Frugal tot school

Since tot school for Froggy is coming sooner than I'll know it, I decided it might be helpful to post about how I did things with Monkey and some of the new things I will be doing with Froggy. This first post will be showing the more frugal and time efficient methods of beginning tot school, the second post will be products I think are worth the money, and the third post will be when I actually have Froggy's materials ready to show you all. 

To start with, a learning poster (or even a notebook version) is a great tool to use each day to review what you have done together and what you are currently focusing on. I used one of these before I made our calendar board and daily learning boards:
Baby Gator University has a really neat  learning poster that I'm thinking about emulating for Froggy's tot time. My favorite part are the clothes pins, so much better than rolled up painter's tape that I used to use.

For a portable version, you could place everything in a 2" binder inside of lightweight sheet protectors taped at the top so the paper can't be removed.


The first and most important thing is to read every day. Kids pick up so much from reading books, and the quality time spent together is wonderful. When you read a book the first time, let her enjoy just being read to. The second time, count objects that there are more than one of on each page. The third time, point out colors. Fourth time, point out the names of objects she might not yet know.

A great tool I've found for helping to make reading fun is Before Five in a Row. It's like a teacher's guide full of ideas for several books. The topics covered are bible, social studies on some books, science, art, language. I also search online (pinterest mainly because I'm addicted) to find anything I think Monkey will enjoy to go along with each story.

image from Delightful Learning, which has great ideas for FIAR activities
Delightful Learning has an example of one week on one of the books featured in BFIAR.

What's great about Before Five in a Row is you can pick and choose what activities work best for you and your child. I usually bring things like art down to Monkey's level, and describe them very briefly and instead let him learn through looking at the pictures in the book and an art project that utilizes a similar form of art that he can do.

The FIAR site has a booklist of what's covered. I honestly never liked Goodnight Moon until we did it with BFIAR, now it's a family favorite.

Before Five in a Row can be picked up second hand from homeschool groups for a reasonable price, anywhere from $8-12 is average, brand new it's $24.


For scissors, I used blunt tip with Azzy and assisted his hand with cutting, so it took longer since I had to help. These Fiskars preschool scissors from Amazon look like they would work well, so do these Westcott scissors from Target.

Activity village has cutting pages you can print out. Some of these you can just draw on cardstock or construction paper really quick. I suggest medium to heavy construction paper or cardstock for cutting printables because it's stiffer and easier for toddler hands to hold when cutting.
One things that really helped Monkey's cutting skills are cutting strips. You can get paint samples and have them cut on the thick white line in between each hue.

image from Kara's classroom
 Kara's classroom has a neat idea on some quick cutting strips. I've done something similar to this before,
only I drew black lines in between each sticker so Monkey knew where to cut.


Simple things you can do every day are to sing or listen to the alphabet song. It's an easy way to teach the order of the letters and practice the name of each letter. I didn't start phonics until age 2.5 with Monkey, and we've been taking it slowly. Some letters he picks up a lot faster than others. When we changed to using more Montessori activities, I discovered that teaching the phonetic alphabet is more important for learning how to read. However, I had already taught him the majority of the letter names. This time around with Froggy, I'm going to teach the letter sound and name together using the Montessori three part lesson.

image from 1+1+1=1, a great resource for homeschool materials
Another simple activity is coloring, finger painting, putting stickers on letters of the alphabet, scroll down to the bottom for the free materials or purchase the entire set for $10. She has links to blog posts for other activities to do as well.

Azzy and Han both love magnet letter activities, we use these sheets:

I print these out on copy paper and place them in heavy duty sheet protectors. I give a cookie sheet from a thrift store and magnets, gems, or tiny balls of rolled up playdough. Sometimes I give Azzy bingo markers (cheap version of do-a-dot markers) and wipe them clean when he's done.

For a child who enjoys painting or coloring, there are some great alphabet coloring sheets at

Letter baskets are a fun way to practice the alphabet. Here is a picture of our letter C basket. I had an uppercase and lowercase letter C printed out on construction paper and laminated, letter C objects, and pieces of paper with the words for each object to help with letter recognition. I let Monkey explore the basket, then we would play a game of matching the object to the word card. I would place the word card on the floor and ask him to put that object above the word. I would point out the letter and the sound it made again and we moved on to the next one.

I later started to add letter puzzles, which Monkey really enjoyed, but I think with Froggy I might just use our homemade Handwriting Without Tears letter builders.

One thing Monkey still enjoys is when I write on the chalkboard and let him paint over it with water.

I wasn't concerned about memorizing, just exposure and having fun with it.


I found this great resource for teaching shapes at Love My Life x4. I made handmade versions of a lot of what she has available to print out (SO much faster than what I did!).

Counting cookies I made from felt and shape matching cookies I made from felt.


To teach colors, I would point out the colors of things while we were playing. We also had a few Montessori activities I made him.

Paint samples and clothes pins
Matching color words to color cards then sorting foam beads


I didn't realize I was even teaching this to Monkey. We would just count things whenever I noticed we had a nice amount of things to count, like our ten bathtub stacking cups, the crayons I set out for him, cars I gave him to play with, snack time food, etc.

For number recognition, I would point out numbers in books, and made simple counting crafts like three triangles for him to cut out and paste, each with a number on them [1,2,3].

We also used a homemade Montessori spindle box, I used popsicle sticks with ours.

We've also used our crayon jars and counting cards to count some crayons.


Some simple activities I came up with on the fly while we were playing with playdough.

There are some other great number recognition and counting ideas at prekinders.

Everything else

We also include nature walks (even if it's just around the neighborhood or downtown), activities randomly chosen from the Montessori at Home book by John Bowman.

Reading from the Jesus Storybook bible (sometimes shortening the stories or using silly voices to keep Monkey's attention when he was younger) and then using a white board to draw my own version of the bible story (for some reason the act of drawing the story out captured his attention).

I would give him crayons and a sheet of drawing paper to doodle his own rendition and we would put it in our bible binder along with Sunday school bible stuffs.

It can seem overwhelming at first, I started researching and planning when I was pregnant with Monkey because I was on bed rest so much and literally couldn't do much else. I believe that early learning should first and foremost be fun and just about early exposure. It creates a life long love of learning, just spending time with your child playing school together. I never really took it seriously because I didn't want it to become a stress factor. Also, most of what we did and still do only takes around 10-15 minutes per activity (I NEVER time or limit activities, I let him go as long as he is still enjoying it, if he wants to stop, we stop and try again the next day).


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