Monday, 2 January 2012

Y4 - 94/365: First Day of "Tot School"

A "school photo" to start the day? "grown up" little man at 24.5 months!

In all honesty, he essentially "asked" for this photo by pointing at the camera in my hand and smiling really sweetly before saying, "cheeeeeeeeeese!"

From the title of this blog post you may be wondering what 'Tot School' is or means. Therefore, I will do my best to explain.

Shortly after Ryan was born I came across a website/blog, when I was doing a search for Montessori-type learning materials/ideas. The blog that really grabbed my attention and had me intrigued is called 1+1+1=1 and the blogger is, Carisa, a mother of 3 and former teacher. She is a home-educator for her children and the actual concept of how Tot School was "born" is told in a little more detail on her page. Tot School isn't even a school as such, but described as "a focused time each day for the tot in your family." Nothing formal is forced, it's more or less 'exposure' to early learning skills through play -- purposeful play. The main difference to what I have in mind compared to what every other parent likely does at some point with their children, is that I plan to make records to track his progress and keep a small notebook of his "work."

I liked the whole concept from the beginning (a "teacher-thing" perhaps), but Ryan was only just tiny (a few months old) and I knew I would have to wait until he was a bit older.

I started reading a bit more into things just after Christmas this past year, and since Ryan had just turned two the week before, I felt he might be ready for the challenge. So, over this last weekend I've been making notes and a list of the toys he had that could be used, which turns out to be quite a lot because everything can be used in some way or another.

Since I am keen on using a child-led mixture of both Montessori & Reggio-influenced approaches, I decided to have a "trial and error" today with some toys he already shows an interest in as well as some I know he enjoys, but don't get played with as much as I'd like. This way I could see not only what his capabilities were, but what he would actually go along with being involved in. He's a very active boy, by nature, so my initial concern was that there wasn't much that would hold his attention for long since he's constantly go-go-go ALL the time.

We started with his die-cast cars. He doesn't have an extensive collection, really, but enough to work with. It just happened that he was 'brum-brumming' them along, so I invited myself into the play and 'brummed' along with him for a bit. Then I just started talking to him about what colour the cars were. He's not solid on his colours yet and only gets them right a fraction of the time, for instance, was "gween" all day. But we just played with the cars, talking about the size and shape and lining them up in groups according to their colour or size.

This went on for about 10 minutes or so and I noticed he began to put them back into the toy bucket and handed it to me saying, "deh (there), mama." That was my cue that he was finished.

At that point I decided to get out a silly little sheet I made on a whim last night that had numbers 1-5 and some coloured paper circles with matching numbers. I originally planned on having him use a glue-stick (as he has done this previously with our childminder) but when we removed the cap the glue was all dried out. I ended up improvising with some handy-dandy Scotch tape, instead.

I asked if he wanted to do some counting with dots he enthusiastically shouted, "YEAH," and grabbed my hand to sit next to him on the floor. This was good because he made the choice where to sit...I didn't instruct him to come to the table or sit where I wanted him to be.

I began with the first two, showing them how to place the circle in the black outline and pointing out that the number on the dot matched and then we counted the number of dots for each written number. He's fairly consistent with counting 1-2-3, but he hasn't made it to four or five yet. His cousin is massively impressive with her counting and can make it to ten and beyond, but she is also nearly half-a-year older. It's all repetition at the end of the day, so the more we work with him the more he will catch on.

When he took over his own learning, he decided to do the green '5' pieces first. I guided him only enough to show him where they should go, but he placed them on his own for the most part. Then we counted to check there were five green dots. At one point, he placed one of the orange '4' dots upside down and backwards, but I had to stop myself from correcting him because I didn't want to interfere. I want the work to genuinely be his and not a "painted over/patched up" version of what I'm expecting just to look nice.

Once he placed his last dot and we counted and checked, I told him we were finished and he clapped for himself saying, "yay!" He really impressed me with this counting sheet because I didn't have high hopes that he would be interested being so active, but he was 100% stuck-in which only makes me more eager to try different variations and even try him out with a Tot Book or Pack. He may be ready!

By this time we had spent almost 35 minutes on the activities, so I offered him some puzzles. He LOVES his puzzles, but can often get out of hand with them by dumping the pieces and throwing or kicking them around the room. Still, I thought we'd give it a shot and I joined him where he had already seated himself on the gliding footstool behind an end table.

Since the telly had been off all morning (and it's normally on a low volume, just in the background) he was really able to concentrate a lot more. He began first by removing the letters one by one and repeatedly asking his favourite question, "Wha's thah (what's that)?" So the initial purpose, as decided by Ryan, was to identify the letter and the picture behind where the letter piece fit. We also talked about colours of the letters as well as the sounds that some of the animals in the pictures made.

Once he removed all the wooden pieces he didn't wait for me to ask him anything and I more or less observed the first 2-3 minutes of him placing the pieces back where they came from. The first one was the owl and he placed the 'o' in its spot and said, "Ow (owl)." I made sure to give praise when he placed them correctly and encouragement when he didn't or if they needed to be turned to fit. He really seemed to thrive off this and it appeared to motivate him more. He really focused to get the pieces to fit and there was no rush to just finish the puzzle and move on to the next thing. It was all at Ryan's pace and on Ryan's terms.

Here is a brief video of him placing the letter 't' for the picture of a tree. Tree is one word he says fairly accurately and he had actually placed it properly before I began recording, but he bumped the board and it came out so we tried it again for the camera. Watch how determined he is to get the letter to stay.

We didn't complete the entire puzzle because Ryan wanted to move on to one of the jigsaw-types he received for Christmas, so after spending about five minutes on a couple of them, he eventually got up and signed that he wanted something to eat and I decided it would just be wise to stop there.

I will say this...I definitely noticed a significant improvement in his behaviour throughout the rest of the day. It wasn't until much later in the evening that I even had to ask him to stop doing something for the first time, when it is usually before mid-day. Don't get me wrong, he's a very sweet boy but also a very typical 2-year-old boy and can get a bit over-excited sometimes and needs a reminder to slow down. However, today I was able to leave the room on several occasions and I didn't return to find he had tried to scale the computer desk or finger-paint his spit all over the telly. I honestly believe that providing this bit of time for him (on days when I am home) and documenting it will benefit not only him, but myself and our relationship as well. After all, he is getting some quality Mommy-time whilst learning, and Mommy is feeling like her time is purposeful to his growth and development.

Even Daddy had a little taste via an impromptu activity with stickers before dinner tonight. So simple...just a sheet of paper and a small selection of stickers, including his beloved choo-choos from the Thomas series.

It may not seem like much, but Matt had the opportunity to help Ryan explore his fine-motor skills with learning to peel and stick some stickers. Ryan still had the choice in which sticker to use and where he wanted to place it...even if it meant on Daddy's nose!

Not all parents have the luxury of being able to spend this time with their children, so I'd like to make the most of it while I can and while Matt and I still have some influence on giving him the freedom of choice in his journey of learning and while we can instill a love for it while he is young to help him maintain a positive attitude about it as he grows older.

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