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I think you begin Tot School whenever you want, it just has to be age appropriate for YOUR child.  We have some moms participating in our Tot School weekly posts who have babies under one year of age and we have some with 4 year olds. We also have some moms who have older children who benefit from Tot School type activities due to their own special needs.  It wouldn't be appropriate for the mother of the 1 year old to give her child the same opportunities the moms of 2 and 3 year olds are offering.  YOU know YOUR child the best!!!  It is very important to remember that Tot School is not really SCHOOL, it's just life and it's supposed to be FUN!  Stages are more important than ages.
The phrase Tot School was developed here!  The name has spread far and wide across the Internet, but if you're wondering where the name originally came from, you are in the right place!  My oldest son gave the name to this concept when he was just 6 years old.

Tot School developed while riding in the car one day. The conversation went something like this:

Pac-Man (my 6 yr old): “Mom, are you going to send Krash (my then almost 2 year old) to pre-school?”
Me: “No, I am going to keep him at home and homeschool him like you.”
P: “Well mom, you know he’s already in school right?
Me: “No, I didn’t know that, what do you mean?”
P: “He’s in Tot School.”
Me: “Why yes, I guess he is.”

Here's the very first time the term Tot School appeared on our blog in 2008.
My beliefs come largely from my education at Appalachian State University where I majored in Early Childhood Development with a degree in Birth-Kindergarten.  I am a certified teacher and taught Kindergarten for 5 years in NC.  Since becoming a mom, and then a homeschooling mom, I have taken what I was taught many years ago, combined it with my motherly instincts, and developed what I believe. 

-Learning at a young age should be child led and immersed in PLAY. If my tot becomes uninterested, we stop!  When I begin to force my teaching on him, he begins to resent my teaching all together.  Eventually he will pick the skills up, it is not important that he learn them early.  I believe in exposing him and letting him learn at HIS pace.

-Learning should be fun and exciting, filled with many different experiences. I try to make sure I give him opportunities in all of the many areas of development on a regular basis.  I use my leadership as mom and teacher to alternate items I choose for Tot School each day to help with this.  Some days we do music, some days art, some days ABCs, some days physical games.  I try to bring balance, while also letting him repeat activities often that I know he really likes.  For example, we have this Doodle Pro Glow drawing board thing that he LOVES.  I naturally wouldn’t even bring this out much, but because it is something HE loves, it comes out a lot and is used to expose many different skills: shapes, letters, colors, etc..  HIS interest leads that. I just stem the learning from his interests.

-Do not overwhelm the child!! I do NOT believe in drilling facts, teaching to acquire and master a skill, or anything of the sort.  If K picks up letters (which he has), that's great, but I will NOT drill him and make him color 50 Aa sheets until he gets it!  P couldn't identify any letters until he was almost 4, that was fine with me...he's reading well above his grade level (if he were in traditional school) and knows them all now!!!  K on the other hand could identify over half before age 2!  They are just different kids.

-Kids are different. I do the natural comparing as all parents and teachers do, but I don't do it to push anybody.  Sure, we comment on things P could do, or things K can do that P couldn't but it is NEVER to compare in a negative way.  Children learn differently and I believe in relaxing about this. 

-A little TV/computer is not a bad thing. I am not a die-hard about many things except my faith!  Yes, we watch movies for school and I am CERTAIN they have learned from specific ones in ways they could not have learned form me (Leapfrog Letter Factory, for example).  I also use FUN, interactive DVDs (Laurie Berkner, for example), to get the kids moving and engaged along WITH me.  However, we don't watch TV very much and most of our learning is all hands on and electronic free.  There are some great shows on TV, when watched in moderation, that I do believe can make homeschooling fun (Super Why, Between the Lions, etc.). The computer is also wonderful (in moderation), when parents are in control of it.

-A lot of a good thing is GREAT!  What do I believe are the good things for tots? 
  • Engaging and open-ended toys…I love toys that serve more than one purpose, things that can begin as one thing and end up as something entirely different! 
  • Books, books, books…we can’t get enough of them!  I do not force K to listen to stories, but I expose him often.  P did not like to be read to as a tot, but now he LOVES it and like I said earlier-he reads well on his own now too.  K likes books a whole lot more than P did and we read together a lot.  However, as I said, I do not force him. –some days we don’t read a book at all because he doesn’t want to! 
  • Music…I love music, and our home is filled with song much of the time.  We dance and sing together, we listen to the Christian station together, we learn simple songs and even grown-up Christian songs.  We have tons of children’s musical instruments and play together with them often. I am not a talented musician by any means, but I feel having musical experiences in the home is very important. 
  • Art…I am not talented artist either but I offer my children art experiences as often as I can.  I personally do not enjoy the mess of paint (and other messy art materials), but I know they need to paint.  I don’t love the mess but I sure love the results…smiles on their faces, intent looks as they learn to create something, and of course the final product to hang on my fridge!
  • Movement…Young kids love to move and learn tons while moving!  I try to do many activities throughout the week involving movement, some for the sake of movement, some to use movement as a means of teaching (exposing) a skill.
This was written when my middle child was our tot.

To see an actual Minute-By-Minute
Tot School hour in our house
click here!

I asked!!!  Seriously, I have been asking for cool educational toys for birthdays and Christmas as much as I can.  I am blessed to have 2 sets of grandparents who take my suggestions!  I created the Tot School Tools store to share many of our favorite things.  As Christmas approaches this year, pick out some things you'd like for your tots and put them on their lists!  If purchases are made using our links a portion of the proceeds goes to help support us as missionaries!  You can see our What We Love page here with many gift ideas  {many of those links are affiliate links-some are not}, and here is our affiliate page, so you can see where you can shop to help support us also!
That’s how it began, although it really began long before that, it just didn’t have a name until that day!  After giving this name some thought, it hit me to make it a bit more official, so I rolled ideas over in my brain and out came Tot School on my blog.  I began to record what we were doing and began sharing and inviting other moms of tots to share too.  I became more intentional with Tot School and my kids have benefited tremendously from it.

So, in a way yes it "began here" but it is really just something we all do as moms-provide learning opportunities for our tots everyday!

Tot School isn't really school at all, it is simply a name given to the idea of learning through play at home during the younger years. Tot School is nothing more than intentionally providing your tot with age appropriate activities that are fun and engaging.  By choosing specific toys and activities, we expose our tots to a variety of early learning skills.  Mastery is not the goal, FUN is!

I think K would choose to *do tot school* all day long if it were up to him!!!  Tot School for us is intentional playing, with the focus being on K.  I use this time to provide him with age appropriate activities for him but also as a time to teach my oldest son that life isn't all about him :). P is my assistant and learns great skills in the area of humility, patience, leadership, and more during our tot school times.

Here is an example of a tot school morning for us, keep in mind our days always look different since tots are unpredictable!! (I wrote this when he was about 2 1/2)

9-9:30 am Table Tot school
K is hooked in his table seat with us and does table activities. P is working on simple work such as spelling, copywork, etc.

Show K his ABC notebook sheet, ask him if he'd like to color some of the items on the page.  Sometimes he wants to, sometimes he doesn't.  If he does, we'll usually spend about 5 minutes scribbling and naming objects on the sheet.  If he doesn't, I might try to encourage him a bit, but then I will give it up and move on.

He usually works on puzzles of some sort each day. Again, sometimes he just throws them at me :) 

-yesterday he did his Rr sheet for about 2 minutes, scribbled with markers for about 5, did 1 puzzle, and played with counting bears for about 10 minutes.

He will usually scribble with markers or crayons for awhile each day, sometimes he will do just this for the entire 30 minutes!

If we have a Tot Book going, this is also when we will work on it some. 

When he is done, he will let me know-usually by crawling out of his table seat himself!!  Then we move into the living room onto the floor for some

Floor Tot School (9:30-10am)
I usually begin with a gross motor activity, since we've just left the table and sitting. We often dance, play catch you, practice jumping, hopping, rolling, etc.  I have many ideas of big movement activities and I just rotate through them.

Then we usually sit down and do something together.  Today it was Mega Blocks.  The boys played together for about 20 minutes.  Yesterday K played with our stacking pegs and board for almost the entire time.  While he is playing, I gently expose skills (colors, counting, sorting, shapes, etc.)

Our floor time usually lasts for about 30 minutes, and he will make it because he's having fun playing and he likes that we are there with him playing!!  The way he gets *done* is with certain activities.  For example, yesterday I brought out these great rings with long streamers on them for us to dance with, jump over, and do tons of fun things--K hated them.  He kept taking them and putting them on the couch and saying "all done."  I have no clue why he didn't like them and honestly I was bummed because I really thought he would like them.  But he didn't and we moved on to something he did like.