Archives for February 2009

Behind the Scenes ~ Tot Trays

What Are Tot Trays

I know most of you probably read my Tot School post from this past Sunday, but if you didn’t read it first, then you’ll know what I am talking about ~ Tot Trays :).
Now, I will answer any questions I could think of that readers might ask 🙂 and if I don’t answer yours, put it below in the comments and I will!

First, WHY Trays?

  • Let me begin by saying that I am in NO way saying that my beliefs are right, they are just MY beliefs. I share openly about what I believe when it comes to educating young children, and yes I do have a college degree, but that in no way makes me any smarter than others out there. I just share what I believe!
  • The TRAY itself: I believe the tray itself provides a sense of space for a young child. When all items are contained on a tray (or a mat, or something similar), it is easier for the child to visualize all involved with the activity and also how to CLEAN it up! Cleaning up is a huge part of this method for me.
  • The ACTIVITIES: I believe in providing simple, yet engaging activities that sometimes expose a skill and sometimes are just fun! I love the discussion times these trays provide. I love the concentration required. I love that Krash is developing perseverance, focus, and determination to accomplish tasks. I love the vocabulary alone that stems from the tray activities, it really is endless. I love that I can change up the activities easily without a ton of work each evening. I love that most of the items on the trays aren’t *toys* so they are refreshing for Krash and engaging.
  • The ENVIRONMENT: Trays provide a more neat and orderly environment for a tot, it is easy to see where the activities are, what is involved, how to clean up, and where to put the tray back. These types of activities also (usually) stimulate a quieter environment as many of the activities require much focus from the tot! In a world of LOUD chaos (at least with MY tot), I enjoy the difference in these types of activities.
  • WHEN: Krash only uses these trays during SCHOOL time. They are not toys, they are not free-play items. My idea behind this is to keep them special and engaging. When a child sees them over and over again, anytime, they become just like the rest of his toys. Sometimes this is hard to manage but that is the goal. We have only recently gone back to this method and he will get used to it more and more as we go on.

Tell me about your shopping spree you spoke of in your Tot School post…

Here’s where I went, with items linked up if I could find them online. Many of these items were pictured in my Tot School post (or will be soon 🙂 )

AC Moore:

  • round paint tray
  • pom poms (bought 3 bags, of the colors we didn’t have already)
  • Valentines Day items for our seasonal collection (2-$1 tins, 1-1$ plastic heart jar, heart cookie cutters)
  • pipe cleaners (we just happened to be almost out!)
  • Cookie cutters-with a spring/Easter theme

Dollar Tree:

  • heart sticks
  • heart shaped ice cube tray
  • skinny long colored spoon assortment
  • cookie cutters assortment
  • foam beads in a box
  • pack of 4 colored clips

Ikea: (I am SO sorry for those of you who don’t live near an Ikea, that have the best stuff for trays!)

~edited to add… the trays themselves are from Oriental TradingI wrote a post sharing alternatives here.

I did not spend a ton of money, and many of these items will be used over and over again. These were just some things I wanted to get at this point, to go along with what we already had. And yes, I do have an educational supply shopping addiction (so my husband says).

How do you organize ALL OF THE STUFF?

  • I decided this FIRST, as I knew if I just brought home a bunch of stuff and mixed it in with the rest of our supplies, I would become overwhelmed with the whole idea and give up. So, when I went shopping, that was my very first priority and I knew I was not coming home until I had the solution! Here it is…The drawers are long, which is really nice for things like pipe cleaners, spoons, etc. Below is a photo of our bottle top collection…
  • I got a closet shoe hanging thing, that has drawer/box things to go inside. I didn’t have any floor space to put a new shelf or drawers or anything so when I saw this-the light bulb went off! We hang ours inside of our guest room/office “closet” area.
  • I made labels for all of the drawers and now that I am home, I plan to get one more red thing and set of boxes, just to not run out of storage-it’s worth it to me. I hung the labels on with key ring things I got at an educational supply store.
  • I also added a set of plastic drawers that I already had, knowing I would need larger spaces for some things. The main idea for this is the items I am collecting from the house (plastic bottles-my favorite is our coffee creamer bottles with the label torn off, TP tubes, PT tubes, and other bigger items we are now saving).
  • I am using a couple of the shelves in the *closet* to store some of the bigger items also, I still need to work on this area.
  • I am not entirely done with the space as I write this, but it will continue to be a work in progress, as all things storage and school related are!

How do you organize your IDEAS in your head when it comes to planning for these types of activities?

I think in the way of tray-themes, then change up within those. Here’s my *theme list* so far:

  • Transferring
  • Pouring
  • Beading
  • Spooning
  • Pasta Fun
  • Sorting
  • Counting
  • Matching
  • Small Spaces
  • Cutting
  • Gluing
  • Stickers
  • Simple Art/Crafts
  • Fine Motor-Muscle Skills

By keeping to these themes, I can wrap my brain around it easier and come up with simple ways to make it fun! I can also list out new ideas under a category-or add a new category!

Speaking of NEW IDEAS, I always find tons of ideas while blog-surfing but have a hard time implementing them (or remembering them), how do you manage this?

  • I struggled with this also, and finally made myself a sheet to keep next to my computer. I will give you the link for it at the end of this post. I jot down the name of the idea, and where I found it. THEN I add it to a folder in my Internet bookmarks so I can come back to it when I am ready to see it again.
  • If it is something I plan to make right away, I will just jot down my materials list and put in our current school plans!
  • I plan to come up with an even better way to sort new ideas as we get going, but this is my start!

What ages would you recommend these activities for?

  • I must tell you I am not a big age-range-suggester. WHY? Because I firmly believe that every child is unique and different and you must take the time to truly know your own child. I always post Krash’s age in my Tot School posts to give readers an idea, but kids are different!
  • I recommend starting simple, with the easiest of ideas and just see how your tot does! If an activity is frustrating for your tot (or you), then put it on the “later on” list!
  • Many of the tray activities are even enjoyed by my oldest son (age 6 1/2), that’s the cool thing about trays-they are simple but fun.


I made a new webpage all about Tot Trays! There’s ideas already there and I have tried to go into as much detail as possible to help you out if you’re looking to add this type of learning to your home. I plan to continually update this page, with ideas, photos, etc. so be sure to bookmark it if you are interested! On this page you will find:

  • The link to the New Ideas sheet
  • Items to Collect sheet, and Shopping Ideas (stores, lists, etc.)
  • Each *tray theme* outlined (with photos if I have them already)
  • More info about storage
  • My Labels (either for you to use exactly or to gather ideas to make your own)

As I said above, if you have any other questions about Tot Trays, please leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them there. I will also add more to the webpage itself as I get new photos and ideas!

Behind the Scenes ~ Routines, Schedules and Planning


I have gotten lots of emails and comments lately asking about my daily school routine/schedule and/or planning routine. I will do my best to give you a Behind the Scenes look into this area of our life, but I must warn you, the answers may surprise you!

I think I tend to *look* rather organized and in control on my blog(s) but in real life I am a bit all over the place. So I will be very transparent here for you all, and you will see I am not the super-mom some of you think I am!

Here are some of the most common questions I have gotten…

What is your daily schedule?

  • Honestly…I am a daily schedule drop-out. I tried, even made a lovely schedule to hang up on the wall and we followed it for awhile. Then I realized that it just didn’t jive with us. So we have switched to more of a general routine, with no set schedule. For those of you interested in seeing how we began, and my lovely intentions of having a schedule, here ya go…

So here goes the next question…

What does your general daily routine look like?

Now that I can answer, we do have one of those ;). I will give you the long drawn out details the best I can for a *normal* day at home right now. Keep in mind I am pregnant, my husband works odd hours (we are missionaries), and this is not EVERY day!

  • 8:00-8:30 Daddy feeds boys breakfast and I have “me” time (mostly computer, and getting ready)
  • 8:30-9:00-no real plans, Daddy leaves at 9, so sometimes this is just transition time.
  • 9:00-10:30ish-I focus on Krash and Tot School. During this time Pac-Man will do a few independent school work items, then play with us some. Pac Man will also have some free time during this time frame too (depends on my stress level of handling him being a part of Tot School-sometimes the fighting is just too much for me).
  • 10:30ish-11:30ish-I am usually worn out by this time and will put in a movie for Krash, or he will play on his own, depends on how difficult he is being that day.
  • 11:30-I begin preparing lunch, the kids just play
  • 12:00ish-we eat lunch.
  • after lunch: Krash goes down for a nap.
  • While I am putting Krash down, Pac-Man does his silent reading time.
  • 1:00ish-3:00ish Pac-Man’s focused school time with me. We do not go in any particular subject order, we just get done what we need to get done and tyr our best to enjoy our couple of hours alone together!

I hope that helps. Here’s a bit more info about us…YES my kids do watch tv, yes they play video games, yes they drive me nuts, yes I look like a horrible mom some days, yes I just tell them to leave me alone for awhile sometimes, yes I LOVE THEM DEARLY and wouldn’t want life any other way than this way-homeschooling! Oh and yes we spend some days out of the house. Krash takes a gym class at the Y on Tues and Thurs, and Pac plays soccer for the Y too. Daddy also takes them out a lot when he can. We also go to fun children’s places when I have the energy (which isn’t much lately).

How do you plan for Krash? (Tot School, age 33 mos)

  • I didn’t plan much until recently. I kept all of my ideas on a list and my tools/toys in one area and just chose activities. I have now begun to plan more to be a bit more focused. I plan to do an extensive post on this soon.

How do you plan for Pac-Man? (currently ending 1st grade in a few weeks)

  • I usually plan weekly for Pac Man, and have used many different planning sheets. I have added them to my site (blanks of course) in case they could be of help to any of you. Currently I use the weekly planning sheet found in the Old School House Planner.

    I could make it on my own, and honestly don’t know why I am sticking with this one, but I am, I like it.

  • I fill out our weekly plans for the week on Sat or Sunday, and pull all worksheets necessary.
  • Each morning, I get out the materials for the day and decide what Pac could do independently. We usually go over this in the morning. So if I say, “go complete something,” he knows what his options are.

As I said above, I have another Behind the Scenes post in the works detailing Tot School planning, and hope to have it done in a few weeks at least! If you have any questions you hope I address in that, leave them below or email me! Any other routine/schedule questions, leave them in the comments so I can answer them directly in the comments section of this post so others can see!

Tot School ~ Back to the Trays!

~Krash is currently 33 months old~
For those of you who are new(er) readers (or unfamiliar with my background), I will briefly explain why I am titling this post “Back to the Trays”. You see, I have a passion for Montessori type learning, with a bit of a modern twist. I did an internship in a Montessori classroom while obtaining my early-childhood degree back in the day and I LOVED it. My twist is, I am not a die-hard believer in the particulars of the method, therefore I modify it and wouldn’t call ours a Montessori type of homeschool. BUT, many of my ideas and beliefs come from that internship and many wonderful Montessori blogs I read.

For us, our Montessori-style spin comes in the form of the trays, we used to do stuff like this, but then I got away from it (mainly from poor planning on my part). This past week, I dove back in and we have had a GREAT week because of it! Krash has really taken to the idea of the trays, and the assortment of simple activities I am providing him with. I even finally went on a big shopping spree for many of the “wanted tools” that had been on my list and for very little money, I stocked up on many items, and a way to store it all. I am in a process of writing a post all about what I got and how I am storing it and using it-stay tuned, I HOPE to have it up sometime this week!

This is how I set up our trays (got them here) each day, since we lack a shelf to put them on-this is the best way I can come up with for now…

Krash then tells me which tray he would like to work with and I help him take it down and we begin. Here’s what was on the trays at various points during the week and what K thought of them!!!

He loved transferring the pom-poms with tongs…
Stringing beads onto pipe cleaners…
Pouring beads…I set up hole-punching mainly for my oldest son, but K dove right in and I was shocked he could do it!
He even taught Shamu how to do it!!!The next day I kept some activities similar, and some I just changed up a few details-he LOVED seeing what was new, and also practicing skills he had done the day before. I added a heart shaped ice-cube tray (from Dollar Tree) and a little Valentine Tin ($1.00 from AC Moore) for the pom-pom/tong activity…We added spooning jewels into mini tea light holders, this was by far his FAVORITE tray of the week. (the colored spoons were from Dollar Tree in a large pack, the tin from AC Moore, the jewels are the ones you find in little sacks at Dollar Tree, Michaels, or somewhere like that)I switched up beading to add the heart-sticks (from Dollar Tree), he wanted to play golf with them first…
Then he put the beads on them. He didn’t really like this though and left it quickly!I made him a Hide-n-Seek bowl, you can read more about that here!

I switched up pouring with a new pitcher and a fishy cup. He loved this, I think since he could see the beads inside of the pitcher!I added a hammering activity Added a funnel and a tiny pitcher to the pouring, he LOVED this!!!Switched to big tongs, big pom poms in a new container for him to practice unscrewing (this was from AC Moore) and a bigger tray (from AC Moore, in the paint section).

We didn’t only use trays this week, but they were a large part of our Tot School time. We also played many different games with our Twister Hopscotch rings, here he is jumping into the colors I yell out!We dot paintedAnd painted with regular paints another day!It was a really fun week and I am going to stick with the trays I think, I loved the time we had together each day, it seemed much more calm. I am trying to help Krash develop his perseverance skills and also his focus, I think these tray activities really help with that.

  • Visit our NEW SITE…Totally Tots!!!
  • Want to see more Tot School posts? Click HERE!
  • Visit our Tot School Webpage HERE
  • Visit our Tot School Tools store HERE
  • See our Tot School Squidoo Lens HERE
  • Tools for Tots HERE

If you have a tot (approximately ages 1-3) at home, join in the fun and share what you’re doing with your tot! Here’s how to get started if you’re new…

If you’ve never read this: Go HERE 1st for more details– please do!!! Then if you have any ideas you’d like to share, link up your exact post to Mr Linky (if you have questions about how to do that, let me know in a comment or email-links to homepages will automatically be deleted).

New this week: when you add your name(blog name) to Mr. Linky will you put your tot’s age (in months) after it, like this: 1+1+1=1 (33 mos)? I think this will help new readers a lot as they look for ideas for their specific aged tot!

The Didj

Our son Pac Man, who is soon to be 7 knows many kids that own a Nintendo DS. Of course, he wants a DS. Well, for many different reasons, we have NOT given in to this trend for a couple of years now (he’s been asking that long). First, we don’t like the idea of him *lost* in a little hand-held world and also we don’t like the idea of him wanting something just to have what everyone else has. There are a few other reasons, but those are the main ones.

Well, knowing how much he loved his Leapster L-MAX, we decided to look into the older-kid version of this, the LeapFrog Didj. We liked what we saw (and the price) and got it for him recently. It was one of those spontaneous LOVE gifts (perfect for our theme this month :). He was ecstatic!!!

He loved how grown-up it looks and that it is similar to what he wanted. We LOVE that is is educational too! It hooks up to my computer and I can download skills onto it that appear in the games he plays. So far we only have the game that comes with it and I was able to adjust the math skills he has during the game. In the spelling games, I can put in his exact spelling list! Here he is setting up his little character, there’s also a *store* where he can *buy* upgrades to games as he earns points.We are very happy with our decision so far, so is he! If you have a kid like mine, it might be worth looking into. AND, check your going-out-of-business Circuit City and see if they have any first, we got ours there and saved a bit!Krash doesn’t know it yet, but he’s happy too because now the LMax is entirely his! He is a bit too young for it, but Pac Man got it when he was around 3 1/2 and loved it for years.

Tot School

~”Krash” is currently 33 months old~

We are still in potty-training mode around here so I set up an area similar to this each day for Krash. I set out a soft blankee, strip him down to his booty, put his potty seat in there and we play all morning long! You can see some of his Tot School tools on the floor around him. In this shot he is watching Leap Frog – Math Circus-he has just begun to watch this one. His little area often ends up looking like this…He grabs every pillow he can find and he lives up to his bloggy name…KRASH!

In honor of potty-training, we are still being blessed with some unique outfits, and though this shot has nothing to do with Tot School, I had to share it with all of you moms of tots! 🙂 He was playing Nerf Dart Tag with his big bro, and let me tell you-Daddy and I were rolling with laughter watching him run around like that!He stacked his bears for a LONG time (I can’t find these online anywhere, but we have these too that he loves)He spent some table time cutting and coloring. He still loves his little dollar-section Buzz Lightyear notebook!We played pound the letter, first he chooses a letter and we find it together in the alphabet puzzlehe gets it part-way put in…then he POUNDS away as he yells out the letter…obviously his favorite part!He’s still not very into our Learning Wheels, mainly because he thinks the clothespins are too hard. So this week, I put them all on and yelled out a color for him to pull off. He liked it much better.We also had lots of fun instrument time. This particular day he was exploring sizes with them-trying to see what would fit into his little Jamaican drum!I snuck up on his quiet play time-which I believe is part of Tot School…letting tots learn to entertain themselves and play on their own. He was very focused on getting a tiny helicopter hooked up to a truck so the helicopter could “fly it.” I love watching what he comes up with on his own!Snow finally came and K got to build his first snowman with his Dad and brother!And he got to participate in a great snow fight (Daddy won)!

Finally, here is a book, A Silly Snowy Day, that is VERY special to Krash right now. Daddy read it to him one night, from our *winter books * collection we have out right now, and K fell in love. He now sleeps with it, carries it around almost all day, and asks us to read it right when he gets up and before sleeping and any other time he can get us to read it! He’s never really had a book that he has loved THIS much, it is sweet to see! The best was the other night when he went to sleep reading by a little glow light he has. Later Daddy found him asleep with his face in the book :). This is also a special pic because surrounding him he has his other current *loves* …his blankee, his Shamu, and his dolphin…he was reading to them in his little reading corner!

  • Visit our NEW SITE…Totally Tots!!!
  • Want to see more Tot School posts? Click HERE!
  • Visit our Tot School Webpage HERE
  • Visit our Tot School Tools store HERE
  • See our Tot School Squidoo Lens HERE
  • Tools for Tots HERE

If you have a tot (approximately ages 1-3) at home, join in the fun and share what you’re doing with your tot! Here’s how to get started if you’re new…

PLEASE READ THIS…beginning this week, you must put a link back to Tot School (either the graphic somewhere in your post linked back to Tot School, or a text link to this post, or the main Tot School page) somewhere in your post (most of you already do this). Our Tot School has grown a lot in the past month and in order to keep our blog visiting and networking running smoothly, all posts not following this guideline will be deleted-even if you have wonderful info :(. So please be sure to mention Tot School somewhere in your post if you are going to add it below!

AND, if you’ve never read this: Go HERE 1st for more details– please do!!! Then if you have any ideas you’d like to share, link up your exact post to Mr Linky (if you have questions about how to do that, let me know in a comment or email-links to homepages will automatically be deleted).