I learned a very valuable lesson in our first year of homeschooling: don't discount the toddler. That first year, I spent so much time preparing to teach my first grader and didn't plan anything at all for her 3 year old sister. We had a play-doh table set up in the school room and that was it.
Big, BIG mistake. A bored 3 year old can wreak havoc on your teaching plan. While visions of an idyllic, serene, glorious homeschool day danced in my head, she was plotting how to get her sticky hands on every book, destroy the printer, and sneak into the kitchen for a few sharp and pointy objects. The first few weeks, I don't think I made it through more than one sentence at a time before I had to stop and rescue either our supplies or the toddler, sometimes both.
Sedona got bigger and babies aren't too much a hindrance while they can be contained by a high chair, so I never really fully addressed this problem. This year though, we're back to having a (soon to be) 3 year old, plus I now have two children in need of a fair bit of direct teaching. We also have this fabulous space in our new house with plenty of built-in shelving. I decided it was time for a good ol' fashioned homeschool montessori set up.
While not ideal, I decided to use steam table trays to hold each activity because, well, they're cheap. There are also a few wooden bowls I inherited from my grandmother sprinkled in there. My focus was on activities that suit her interests and also help with some of the sensory work she needs to do. I plan to change out the activities through the year to keep them interesting. It's not exactly a full montessori room full of options, but I'm hoping it will keep her busy while her sisters get through their lessons. I'm debating taking the doors off the front. On the one hand, she should really be able to see all of the activities available at once. On the other, I'd like to be able to close them off and send a clear message that they're only for school time (I know, I know, she should be able to learn anytime, but I need her occupied at certain times).
If you want to do something similar, but don't have much space, I've seen the fabulous idea of using plastic drawers. Each drawer can hold a tray, or if they're easy to remove, the drawer itself can be the tray.
For those without montessori experience, the idea is to provide a child directed learning environment. They are given a block of time to do the activities they are drawn to. They are taught to get out one tray, take it to their work space, interact with the items on the tray (depending on what they are, there may need to be some guidance from a teacher at first), then the tray is cleaned up and returned before another tray is pulled out.
Here are some of the trays we're starting with:
The general shelf set up. This is about 1/4 of the space I have available
Transferring water: Provide small containers to pour water back and forth, or droppers to transfer water. Keep a sponge on the tray to facilitate the child cleaning up after themselves
Paint daubers: There are lots of possibilities with these. Painting pictures, filling in blanks on number cards, marking letters
Felt boards: I plan to have one big board and to change out the shapes available throughout the year. One will be making faces, one will have shapes to put together a house/yard
Buttoning: I'm going to put together a board with big buttons so she can start practicing how to do them herself. As time goes on, it will be replaced with smaller buttons
"Egg" on a spoon: There will be a big spoon, a few egg-type objects (probably easter eggs with something in them to give them some weight), two baskets and a length of ribbon. Child lays out the ribbon with a basket on each end and walks along the ribbon to transfer the eggs (with the spoon)
Here's hoping for a stress free (okay, less stress) school year!!