Tag: sensory materials

Tot School Must-Haves

Tot School Must-Haves

Five years ago, we decided to do preschool at home with our older daughter. As a former classroom teacher, I may have overdone “the school at home” a bit. (I totally did, and you can read about it here.) For some unknown reason, it seems we–as parents–are in a continual rush to push our children ahead to the next stage.

Did you know the number one search result for both “tot school” and “preschool at home” is all about choosing curriculum? Which program will prepare my child for Kindergarten?

The truth is, NO curriculum or program can give your child exactly what he or she needs to get ready for Kindergarten.

While I am not anti-curriculum, I don’t think it’s necessary for MOST families who choose to do tot school or preschool at home. Curriculum is simply meant to be a jumping off point for teachers (and homeschooling parents). All too often, we become more focused on teaching the next lesson in the book rather than what our child needs to learn next.

"Play is the work of the child." --Maria Montessori | play-based learning, learning through play, developmentally-appropriate practice, preschool curriculum

More important than curriculum–in my opinion–is the learning environment we create for our children.

It starts with curating our toys (and books) for maximum impact. We want to choose items that can be used for open-ended play, in a multitude of ways, throughout the year. What objects can be mixed and matched to teach our child new concepts?

Recommended items for your tot school or preschool at home from an experienced homeschooling mom! | learning through play, homeschool curriculum recommendations, personalized learning

Here are some of our favorite “must-haves” for every family considering tot school or preschool at home:

 (Note: affiliate links included at no cost to you!)


  • pom poms
  • clothespins
  • colored straws
  • pony beads
  • pipe cleaners


  • muffin tin
  • glass jar
  • empty Parmesan cheese container
  • funnel
  • “chip and dip” container
  • trays
  • tongs and other fine motor tools


Don’t forget

  • regular trips to the library
  • reading aloud
  • lots (and lots!) of time outside


Are you an auditory learner? Listen to this post on Anchor.fm!

Listen to The Parent Resource Room on Anchor.FM

We are five years into our homeschooling journey, and I feel like I am a better teacher now than right after college. I see my children’s unique strengths and weaknesses, understand the way they each learn best, and supplement our curriculum with hands-on learning experiences custom-designed to their needs.

The benefit of a personalized learning plan is this:
education becomes a lifestyle rather than a year’s worth of curriculum.

If you would like help creating a personalized learning plan for your child, leave me a comment! I’d love to chat. (And don’t forget to grab your freebie below.)

Grab your FREE Learning at Home Checklist! | child development, family relationships, homeschooling advice, homeschooling for beginners, tot school

Grab your FREE Learning at Home Checklist–10 questions to get you thinking about
tot school, preschool at home, or homeschooling for Kindergarten!

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family

In all my years teaching in a classroom, it’s taken me exactly one year of homeschooling both of my children to realize one very important thing:

Everyone learns differently!

This past year, with one child in 3rd grade and another in Kindergarten, I have seen how much easier (and more fun!) learning can be when I factor in each of my girls’ learning styles and personalities to our lessons–especially with math.

One of my girls is extremely math-minded. She seems to grasp new concepts intuitively, often from across the room (or house) while I’m teaching her sister’s lesson. She is an auditory learner and often says she has a number line in her head.

My other girl is extremely competent when it comes to math, but she seems to lack confidence. Math can cause her to freeze up, so it’s important that we stay consistent with our facts review, practice good breathing and positive self-talk (you’d be amazed at how much this helps!), and use strategies like pictures to walk through our problem-solving.

Each girl also loves using toys (teachers call them “manipulatives”) in our math lessons, so I want to share each of our favorites!

Just a reminder: we use affiliate links on our blog, which means I may receive a small commission if you choose to purchase any of the items that I recommend. Rest assured, I only suggest items that our family loves and uses regularly. 

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Here are our seven must-have math toys for every family!

Unifix Cubes

We love Unifix Cubes for math play! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Unifix Cubes are great for building patterns and counting! Young children love to build with them, and they build fine motor skills, too.

Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are a great toy that grows from toddlerhood to elementary school! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Pattern Blocks are a terrific open-ended activity for toddlers and preschoolers. Our girls loved to copy the pictures on the boards in this set from Melissa & Doug when they were younger, and now they like to create their own designs during their free time. As our girls have gotten older, they are great for teaching fractions and practicing geometry.

Lacing Buttons

Lacing buttons also make a great activity to talk about same and different! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

At first glance, you might not think these lacing buttons are a math toy, but they are! So much of early math is recognizing how objects are the same or different, and this set allows you to discuss size, shape, number of holes, and color. My girls love to play “What’s Missing” and remove one item at a time (or more!) from a similar matrix. Bonus: they are great for lacing and building fine motor skills!

Clock Puzzle

Learning to tell time is more fun with this hands-on activity! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

My girls show me every day that learning through play is the best way! I bought this Hape wooden clock puzzle when it was on sale a few years ago, and both kids have learned how to tell time with minimal instruction. I added the H for hour hand and M for minute hand, and that seemed to solve most of the confusion between the two. (We have a lot of analog clocks in our house, too–so our girls get a lot of clock practice.)


Play money is a must-have for every family! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Having a play set of money around is great for when the kids want to play store! We also like to do a coin sort every once in a while using a container with multiple sections OR grabbing a handful of coins and counting them together. We bought our set from The Dollar Spot several years ago, but this set is inexpensive and has great reviews, too.

UNO Cards

UNO has so many learning through play opportunities! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

We have a set of UNO cards that my younger daughter loves to play with! (It helps that her older cousins bring out their UNO cards every time our family gets together. Nothing like positive peer pressure from the teenagers!) When she was just a toddler, I pulled out all the “extra” cards and left her with only the numbers. She loved to sort them by color, put them in numerical order, and now that she’s older, add them up by the handful.

Bucket Balance

Both of our girls love to experiment with our bucket balance! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

I first bought a balance for my classroom when I was teaching preK, and it quickly became a favorite toy for both girls. The version we have is not highly scientific–I will probably upgrade in another year or so–but it’s great for toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with. (And you’ll see in the top picture that my Kinder girl immediately started playing with it while I was taking pictures for this post.)

Want to learn more about doing math at home?

If you are:

  • the parent of a child ages 2-7
  • passionate about your child’s education
  • committed to making learning at home as FUN as possible, and
  • interested in child development…

then our Making Math Fun workshop is for YOU.

I will teach you TEN important math concepts that every child should learn by the end of Kindergarten *and* demonstrate simple learning activities for each concept.

You will walk away with:

  • lifetime access to the replay (AVAILABLE NOW!)
  • a PDF download of the workshop notes
  • weeklong access to our Q & A session
  • several “red, white, and blue”-themed activities that you can do all month long with your child

Make Math Fun for Your Kids and get them ready for Kindergarten! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Sensory Bin Storage: Tactile Activities for Kids

Sensory Bin Storage: Tactile Activities for Kids

I am frequently asked how I teach one child her school lessons while keeping the other child busy with something else. I combine their lessons as much as possible and both of my girls are excellent at filling their free time without my input. We also use a timeless tradition from classrooms all across the country: centers!

Each month, we brainstorm a list of activities that each child might want to do during their “down time.” My older daughter is a budding author, so she spends a lot of her time writing and illustrating her latest creation. She also loves to practice her music and read her library books.

Click here to get our FREE list of activity ideas for preschoolers and homeschoolers!


Our younger daughter loves to listen to audiobooks, work on crafts, and do sensory play. It’s not unusual for me to put a queen-size sheet and sensory bin on the carpet right next to our dining room table (where we typically do our school work) so my little auditory/tactile learner can benefit from hearing her sister’s math or grammar lesson.

Sensory play has many benefits for children of all ages!

In this sensory play series, we cover:

  1. the benefits of sensory play

  2. must-have sensory materials

  3. sensory bin storage

Our girls know that I love simple invitations to play, and sensory bins are so easy to put together:

  • Grab a filler (we reuse our food items or choose non-food options)
  • Add something novel like pom poms or gems (watch for little ones putting items in their mouths!)
  • Choose a few of favorite tools from the kitchen.

You can mix and match items for a whole year’s worth of sensory play!

Sensory bins are great for young learners and simple as 1, 2, 3!

Sensory Bin Storage:

We are fortunate to have a lot of cabinet space down in our basement. I have one large basket in a cabinet that holds all of our sensory fillers in gallon-size zipper bags. Our favorite fillers are:

  • different colors of dyed rice
  • navy or black beans (dry)
  • uncooked popcorn
  • dried peas

We even have bags with small river rocks, pine cones, sunflower seeds, bells, and more. I keep another tote close by with all of our tools (jars, funnels, spoons, tongs, and more).

Watch this video to see our sensory bin storage set-up:

My five-year-old has grown up with sensory bins, so she’s a pro at choosing which items she wants to play with. I  love to set up special seasonal bins with fun items I find at the dollar store, and I keep a special SENSORY board on Pinterest with new ideas for the future.

Not sure how to fit sensory play into your family’s busy day?
Be sure to check out our FREE Flexible Family Schedule Guide!

Sensory Bin Storage | organization tips for parents, how to store sensory materials, tactile activities for kids, sensory play ideas, sensory exploration