Imagine a display shelf in your home featuring monthly learning themes your kid can simply pick and choose from to engage in at his own time.
This is exactly what stay-at-home-mum Fynn Sor set up after stopping full-time work. “I started doing this out of sheer boredom!” she laughs. “I suddenly realised I had so much time at home with the children, I didn’t know what to do.”
Fynn, a Singaporean living in California, USA, with her husband Shu Hong and two kids, Qiao Hui, 18 months, and Shao Xue, 4, started trawling Pinterest for activity ideas. Starting with one or two activities a day, she discovered that her children were excited by them. “Young children are ever so keen to pick up new knowledge and skills, so I hope to create a home learning environment to preserve this enthusiasm,” she says.
“Young children are ever so keen to pick up new knowledge and skills, so I hope to create a home learning environment to preserve this enthusiasm.”
Inspired in part by the Montessori principles of learning, Fynn likes the idea of using dedicated space — a shelf — to display the learning activities and toys neatly. “It also instils a sense of organisation and respect for our belongings,” she adds. Since the children have access to the trays all day, they can choose when they want to do the activities, as well as what they would like to work on. They can even return to these projects any time during the day.
She is constantly inspired by the things around her — for example, since it’s been raining so much in the Bay Area recently, she set up a weather shelf, so that her offspring will learn how the different types of weather affect their lives.
Fynn, a former Secondary school Science teacher and makeup artist, takes around a week to conceptualise, plan and make the activities, as well as set up a learning shelf. “I try to get my children involved in making the decorations, like for our Hungry Caterpillar shelf, my son cut and pasted the pictures of the food on the paper plates,” she explains.
She adds that children are naturally curious about everything, so it’s never too difficult to come up with different themes — “I just follow my children’s interest!” she says.
Fynn details her ideas and activities on her Instagram under the handle Happy Tot Shelf, where she has 16,000 followers.
She says, “The kids are engaged in the activities and I can see their attention span stretching.” She also notices that her son is more independent — he goes to the learning room to work on his activities on his own when Fynn is putting his little sister down for a nap.
“It all makes learning more intentional — we get to explore interesting topics and learn more about our world,” she enthuses.
Click through for ideas to create your own “happy tot shelves”!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar shelf
This was inspired by their all-time favourite book, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
1) Felt food cut―outs
Following the book’s illustrations, Fynn used felt and hot glue to make these food cut-outs. No sewing is required.
She adds that you’ll have many ways to play with the felt cut-outs.
- Use them as props for storytelling;
- Thread a pipe cleaner caterpillar through the holes;
- Practise counting and sorting. For example, use the felt cut-outs in a sorting activity to learn about healthy food, versus unhealthy food.
2) Caterpillar and butterfly stamping
Save old potatoes and used toilet roll tubes for this activity! Fynn used them to make caterpillars and butterflies “stamps”.
3) Measuring caterpillars
Fynn’s son learned about measurement and how to use a DIY ruler to assess the lengths of caterpillars. “My son loved this activity and for the rest of the day, he walked around the whole house with his ruler to measure the lengths of everything, from books to scrap paper to toys,” she laughs.
4) Caterpillar pompom drop
Young toddlers will hone their fine motor skills in this activity. Fynn’s 18-month-old daughter picks up the pompons with her fingers, then drops them into the holes. Says Fynn, who covered an old tissue-paper box with felt for this project. “I love working with recycled materials to make toys and learning activities.”
If junior loves his bulldozers as much he does excavators, he’s going to love what comes next!
Fynn created this shelf for her digger and dozer obsessed son.
1) Letter-matching box
This fun activity box helps junior recognise and match lower-case letters. Says Fynn, “My son used a toy loader to scoop up a letter and dump it in the bottle cap with the matching letter. Don’t throw out those bottle caps, they are so handy!”
2) Counting Cheerios with a bulldozer!
Make snacktime fun with a bulldozer and a simple counting mat (you can find printables online). Count and push the Cheerios into the circles with your favorite toy dozer, then eat the extras.
3) Homemade “cement” sensory play
Create your own “cement” at home with three simple ingredients. Add cornstarch to water, then add a few drops of black colouring. Throw in a toy cement mixer for added fun. When you’re done with the sensory play portion, send the mixer to a “car wash”.
4) Making “buildings” with tab stickers
Stickers are one of the easiest ― and best ― ways to work those fine motor skills. Use these plain tab stickers to make “buildings”, and count the number of floors of each “building” as you progress.
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