Behind the Scenes ~ Preschool Workboxes

Behind the Scenes Awhile back I wrote a Behind the Scenes post about beginning to transition Krash from Tot School to Preschool.  We are almost entirely done with that transition and I wanted to update you in case our journey might help anyone!  As I always say-our way isn’t necessarily the right way, it’s just a way that has worked for us.  Every child is different and what works for Krash and our homeschool may not work for yours.

At the writing of this post Krash is 46 months old, we began the transition I am writing about now about 6 weeks ago.

I slowly transitioned Krash from Tot Trays on a shelf like this…IMG_1861 copy

to workboxes like this…  IMG_0593I got this awesome set up from Ikea.  I have known I wanted this for years now, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money.  Finally my husband encouraged me to just get what I really wanted and honestly I am SO happy I did!  This is the set we have.


We did the transition slowly.  At first I just switched his normal things that would have been on his trays over to the workboxes, and just let him open them all up and pick what he wanted-the same freedom of choice he had with his tray set up.

Slowly I added in more preschool type work and eventually I added the numbers to his boxes.  I set up the 9 boxes with 6 being his workboxes and the 3 on the bottom being his “star” boxes.  These are the boxes filled with open ended toys that he can freely play with after boxes 1-6 are finished each day.  Here’s a photo I took and labeled to show you how it is working now.IMG_1867 You can see he was almost done for the day when I snapped this, as box 1-5 are done and the # cards are off and his finished work is on the tray.  Some days I don’t have all 6 boxes filled and if I don’t I just don’t put the numbers on him.  It only took him a few days to understand that.  Now he can look and see that he only has 4 boxes on a certain day, and then he is free to play in star boxes.

A few random thoughts about how we do things…

  • He does go in order, beginning with box 1 each day.
  • I do work with him the entire time, he is not independent yet!
  • Each box usually is something that doesn’t take a really long time.  I break things down into small chunks for him, we will gradually increase his attention span.
  • He only took a few days of training to get past the “WHAT??? I can’t just do what I WANT for school anymore???”  phase ;-).  Once I decided we were switching to “Mommy chooses first, then you {star boxes},”  I knew I had to make it stick.  I disciplined and made him obey even if he didn’t like me too much.  Within a few days of fighting me, the battle was won.  He now goes in order with very little complaining.  He is a strong willed little man too, so don’t think it was easy-I just had to be firm and let him know I was most certainly the boss-even of school.

So, I know you are wondering 😉 what is in the different boxes?  Here’s an idea of the types of things I would put in each set…

In Workboxes 1-6…activities with a clear ending

  • Kumon Cutting Workbook
  • Theme printables  {from Tot Packs and other sites I use to get things from}
  • Puzzles
  • Learning toys that have a definite ending point {not open ended toys}
  • Coloring, cutting, drawing, or other art activities that have a “goal” {again, not open ended stuff}
  • ABC projects {currently we are doing Crafty ABCs from Totally Tots}


In STAR Boxes… open ended toys {these are just a few of our suggestions}

  • Zoobs
  • Tall Stacker Pegs Building Set
  • Beads
  • Small Wooden Blocks
  • Twister Rings
  • Automoblox
  • Magneatos
  • Egg/Spoon Race Game

Here’s our new Preschool Tools store I set up to help me keep all of our suggestions in one place.  We still use many of our Tot School Tools as you will see, I just wanted to have a new section as we enter into official preschool years!

We are just weeks away from officially beginning our new Raising Rock Stars Preschool program!   I can’t wait to share with all of you, I have been working like crazy behind the scenes to get it ready for Krash and to share with you!  Stay tuned!

Edited to ADD {2013} Preschool Work Trays with LadybugPreschool-Work-Trays.jpg

Behind the Scenes ~ Disqus Commenting

Behind the Scenes As many of you have probably noticed, I switched my comments over to Disqus.  I did this after much researching and watching a few other blogs who were using it to decide if I felt it was best for my blog. I finally made the switch a couple of weeks ago and I love it so far.  In order to help you understand it better, I thought I would tell you a bit about it, so you can get the most of it here on my blog.  It really has some neat features that can make the commenting section more interactive for us all.

First, I recommend setting up a Disqus profile.  It isn’t hard, and it will make commenting here and on any other blogs who use Disqus (the # is slowly rising).  It helps me and others get to know you, and also your blog (if you have one).

Here are the basics of why I switched and how I think it will benefit 1+1+1=1 and you!

  • Once you register, it links all of your online info all together.  Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Website, etc.  Whatever you have, you can link it up and I can find you and so can others!  I can easily check to see if you have a Twitter account, I can easily jump over to your blog, I can easily see if you have another website.  It is super helpful in getting to really know someone and put faces/blogs/account names with real people!
  • It gives me your email!  This is something I have always wanted, but many Blogger profiles are not set to show emails so I can’t reply to you if you ask me a more private question.
  • The best feature, I think-is that it will email YOU when people comment on any comment you leave.  So, if you ask me a question in the comment section, and I later reply-you don’t have to come back to check-it will email you my reply and the replies of anyone else!  I think it does this automatically when you set up a profile, but just be sure to find this page (Notifications) and be sure the box is checked…

Publication5 a

  • Hopefully it will bring us together more, allowing me to answer questions in a more efficient way and maybe even opening things up for you guys to even answer each other sometimes!  It can make the blog a bit more of a dialog! I don’t have near the time I wish I had to visit your blogs and comment, and even email as much as I want to.  Hopefully this will allow me to visit more and make a more personal connection with more of you. {by the way, my grand “stay on top of my email inbox" plan has royally failed and I am way backed up again, please forgive me if you email is sitting there-I promise I will get to it!}

I personally have comment moderation set up for unregistered commenters.  So, if you are not registered, your comment will come to my email and I will have to approve it.  If you have an account and are registered, I have it set to publish immediately.

If you are registered, and have left a comment and I have replied on your comment…did you get an email?  If you want to test it out, leave a comment on this post and I will reply to each one that is registered and you can check to be sure it works

I look forward to seeing many of your pretty faces in your new Disqus Avatar pics too!  Be sure to upload a photo, it helps so much with knowing who you are!  Another good tip I heard awhile back-use the same photo for all of your public online accounts.  I use the same photo for Twitter, Blogger and Disqus.  That way my photo is associated with me wherever I go.  I also rarely change that photo, but when I do, I switch it for all of my accounts at the same time. 

If you are looking to install Disqus on your blog, here is a tutorial that helped me out.

Behind the Scenes ~ Moms on the Web


I am an online Momma-in case you have failed to notice! I spend a large part of my free time purposefully online. I am not a random web surfer, I am always online with a purpose and pray that God will always keep my focus in this area.

Being online a lot takes up much time, and even though I enjoy it, I need to be sure I am as streamlined as possible to make the most out of every online minute! With this goal in mind, I will share some tricks I have learned and welcome you to share any tricks you have in the comments!

#1 Switch to Firefox!

Why did it take me so long to do this? Honestly I just never took the time to learn about it. I switched awhile back and got frustrated and then switched back to IE. After the recent problems between Blogger and IE, and blogs shutting down, I finally decided to give FF a try again and I am SOOOOO glad I did!

Here’s Why I love Firefox (so far)

  • Ad Ons…they are amazing, if you get the right ones and use them the right way-wow, is all I can say! Here are my favorite so far…
  • TwitterFox
  • Shareaholic…works with Evernote too, which I shared about here. You can also re-tweet blog posts with this too with one click!
  • Feedly…the new way I am reading blogs now/it is merged with my Google Reader
  • Facebook Toolbar…if you use Facebook, you’ll LOVE this!
  • Autopager…no more clicking to the next page, it auto-appears right below the one you’re on!!!
  • Smoothwheel
  • SPELL CHECK…yes my friends, spell check is everywhere with Firefox!!! This way I don’t look like such a moron leaving comments for people-since I misspell everything and often overlook it. Firefox even has spell check for that-automatically!
  • BLOGGING…blogging in Blogger with Firefox is so much better. I no longer have unwanted spaces between paragraphs, no longer need to go in and edit html to make things look right, drafts come back up looking the same as I left them instead of a million unwanted spaces. It is awesome.

#2 Join Twitter!

  • Why you ask? Because it’s fun and easy…if you have Firefox! With the Twitterfox widget, tweets show up automatically in a pop up balloon in your bottom right hand corner-you can easily keep up with people you are following without ever having to even leave the page you’re on!
  • Give it a try–follow me and see!
  • I also use Twitpic, and share photos that way. They show up as tweets if you follow me, in case you want to take a peek into my day that way! I am not a big Tweeter, but I do like to use it!
  • EDITED to add: be sure to set your profile to private if you don’t want to deal with *unwanted followers*. I keep mine open and just block them, but if this is a concern for you that you don’t want to deal with, you can adjust your settings. See my comment about this too, sorry I forgot to mention this drawback of Twitter when I first posted!

#3 Follow Blogs in a streamlined way…
Choose from one of the following (or any similar ways)

  • Bloglines, Google Reader, etc. If you don’t know what RSS is and why it is valuable to you, go here to learn more and jump on board!
  • Feedly (the awesome Firefox Ad-On)
  • Twitter…many bloggers (including me) tweet their blog posts so you can see when I have posted on any of my 3 blogs. That way you don’t have to check in at all 3 just to find out they weren’t updated!
  • Email subscriptions…many bloggers, including myself offer this as an option now. It saves you time by only going to a blog when there is a new post-or just reading it in your email.

#4 Use iGoogle (or something similar)…

iGoogle is my homepage and shows me my main online items all in one place. Here is a screen shot of my iGoogle page…
The widgets I use are: Bookmarks (top left box): I keep my top visited places on the web there for easiest and fastest access, Google Calendar (middle), Google Reader (top left): GR is *connected* to Feedly so they both show the same blogs, I can read either place, Weather (bottom left), Gmail (bottom right). I keep mine very simple, but here are MANY other widgets you can add to customize yours.

Here’s a closer look at how Google Reader/Feedly work, I created the blog categories in my Feedly and they show up like this in my Google Reader on my iGoogle page:I live by my Google Calendar…
It is color coded (Personal, husband’s calendar, bdays/anniversaries, each blog has it’s own color, coupons expiring, bills, etc.) The best part is, you can turn *off* each color coded section by clicking the little box over there on the left where they are listed. You can also print based on how you have it clicked on or off. For example, I have a blog only calendar printed, which I keep attached to my Daily Docket, I turned off the personal stuff before I printed it, so it just shows my blogs.

iGoogle is great also because you can access it anywhere, from any computer…so you always have your calendar, your top bookmarks, your gmail, your blogs, etc.

If you have any great online tips, leave them in the comments below-that’s how I learned about Evernote awhile back-from a great reader who shared about it in a comment!!!

Behind the Scenes ~ Where do I Begin?

This post was expanded into an eBook in the spring of 2013!  You can grab your copy FREE when you sign up for our newsletter!  Sign up here, or go to this post to read more!Where-to-Begin-with-Tot-School-eBook.jpg

I get this question a lot, the one from a mom trying to do the best for her tot, but feeling a tad bit overwhelmed when she stumbles upon my site and others geared towards educating tots at home. Thankful for the info, but still overwhelmed. This particular mom put it nicely…

“I just feel like a tiny ant with a huge mountain of information and ideas dumped on top of me!!”

This post is for her and any others who feel that way…hopefully to help you navigate through the mountain of ideas dumped before you!!!

The mountain IS big, but that doesn’t mean you need to climb to the top right now, hanging out at the bottom with a few good ideas is just fine…slowly climbing as you feel less overwhelmed.

I too feel overwhelmed sometimes and honestly when the idea of Tot School first hit me, I overwhelmed myself, trying to put my thoughts all in order. Sure I had the early childhood education, I knew the right and wrong ways to teach a young child, but I was still a mom with a tot-trying to do my best for him.

First things first, if you are new to my site or to Tot School, please know that I am not perfect. My long time readers are aware of that fact and have often comforted me through my “I’m such a bad Mommy” times. I am not a bad mommy, and I am not a perfect mommy, I am mommy-just like you. My blog may make it appear that things like Tot School run perfectly in our house-but let me assure you-we have most if not all of the same stumbling blocks that you do.

Go here and read this post if you have never seen it. It gives a minute by minute account of a Tot School hour in our house. Krash was 27 months old when I wrote it and as you will see he was screaming in protest within the first 5 minutes!!!

After you see that, then go here and read through my Tot School FAQ page. Be sure to read the part about my beliefs on educating young children. I am certainly not claiming my way is the right way but it is good for you to know what I believe. These beliefs are what guide my decisions for every Tot School decision I make.

Now that you’ve read both of those, let’s talk about what YOU are going to do to get going with Tot School at your house. Here’s a few recommendations for you, that can hopefully help you climb that mountain slowly and feel more confident as a teacher-mom.

  • Make a List! Get a note pad and a pen and go around your house and find every toy that you already own that could be used for exposing early learning skills (this will be most toys if you think hard enough!). What skills you ask? Go here to this post to see the checklists I provide to give you some ideas. None of these skills are skills a tot HAS to learn, they are just skills to be exposed-key word-EXPOSED. Do not feel you need to teach your tot-you really are just playing with a purpose!
  • Now, go here and look through my Tot School Tools Store and see if you already own any of these and forgot to list them, and if there are a few that really stand out to you-write a list of your “I hope to own” tools. But don’t go buying anything yet unless you have gobs of money to spare. You can also go here to see my Behind the Scenes post on storing our Tot School Tools, to see more ideas of toys that can be tools, and answers to some other common Tot School questions.
  • In order to keep things simple, let’s stop here. Look at the first list you made and select 5 toys you think your tot would enjoy playing with-WITH you. Try to choose things s/he hasn’t played with in awhile or ever…to peak his/her interest. For example’s sake let’s say you choose these foam blocks

Here’s what I would do to purposefully play with my tot…

  • Sit on the floor with him.
  • Show him the blocks. If he dives right in, let him and just sit back and watch him explore without teaching anything or even saying much. (If he doesn’t dive right in but just waits for you, begin stacking or lining them…inviting him to join you.)
  • After he has explored on his own for a bit, join in with him, by doing whatever it was that he was doing (stacking, scattering, lining them up, etc.) Start using purposeful language as you play…” Look at this pretty PURPLE block,” “oooh I see an A on this one,” I am putting the RED one on top of the BLUE one.” Just your simple phrases are teaching your tot SO much.
  • Now try to show your tot how to do something different with the blocks. If he was stacking, why don’t you try lining. If he is resistant to you, try lining them up next to him while he still stacks. Then just invite him to join you.
  • Add something else into your play-maybe a toy car to drive along the line of blocks you made.
  • Maybe get an empty laundry basket and toss the blocks into the basket.
  • Hide some blocks around the room and go find them, announcing the color each time he finds one.
  • The opportunities are endless with just this one toy…. this is why I said you don’t need to go buy new toys-you just need to think deeper and use the ones you already have!!!
  • Here’s the kicker to this whole process, especially if your tot is on the younger end, STOP when he loses interest. You can try to re-engage with a new addition (like the basket or the little car). But when he’s done-he’s done. Let him wander off, and be done. Forcing Tot School (purposeful play with your tot) on him isn’t going to do either of you any good.

Each day, try to purposefully play with your tot like this-using the same toys if s/he really loves them, or bringing out something different each day. If something doesn’t work, have a back up ready to go. That’s why I said to have 5 in mind when you begin. It is frustrating when your great tot school ideas are rejected by your tot-but don’t let the frustration last for long! Just try another toy and keep playing!

Now, for a bit more of the Tot School mountain….

  • I recommend going to my most recent Tot School posts and glancing through the list of moms linked up. They are all putting the ages of their tot(s) in ( ) now. Find a few blogs that show tots that are within a couple of months of the age of your tot. Visit their blogs and glance through some of their recent Tot School posts. You don’t even have to read them, just glance at the photos-I promise you’ll be filled with ideas in just a few minutes! If you like a blog, be sure to add it to your blog reader. If you don’t know what a blog reader is, go here to read that post.
  • Please remember that ALL TOTS ARE DIFFERENT, even if the ages are similar. Not everything that works for one will work for another. Don’t let that frustrate you!!!
  • If you have your own blog, start recording your Tot School adventures and start linking up. More about that can be found here!

As you slowly climb the mountain, begin exploring the following ideas as you feel less overwhelmed. Don’t try to do this all at once, your tot just needs YOU. Each new thing you add is just a bonus.

If your tot is almost 3 or over 3, you might want to read this-which is my post about transitioning from Tot School into Pre K.

In summary-in case you now feel even more overwhelmed after reading all of that…here’s the basics…

  1. make a list of tot school tools you already own
  2. choose 5 to purposefully play with, with your tot
  3. sit and play with your tot, exposing early learning skills
  4. find other moms online who have tots the same age as yours
  5. expand slowly to include more ideas into your Tot School
  6. remember that your tot needs YOU, not stuff…give your tot purposeful play time with you each day…that’s Tot School!

Have fun!

Behind the Scenes ~ Transitioning from Tot School

Behind the Scenes ~ Transitioning from Tot School to Preschool

Krash has recently turned 3, which means it is time to begin the slow transition from child-led Tot School to Mommy-led school. This is not an easy transition and one I struggled greatly with when homeschooling my oldest son during Pre K. Let me begin this post by saying that every idea I present in this post might fail!!! I have not managed this transition successfully in the past and Krash will be the first child I will have completely Tot-Schooled at home and then brought up into PreK. Pac Man attended a 2 day per week pre-school when he was 3 and that accounted for much of our problem with Pre K. Most of it was him missing “Going School” as he called it. So, as you read, please know that these are just my ideas, not my stories of success!

My long term plans for Krash…

  • Krash turned 3 in May 2009. I plan to begin a more formal Pre K program with him in the fall of 2010, when he is about 4 1/2. This is when Pac Man began Pre K and we moved at his pace, I plan to do the same with Krash. I do not push my kids, however I love that homeschooling allows them to move at their own academic pace.

My plan for the next year leading up to Pre K…

  • My plan is to slowly transition Krash from being the leader of school into being more of the teacher-led student. I do not un-school (I personally think it’s neat I just could never handle it myself!), therefore I believe we need to make this transition.
  • I say SLOWLY as I do not want to squash his love for school and learning.
  • If you read my FAQ page about tot school, you will see a long version of what I believe about educating young children. I will still believe this as he goes through this next year and even in the next couple of years, but there will be more teacher-led learning along the way!
My beliefs behind the transition period and how I plan to do it…
  • I am one of those “pick your battle” type of moms. I will fight the big battles in discipline and I will win. I love the quote from Dr. Dobson’s book, The New Dare to Discipline… “when you are defiantly challenged, win decisively.” Basically that we don’t have to engage in every disciplinary battle but when we do choose to engage, we, the parent, MUST win the battle. If we do not-it begins a path of destruction to the child’s idea of who is really in charge. I firmly believe that God is in control of my life and He has placed me as the earthly parent of his children. Although I do not fully understand God’s ways and probably will always fail-I am always trying to be the type of parent God desires me to be. They are after all, HIS children.
  • All that said, I believe this applies with the transition I speak of. I will slowly introduce me as the lead teacher(and decision maker) in small ways.

Some practical ideas for the transition…

    • Already I have begun to expect Krash to complete a puzzle when he begins one. He often likes to do half and I used to let him. Now, I am expecting him to complete what he starts. He battles with me at times, but I remain firm-he always finishes the puzzles now-even if it is with my hand guiding his and him screaming at me :). Below are 2 examples of puzzles he did not choose and did not want to complete…at first. After I convinced him they were fun, he became engaged. He did NOT want to complete the ABC puzzle, but I required him to. Afterwards he felt a great sense of success as we high-fived!!!

  • If he is doing a tray activity, I require him to clean up the tray. I do NOT require him to stay with the tray long-if he’s not interested after a few seconds, that’s fine. I AM requiring him to clean it up. We have always worked on cleaning up, but now it is being enforced all the more.
  • If an activity has a clear ending point, I will begin to enforce following through until it is completed.


What are some ways I am NOT transitioning yet…

  • Activities like bead stringing, lacing, drawing, Play-Doh, and others that don’t have a definitive ending point, I am still letting him be the leader with. An example is pictured below. When he said he was done with the stickers, he was done and that’s fine with me!
  • I am not transitioning in the area of choosing activities yet, I am still letting him choose from the activities being offered on his shelf. On the shelf below, I really wanted him to work with the abc beanbags, he did not choose them yet and it has been over a week. I took them off for this week and will try again later!I will sometimes ask if he wants to do a particular thing and show him how, but I will back off if he’s not interested.
  • Gradually as the year progresses this will change.

YOUR tot…

We are all at differing stages of tot-hood, as the age range I suggest- 12-47 months- is a very wide one. It is also a wide developmental range. Please keep this in mind as you read through the ideas of others. I have asked Tot School participants to put their tot’s current age in ( ) after their post on the Linky-I hope this helps you when you are surfing for ideas. Also, please remember that even though specific ages are often given, ALL tots are different. Here’s some general thoughts about Tot-Schooling during this period.

  • The 12 month tots…you are transitioning into Tot School, very slowly. It is basically what you’ve been doing ALL along-playing with your baby. Your own mind just becomes more intentional as you make sure you play each and every day with a variety of toys. This transition will gradually become more and more focused as the year goes on. Keep two words in mind-FOCUS and FUN. Just become more focused while having fun with your young tot.
  • The 24 month tots…this is the heart of tot school time in my opinion. It is the true child-led portion for most tots. This is the stage we have been in the past year and I have posted the most about.
  • The 36 month tots… This is the stage I am writing about in this post-the tots who are spending their year preparing for Pre K. Some tots will need longer than a year to be ready for a more formal Pre K, some will be ready before they are 4. My beliefs regarding readiness are very simple. The child must be ready both academically and emotionally. I believe Krash will be ready academically long before he is ready emotionally. With Pac Man it was the opposite. Every child is different and that’s the glory of homeschooling, we can meet our kids where they are at!

I know my own personal beliefs may not jive with yours, we all have them and they are rarely the exact same! I share my thoughts in case someone can glean some insight from them. Again, I am not saying my way is right, or even works…it’s just the route I plan to take! I will keep you updated as we continue on our journey!

Then-I will begin all over again as my little girl will be turning 1 right when Krash is turning 4! Tot School is no where near over for us!