Tot Tray Ideas ~ The Ultimate Collection

The Ultimate Tot Tray Idea Collection

I am so excited to launch a brand new series featuring Tot Tray™ ideas from me and from YOU!  Tot Trays are a simple twist on a very old Montessori idea involving a contained work area for young children. The trays are my version of this, making it simple to implement at home. I developed the term Tot Trays years ago to describe the variation I was using at home with my son, and went on to use with my daughter

Tot Tray ~ Droping Chips into a Container


What are Tot Trays?

  • a tray your child can work on, providing a clearly defined work space
  • an activity presented visually on the tray so children can choose from a variety of options, promoting a child-led early childhood environment
  • easy to clean up for a young child due to the contained space of the tray, promoting independence

It’s really simple, but can get as complex as you choose.  It’s just an idea for creating a child-led environment which promotes early learning skills through play.  That’s the entire goal of Tot School, and Tot Trays are just an extension of Tot School.  You can read much more about Tot Trays here in my original post from years ago!

What Are Tot Trays


The concept of Tot Trays has spread far and wide across the Internet and that excites me!  There are many blogs who feature their own Tot Tray ideas and I would love to pull these ideas together here! I am developing a series of posts which will feature a linky for you to link up your specific idea{s} for the Tot Tray category.

Transferring Ping Pong Balls Tot Tray

We will all work together to create a massive collection in one place, so you can find ideas quickly and be inspired by all of those who are using Tot Trays with their tots and sharing ideas.

Tot Tray Set Up

The Linky Details

To make these linkys simple for bloggers I am not requiring a link back, that way you don’t have to go back and add it to old posts but can feel free to link up quickly and easily.  I do ask that you pin whatever post you link up to, or share the post on Facebook.  If you want to provide a link back to the idea collection, that’s GREAT and will only help your readers!

As new categories are added, the graphic will be added here so you can come back and jump around to the new ideas!  This will be our landing page and all of the upcoming posts will be linked here.

Some trays will obviously fit into more than one category, and as we go you can link up the same tray idea again if it fits.  A transfer activity might also involve color work so it could be linked in transfer ideas, color ideas and even fine motor ideas!

Below you can see the categories I have ready to go and will post over the coming months, some may also be added.  These graphics should give you a start in thinking about what you may want to come back and link up when the linky for each category goes live!

The Ultimate Tot Tray Idea Collection


See available idea collections below!  Click on the graphic to see the post!

Transfer-Tot-Tray-Ideas-Collection.jpg  Alphabet-Tot-Tray-Ideas-Collection.jpg

Be sure to follow my blog via email so you don’t miss a linky when it goes live. Right now I don’t have a set schedule, but hope to launch a new category every 2-3 weeks.

If you feature Tot Trays on your blog, feel free to leave a link to your blog in the comments section of this post.  If you have your Tot Trays sorted by a tag/category, use that specific link so others can find your ideas!

The Preschool Years ~ Turning Mommy Guilt into Mommy Grace

Us moms are tough.  Tough on ourselves and tough on one another.

May I invite you to remove all forms of mommy guilt and shame over whatever educational choice you have made for your young child and transform that guilt into grace?  Grace for yourself and grace for others who may be making a different choice.

From Mommy Guilt to Mommy Grace

That’s me and PacMan many years ago when he was only 2. It takes me back to being that young momma who struggled with guilt over my choices. Guilt over sending him to preschool and then guilt over keeping him home.  You see, I did both with him.  He went to preschool for one year and we did the following year at home. I remember doubting myself and struggling with guilt on both sides.  I felt most of my guilt on the home side, feeling as if I might be taking something away from him by NOT sending him to preschool.

Yes, my blog is homeschool focused, but I believe in each family making educational choices with freedom and grace.  I am not a do or die homeschooler and believe the Lord leads us in different directions. For us, homeschool was/is the direction.  This post is mainly to encourage those of you who are embarking on this home preschool journey and struggling a bit with that choice. Struggling the way I did when we first became homeschoolers.


So, you are homeschooling PreK, now what?

I get questions surrounding the first year of homeschooling a LOT.  Most of these are people with children ages 3-5 who have officially made the decision not to send their child to PreK or Kindergarten.

That was me 8 years ago.  We even sent our oldest to a 2 day a week program when he was 3.  Then we pulled him home for the following year when he was 4.  That was our first homeschooling year, PreK.

I have an early childhood degree and taught Kindergarten, you’d think I would feel confident in teaching my own child at home.  Oh no, let me assure you, I struggled big time.  I struggled with many of the things I know moms out there are struggling with because they share with me via comments and email. I know many of you struggle because I know I struggled.  And honestly, we aren’t all that different.  It’s amazing how many struggles we all share, whether we speak them aloud or not.


You are not alone.

Do you worry that you won’t meet the educational goals and somehow totally miss something, even during PreK and K?  I did.

Do you fear that your child won’t know how to make friends with kids his/her own age and somehow be a social outcast?  I did.

Do you think you might not be a good enough mommy to be with your kids 24/7?  Not enough patience, grace, calmness, joy, etc?  I did.

Do you fret over the loss of ME time?  Then struggle with feeling selfish for thinking that way?  I did.

Do you cower at times when people ask your child what school s/he goes to?  Not wanting the question to even come up?  I did.

Do you feel completely overwhelmed with all of the curriculums, options, printables, blogs, and ideas?  I did.

Do you wonder how in the world you will juggle homeschooling with your current children and future children all together?  Or even manage it with housekeeping, cooking, maintaining adult friendships, or maybe even your job, etc.? I did.

Do you feel alone?  Even with all of the great blogs and maybe even a friend or two who homeschools, or at least supports your decision?  I did.


Where Am I Now?

I no longer worry about missing educational goals!  Why?  I slowly realized that I grew up forgetting much of what I learned in school anyway!  Life is learning and my kids will soak in knowledge, and actually more of it, through homeschooling! My oldest is entering 7th grade, the grade I used to fear.  I am totally at peace with it and relearning alongside of him, joyfully.

Socialization…NOT a problem, at all. I didn’t struggle a lot with this fear years ago, but the thought was in the back of my mind. It no longer even enters my mind.

I am not a good enough Mommy and I never will be.  But, I am enough. Period.  Enough for the babies God gave to me. This is still a struggle but I have come so far.

I served outside the home at our church full time when we began homeschooling and I struggled big time with losing this part of myself. It took years, but now I embrace my role at home and the way God has called me to serve our family.

Go ahead, ask my kids where they go to school!  If you want to talk about it, I will be more than happy to.  No shame at all, I don’t even jerk a little bit when people ask. I invite the conversation, questions, and even doubts.

I am pretty sure I contribute to overwhelming you.  Just look at my blog.  Sorry for that, but also not sorry.  I know it is hard to wade through the choices, I struggle too.  Pinterest makes this worse and the sea of early childhood blogs is WAY bigger than when I jumped on the blogging scene 7 years ago!  Just breathe, remember the word SIMPLE, and find what works for you – not for someone else.

When I began homeschooling Pac, Krash was a baby and we had a teenager we were guardians for. I struggled with balance and worried a bit how it would work if we had more kids. Somehow it all works out.  Every family is different and many families with WAY more kids than I have make it work. With each new season of life, we adjust and homeschooling is flexible for these adjustments.

I no longer feel alone in this homeschooling thing.  It gest easier and homeschooling is growing more than ever.  Even if you are the only one you know now, I assure you, it won’t be that way for long.

Preschool Away from Home?

Did you know that even though I home educate, I fully support your decision to send your child to preschool {or any grade of school really} if that’s what you feel called to do? I don’t think there’s a one size fits all plan for early childhood education and believe many children thrive in a group setting. I want all of you to know that you don’t have to worry one bit about judgment coming from me. Many families feel guilty about this, especially if they have homeschooled or even homeschool older children. Please don’t feel ashamed or guilty about this decision; we all must do what’s best for our own child, other children, and entire family during different seasons of life.

May we release all guilt that we place upon ourselves and others.  May grace fill our hearts and bring us peace, both personally and in our relationships.

Tot School Ideas for Ages 18-24 Months

Tot School Ideas Ages 18-24 Months

Tot School is simply playing with your tot!  The name came from my son many years ago, but don’t let the term “school” fool you, it most certainly is not school in the traditional form.  It is simply exposing early learning skills through focused play with your tot, something parents have been doing for many, many years!  I am a firm believer in developmentally appropriate practice and letting kids grow and develop at their pace, not pushing education too soon.  However, it is usually the MOM who needs an actual plan, idea list, or even a program to follow. For those of you who love to gather ideas for playing with your tot, I am sharing several posts in a series, broken down by ages. Many have asked for this, and finally I am taking the time to do it!

Many of the ideas presented in former posts are also great ideas for this age group. Some are duplicated here, but many are not. Be sure to look back if you haven’t yet!

See our other posts in this series…

Tot School Ideas for 9-12 Months

Tot School Ideas for 12-18 Months

Tiny Tot School Ideas for Ages 9-12 Months  Tot School Ideas Ages 12-18 Months[1] 

All ideas are presented with the understanding that you are playing WITH your baby, these are not all independent activities as some of the items are choking hazards. Please only use ideas that you feel comfortable with and feel you can ensure your tot’s safety.


1. Foam ABC Puzzle

This ABC puzzle has been a long time favorite in our house.  We have the upper and lowercase version, and Krash especially LOVED this puzzle.  We used it almost daily, mostly for hammering letters into.  It is foam and durable.  See the post this photo is featured in here.  He is 23 months old in this photo.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Foam ABC Puzzle from www.1plus1plus1equals1


2. Blokus

Blokus is one of our favorite games to use not as intended!  The pieces are great fine motor work for little tot hands and Ladybug especially loved creating with this.  She is 22 months old in this photo.  See our Tot School post that featured this activity!

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Blokus from www.1plus1plus1equals1


3. Straws

Straws and empty containers {Parmesan Cheese shown below} always provided hours of entertainment. Ladybug was 21 months in this photo, see the rest of the Tot School post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Straws


4. Felt Play

We have many felt sets, most are Betty Lukens, since we reviewed them years ago.  This one is Creatology from Michaels. She loved designing felt scenes at this age.  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, she was 22 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Felt Play


5. Dress Up Play

My tots began to love dress up play during this stage and I LOVED seeing them dress up! Krash is on the right at 22 months, the post is here.  Ladybug is on the left at 22 months, the post is here!

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Dress Up from www.1plus1plus1equals1


6. Matching Favorites

Our theme based printable packs are great for fun matching activities.  Tots love matching their favorite characters to cards with the images.  Shown below are cards from our Cars Preschool Pack, she matched the real cars to her cards. See this Tot School post here, she was 22 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Matching Favorites  from www.1plus1plus1equals1


7. Foam Blocks

Foam blocks are such a great tool for tots of all ages.  One of our very favorites for many stages.  She was 21 months in this photo. See this post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Foam Blocks


8. Cutting Food

Cutting food is a great toy for tots!   Krash was 22 months in this photo, see the post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Cutting Food from www.1plus1plus1equals1


9.  Lacing on a Firm Stick

Lacing is difficult for tots this age when using a flimsy string.  We use firm sticks to lace on at this stage.  Below she is using a heart on a stick bought at a craft store, not even sure what they are called officially, I think they go in plants maybe? The idea is something thin and firm to lace bigger beads on.  Once this is mastered, you can move on to lacing on a pipe cleaner. She was 21 months in this photo, the Tot School post is here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Lacing on a Firm Stick from www.1plus1plus1equals1


10. Spooning

A spoon, a container to spoon into, and small items to spoon are all you need for this simple activity! She was 21 months in this photo, the Tot School post is here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Spooning from www.1plus1plus1equals1


11. Basic Pattern Block Puzzles

These basic pattern puzzles are a great toy for tots this age.  Just challenging enough for most, but not too overwhelming.  Both kids loved these at this age.  Krash was months in this photo, the Tot School post is here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Shape Puzzles from www.1plus1plus1equals1


12. ABC Fishing

We have loved this magnetic fishing ABC set for years. It is great hand-eye work for this stage, as well as a fun way to work on letter names!  She was 18 months in this photo. See this post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- ABC Fishing from www.1plus1plus1equals1


13. Shape Sorter

Any shape sorter will do, and you probably have one or two, they are popular!   She was 23 months in this photo, see the post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Shape Sorter


14. Stickers

Stickers are great fine motor skill work for tots!  Krash was 22 months in this photo, see the post here.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Stickers

15. Tossing

Ladybug had some gross motor delays during this stage so we tossed a lot to help her muscle development.  We often used a laundry basket and any indoor toy or ball that could be safely tossed!  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, she was 21 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Tossing from www.1plus1plus1equals1


16. Sidewalk Chalk

Many tots love the freedom of sidewalk chalk, mine did! See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, he was 22 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Sidewalk Chalk from www.1plus1plus1equals1

17. Poking Pasta

An old cereal box with small holes poked by you in advance and some uncooked noodles make for a great activity for tots during this stage.  I remember Krash playing with this a lot!  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, he was 23 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Poking Pasta in a Cereal Box from www.1plus1plus1equals1

18. Water Painting

I did it when I was a kid and you probably did to!  A bucket of water and a grown up paint brush. Much fun for tots and big kids!  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, he was 23 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Water Painting

19. Instruments

Our instrument collection has always been a favorite of all.  Tots this age love to make noise and explore instruments of all kinds!!  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in, he was 21 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Instruments

20. Chunky Puzzles

Chunky wooden puzzles are great for young tots, consignment sales and thrift stores are great places to find them!  See the Tot School post this photo was featured in {puzzle is here}, he was 24 months.

Tot School Ideas 18-24 Months -- Chunky Puzzles

I created a simple PDF file featuring all of the images from this post on one page.  Back when we were Tot Schooling, I loved to have lists I could refer back to.

You can download the Tot School ideas for Ages 18-24 months here!

I also went back and added PDF files like this to the 9-12 month ideas post and the 12-18 month ideas post!

Tot School Baby Play Ideas Ages 18-24 Months

See our Tot School Ideas for Ages 18-24 Months Pinterest Board here! If you are a blogger and have specific posts for this age group, leave a link in the comments to share with others!

Looking for more ideas, be sure to grab our Where to Begin with Tot School eBook for free here! In the eBook you will find pages with different ages and ideas for that age group!


~ Coming Soon ~

Tot School Ideas for 24-30 Months

Tot School Ideas for 30-36 Months

Tot School Ideas for 3-4 Years

In the meantime, you can visit our Tot School Ideas by Ages!

Homeschooling Tots and Preschoolers

Homeschooling Tots and Preschoolers

Awhile ago I wrote a 10 Day series entitled, Homeschooling Tots and Preschoolers, which shared ten posts all about early learning at home. 

Below you will find links to the 10 posts from that series, as well as any other I felt might help you if you are on this amazing journey of homeschooling little ones!

First, I shared our Where to Begin with Tot School™ eBook, which is a free bonus for all newsletter subscribers!

Where to Begin with Tot School eBook 


Next, I reminded moms {me included} that we don’t have to do it all!

You Don't Have To Do It All


My friend Becky from This Reading Mama shared a guest post with us about Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Homeschoolers.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Homeschoolers 


Next, I share the time I invest in planning for Tot School or Preschool, and how I do it.

Planning for a Theme


My friend Maureen from Spell Outloud shared tips for studying nature with tots.

Studying Nature with Tots


Next I shared the difference between Exposure and Mastery with young children.

What is Tot School


Next I share my heart behind using themes in early childhood.

Why Themes


Maureen came back and shared about homeschooling tots in a large family.



Our VERY favorite learning toys for tots was next!

Favorite Learning Toys 


Finally, I launched a new series sharing theme based printables from around the web.  This series is now complete and you can see links to other letters in that post too.Theme Printables A through E


If you are homeschooling your young children at home, here are the top posts from my site that I recommend reading {in no particular order}! I am a visual person so I opted for graphics rather than a list.

Alphabet Idea Collection  Colored pattern with letters of alphabet

Hands on the Alphabet  How to Plan Using Themes  I Spy Color Hunt

Tot Trays for Tot School  Minute by Minute Tot School  Tot School Printables A to Z

Homeschooling Preschool  Tot Trays Tot School Preschool Work Trays 2

Tot School Gathering Place  Tot Time Notebook  Animal ABCs 300

Printable Theme Packs Storing Theme Printables Following the Lead of the Child All By Myself Preschool Quiet Time Boxes

Home Preschool A to Z from  Following the Lead of Your Preschooler at Home  Learning with Ladybug Preschool

Tot School Printables A-Z  Tiny Tot School Ideas for Ages 9-12 Months  Tot School Ideas Ages 12-18 Months


Here’s a list of a couple of early childhood Pinterest boards you may want to follow. You can see them all here, they are at the top of my boards {themes sorted alphabetically are below my early childhood boards}.

Number Coloring Printables

Free Number Coloring Printables 1-10

We have a new set of number coloring printables in our All 123s section!  This set could be used in a variety of ways.  Your child could color the number and the animals, practicing number identification, number writing and 1:1 correspondence while counting. Get out play dough and make the number and then roll dots for each animal for a hands on way to practice counting. Scale the pdf file down and use them as smaller flashcards. Print full size and use as posters when your child is learning each number.

Click here to download

{look for this graphic on the page and click on it for the PDF file}Number Mats 1-10


Looking for more number based printables? You can find all of these on our All 123s webpage!Free Math Printables from