’ve also used Disney Junior’s Ready for Preschool shorts for a myriad of different themes and topics!
Library: Our local library also has a really good selection of DVD’s for kids that we have utilized for certain themes as well. Between all the resources listed for media we have never had to purchase a DVD or Music CD to watch for our Tot School themes.
Paid Streaming Services: We are fortunate enough to have paid subscriptions for Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and Disney+, so we do use these subscriptions from time to time to supplement our Tot School themes, although we could do without them and rely solely on YouTube and our Library. Side note: In addition to free two day shipping, and the entire Prime Video library, we also have access to Amazon’s Prime Music service (we do not have unlimited) with our annual Prime Membership, and we can listen to two of Pancake Manor’s albums called Colors! and Happy & We Know It. Grace LOVES listening to these tunes in the car and we practically know these songs by heart now.
UPDATE February 2022 – Important Health Information on Screen Time & Digital Eye Strain: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours of screen time a day for little ones over the age of 2, and NONE for children younger than 2. Too much screen time has been linked to several childhood issues including behavior problems, irregular sleep patterns, over-eating, and decreased time for play and physical activity. To learn more, please see this article about children and screen time from the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, with the rise of screen use due to the current world-wide pandemic, digital eye strain is becoming much more common among children and adults. To learn more about digital eye strain and how to take steps to prevent it, please take a look at this helpful article from the folks at NVISION Eye Centers. They also have another great article detailing how prolonged screen use can affect your and your children’s eye health. You can view that particular article here.
Tot School Supplies
Lastly I wanted to include a list of supplies we like to keep on hand that are not theme specific and can be used for various activities. Again we search around usually between our favorite stores (listed above) to try to get the best bang for our buck between quantity and quality. Below you’ll find what we currently keep in our supply stash:
- Card stock or construction paper
- Craft Foam
- Craft Felt Sheets
- Popsicle Sticks
- Pom Poms & Cotton Balls
- Pipe Cleaners
- Crayola Kid’s Paint
- Contact Paper
- Tissue Paper Squares
- Play Doh
- 1″ Buttons: You can use these in place of expensive Do-A-Dot markers making those activities reusable, and they are great for color sorting and counting! Just make sure you supervise to avoid swallowed buttons!
- Sharpies / Markers
- Gallon Size Ziplock Bags
- Page Protectors: Great if you don’t want to laminate worksheets and you can use dry erase markers to make them reusable. You can also keep them corralled in a Binder this way.
- Dry Erase Markers
- Printer / Paper / Ink or Print Shop
- Laminator & Laminating Sheets (Amazing way to make activities reusable and durable.)
- Sensory Bin Bases: We mostly use fake grass (paper), black beans, water, and sand. There are a ton of different sensory bin bases on Pinterest but these four have served us well for a variety of different themes.
- Plastic Tray or Cookie Sheet: We have both but if I had to choose one I’d go with the cookie sheet since you can use it with Magnets!
Thanks for hanging till the end. That was a lot of information. My hope is that you guys can use some of the things that inspired our Tot School journey for your little one(s). Just remember there is no one size fits all for Tot School / At Home Preschool / Homeschool. I can guarantee our favorites will not be the next blogger’s favorites, we might have something in common or none at all! The resources we use and our favorite lists are simply that – ours. But you never know, you and your family just might like a few!
So while I included a ton of resources for your little one(s) to use, I missed out on the opportunity to share resources for the grown ups, partly because I hadn’t really delved into the those resources myself. I started reading a book recently that I really want to share with everyone, especially those of you considering a path towards homeschooling. I stumbled across this title on Amazon during an unrelated search, and after reading the description I was intrigued. This book sat in my cart for weeks before I finally purchased it, and boy am I so glad I did. The author started a homeschooling community for other like minded families called Wild + Free. Their homeschooling style (while inclusive of many different types of homeschooling styles) aligned with our family’s values, and focuses on play based learning and nature exploration…basically letting kids be kids. While I have not finished the book, every part I have read so far I LOVE, and I know it will be a resource I can turn to again and again. The book is called The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming the Wonder in Your Child’s Education by Ainsley Arment. In addition to a website full of some pretty great content, they also have groups throughout the United States where you can connect with local families as well. There is also an amazing podcast by the same name (Wild+Free) which is hosted by the book’s author and founder of the Wild+Free community. Seriously, check them out!
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If you’d like to see a sample of how I currently plan out themes for a week check out the Tot School Schedule 🍒 v2.0 page!
You can see a list of our 2020 Tot School Themes 🐝 here.
Interested in purchasing plans or printables for your at home Tot School / Preschool ? Visit our Etsy Shop 🛍 today!
You can still see our original Tot School Schedule by visiting the Tot School Schedule 🍍 v1.0 page.
You can also see a list of last year’s themes on the 2019 Tot School Themes ☂️ page.
You can find all our daily songs, their tunes and lyrics by visiting our Tot School Songs 🎵 page.
EVERYDAY a little Grace 🌷