Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Twin's tot school activities

Whether you like to call them Montessori tray activities, tot school, preschool, workboxes, workjobs, shoebox tasks or Ziploc bag activities, providing younger siblings with engaging, educational and worthwhile tasks to do while you homeschool older siblings is vital for a smooth day with well occupied children.

While you can get some schooling done while little ones are napping, I prefer to get the bulk of our formal schooling completed as early in the day as possible when the children (and I) are freshest. Last year we had around an hour while the younger ones were in room time (playpen time for littlies) and we could also use mat time (or blanket time.) Now that we have older children though, this is not long enough to complete all of their workload and the twins are turning 3 so a new era has dawned!

The twins will be “starting school” with the big kids. They will now be included in our morning circle time, followed by table activities before they go off to room time. The list of possible table activity ideas is almost endless but our “school” trays will be more Montessori in style.

As I have done in the past, I have chosen a list of categories for each tray and put one example of each category out on the shelf. When it comes time to update the trays in a couple of weeks as interest declines, I will simply swap out the materials but keep the type of activity the same. (See starting out.) This term our trays are gluing, cutting, stickers and drawing, tong transfer, spooning/teddy play, scooping/teddy play, threading. Duplo copying and water pouring. 

The best thing about this year’s preparation is that in the past I have taken photographs of all our tray activities along the way. This meant that I could simply hand the older children a couple each and ask them to go and get everything in the photo and assemble the activity. I pointed out that this was an opportunity to bless their little brother and sister. They quite enjoyed doing it, especially as I gave them latitude to change the activities a little with different pretty pots and equipment to suit their own tastes. In about an hour we had a whole term worth of trays set up and ready to go. (Plus the extra half hour to put away all the mess that the children created as they were collecting the gear but I wont mention that!)


7 Responses

  1. This is perfect timing. I am busy planning all my activities and curriculum for this term but have been wondering what I’d do with my 2yr old. I’ll be making some of these trays for him this week. Thank-you for sharing with such detail.

    • You are welcome Ainsley. Let me know if you have any other specific topics that you would like to see covered.

      • I do have another question after thinking about it more last night – Do you leave these trays in shelves accessible to the kids all the time or do you get them out just during the time when you want the twins to use the trays. I can see my son getting them out at other times and then losing interest in them faster. I am guess that it is another thing to train them in ‘You can only touch those when I say you can??’

      • Yes, I do keep these activities just for school time. If I use them at other times then I have to change them over much more quickly so I have other activities to use for mat time and table time. I have a child-height bookshelf with doors that allows me to have them out on shelves and just shut them away when not in use. I have used shoe boxes in the past when space was limited so that I could stack them on a shelf but open trays are more appealing and allow toddlers to see what is available.

  2. I see you have certain learning categories for this term. Does that mean that the following terms you have plans for adding and changing the learning categories, as the twins develop?

    Have you made a blog entry about where and how you store all your bits and pieces while not in use? You have a large variety of containers and trays and pots and where do they all go when they are not in school time?

    Do you use trays more for when your kids are preschool age, and sensory tubs more for the younger kids?

    So many questions…. 🙂

  3. Hi Lisa, yes my categories do change as the twins develop. I have a loose progression of maths and language skills in mind and we move through them as they master the skills we are working on. Sometimes it takes a long time before they are ready to move on, sometimes they get it almost immediately. My Montessori trays/tubs etc are stored in a shelved cupboard and drawers. There is a post here:
    If you scroll back through the pre-school at my house posts it should give you a good idea of the mix of activities I use. Sensory tubs for the preschoolers are generally more a free time activity or combined with some other skill e.g. digging out letters to make 3 letter words. I use trays for both, just the skill on the tray is different. Preschool activities are often linked to number/letter concepts for example while the toddler activities are more focussed on fine motor skills etc.

    • Just reread my response and realised that the post above is quite old – the twins are now 4 1/2 so we have formalised the activities they are working on to be more “Preschool” style. Many of the trays I prepare can be used by both the now 2 year old and the twins. This would be true for most of the ideas pictured above.

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