HiMama connected with Meghan Foster, Founder & owner of T is for TOT Curriculum on tapping into children’s natural love of learning and how she’s created a curriculum to create a seamless transition from young childhood to kindergarten through play-based and engaging activities.
As a mom of two and former kindergarten teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, Meghan saw the gap between children’s learning and the lack of preparation for kindergarten. Together with her team, she’s created an engaging, play-based curriculum that supports children’s learning that will ensure they are ready to thrive in preschool and kindergarten.
Meghan’s Top Tips for Tapping into Children’s Natural Love of Learning
- Make learning fun and engaging. Learning should be something they look forward to, not dread!
- Enjoy the Process. Sometimes we need to shift our focus from product to process. We want children to enjoy the process so they’ll want to do it again.
- Start Learning Early. You’ll create lifelong learners!
- Be in Their Zone of Proximal Development. This means activities shouldn’t be too easy or too hard for children. You need to find the balance in between. Read more about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.
- Create Enthusiastic and Engaging Learning. In doing so, children often end up more successful in their schooling.
- Consider Different Learning Styles. Tap into each style and find out how your child learns and how you can teach to it.
I stand behind the early childhood educators that say “we want to make learning fun and it should not have any rote memorization” it should just be engaging and fun and starting that process early is so vital.Meghan Foster
Curious about T is for Tot? Meghan’s curriculum is an “alphabet curriculum”. Each week is a letter focus and within each letter/week there’s a focus on different domains (social/emotional/fine motor/sensory/poems and literacy) Makes it easy for parents to help them teach their children and prepare them for later years and schooling. Find out more about T is for Tot through her website and Instagram.
Curious how as an educator we can help you document children’s learning and development in the classroom? Let us help you out and get a quote for your classroom today!
Episode 245 Transcript:
A curriculum is much more than just a collection of activities, it actually provides a framework for developing a coherent set of learning expectations that then helps children to achieve these identifiable goals.
Meghan, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Hey, thanks for having me!
Yeah, it’s our pleasure. We have on the show today with us Meghan Foster. She’s the founder and creator of T Is For Taught Curriculum. I look forward to chatting with you today about learning and children’s love for learning and how we can support that, which is something I think all of our listeners can get behind.
Let’s start off learning a little bit about you, Meghan. I understand you yourself have spent some time in the classroom before doing what you’re doing now. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into doing what you’re doing today.
Yeah, thanks for having me, so much. So, I got started… well, when I was a kid, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. But I loved working with kids. I even tried to pass out fliers to be a babysitter. And I wanted to do like a babysitters club where it was like a summer camp when I was 10. So, obviously no one should have had me as a camp counselor in my backyard.
So, then I got to college. And when you get to college, sometimes you’re just trying to figure out what you’re doing in. Five years in, I finally decided I wanted to do business and sales, which was the perfect time – in 2008 – to do sales, during a recession. So, I did that for two years, realized that’s not my passion, recession or no recession.
So, I decided to go back and I got my master’s in education. And honestly, when I first came to college, I wanted to be a teacher and art teacher. And I wish I kind of stuck with that. So, I went back, got my master’s in education and taught kindergarten for seven years [and] loved it. I worked in Nashville [Tennessee] and I worked with a lot of English language learners. I got a license teaching that. And I just felt like, being an EL [English Learner] teacher, it makes you a better teacher overall. So, I did that.
And then I also did some really cool things with Metro Nashville School System. I helped create the kindergarten curriculum for all kindergarten teachers, which was really a neat experience. I got to work with a lot of literacy in creating and picking out the books that the teachers would be reading and come up with some really amazing questions to go with it. I worked with a great team.
So, because of that, I had the background of loving to help create curriculum. And so I have a three-year-old [child]. And then in May I had another child. So, after that I decided I wanted to stay home with both boys. And my three-year-old, he just loves to learn. He is just into exploring. It’s such a neat experience to get to stay home with him and get to see how he learns and all the different ways that he wants to take in learning.
So, I started looking for something to expand him and help him just keep up with that love of learning. And I looked and I looked and I just really couldn’t find anything that checked all the boxes. So, I decided to actually create my own toddler and preschool curriculum that I feel is a great bridge between toddler, preschool and then into kindergarten.
Because that is something I feel like there’s not that much out there that’s play-based, that’s exploratory but also at the same time helps them with that transition. It helps make it really smooth transition for them and also gives them social-emotional learning, gives them physical activity.
So, basically, what I decide to do was create a toddler curriculum. And then I also decided to do a monthly subscription where it’s basically five learning games and five activities that are sent straight to your inbox every single month. And it’s also part of the process of getting them ready for kindergarten but in a really fun and engaging way. That was my goal when I created it.
Awesome! What are some of the things that your three-year-old loves learning about or is really interested in?
He really loves the alphabet. And it’s funny, he’s actually known all of these letters since he was two, but he’s still just so enthusiastic about it. My mom is amazing and she came up with this really cute game where she hides all the letters around the house and he has to go find them; he enjoys it. And ever since then, he plays with it at least once every two days.
Like, he just he loves it. And so he likes to put it back in order and he likes to have other people play.
And as you notice – you have a three-year-old – they like to play the same things again and again until they master it. That’s part of the learning process. So, it’s really cool to see him play that. But he’s also gets into a lot of things. He got this new map of the United States and he loves playing with that and putting all the states in order. And then he really enjoys the sensory table. He likes to do a lot of things with his hands, do a lot of play-dough. Just all the fun things.
Wow, talk about love for learning, right into the alphabet. Not your typical two-year-old, I guess. And tell us some ways that you might recommend tapping into this natural love for learning. I really like the idea about hiding the different letters of the alphabet, as a specific example. But maybe you can share a little bit more about your recommendations there.
Yeah, I think the biggest thing for parents, educators, caregivers, is we have to make learning fun. 100%, it has to be fine, has to be engaging. It just needs to be something that they look forward to.
And I mean, just with any activity, any new skill, we just want them to enjoy the process. And that is so much more helpful, if you can do that and start it really early at this age of two, three, four. And it’s going to take them so much further and they’re going to have this lifelong love of learning.
So, that was my goal when I decided to stay home with my kids was, “I am going to make them love learning.” Because that’s one of the best things that you can honestly do for your kids, is to get them headed in the right direction. As parents, that’s something that we just want that to happen.
And the other part of it is, it really needs to be in their zone of proximal development. So, that’s [developed by Lev] Vygotsky. And he always [said] that you really have to find a zone so it can’t be too easy; it can’t be too frustrating. It has to be challenging, but not to the point where they are frustrated in the process.
So, finding that balance as caregivers, as teachers, as parents, it’s an ongoing balance, of course. So, we have to find it. And then, of course, they change and then we find the new balance. So, that is another thing to help with their love of learning, is to keep finding new, challenging ways to do any new skill that you’re wanting to incorporate.
And then also another added bonus into tapping into your child’s natural love of learning is it creates enthusiastic and engaging learners who end up being more successful in school. And they take with it, it goes into the later years of school. So, they continue to reap the benefits for years to come.
And then another part is also we have different learning styles. So, we have kinesthetic; we have visual; we have auditory; we have so many different ones. And really, one of the best things you can do is to tap into each of those learning styles in an ongoing process.
So, when I stayed in a classroom, I would always, whenever we had a new lesson, I would try to figure out, “How could I make it kinesthetic? How can I make it auditory? How can I make it with visuals?” So, that way you’re getting to all of your different learners. And a lot of them learn in different ways. So, that’s one of the added bonuses.
And that was something I really wanted to have in my monthly subscription. And then my curriculum is to have that integral into it. So, you’re not only starting them on the right foot, but you’re also getting them all the different learning styles to help make them more successful.
It’s kind of cool, listening to you describe a lot of this because one of the hot, hotly debated topics – especially in early-childhood education – is, should we be getting children ready for kindergarten? Or should it be the other way around and kindergarten should be getting ready for children who learn in different ways?
And it sounds like a lot of what you’re describing is, like, we can have both in terms of getting children ready for kindergarten, but in a way that’s with exploratory learning. And they love the learning and as opposed to sort of the more academic view of the learning, which is sort of what, of course, the early-childhood educators react to because they know that isn’t how children learn at that age. Do you think that sort of an accurate description of how you have really tried to go about creating this curriculum and your goals with this?
Yes, exactly, you hit nail-on. And I totally stand behind all the early-childhood educators that say the same thing. We want to make learning fun and it should not have any rote memorization and it should not be drill-and-kill. It should just be engaging and fun. And starting that process early is just so vital.
And actually, one of the things that I always told my parents when they started kindergarten… so, we had the kids and they come to parent-teacher conference. And one of the first things I said was – and I read them that quote – “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.” And that’s by Emilie Buchwald.
And it’s such a powerful quote because it is so true. Teachers do a lot but having those everyday moments with their child and reading with them and helping them understand that this is fun is just one of the best things you can do as a parent, as a caregiver, as a teacher.
And so one of the things that, as soon as I brought my son home from the hospital, is me and my husband, we have read to him since day one. And now it’s just part of the process; it’s a non-negotiable. I mean, obviously he loves it and it’s part of his routine. But we always make sure that we read with him. And that’s just one of the best things you can do as a parent every night. And then he just he loves the process, as well. So, now we have our second son and it’s just a whole bit where we’re on the bed and we read together and it’s just super fun.
So, I think that’s one of the best things that you can do. And a bonus is if you can make it fun and exciting because kids can obviously pick up if you’re not into it. So, I think that’s one of the best things.
And then there’s also a lot of evidence now that tells us that young children’s alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness at an early age is a very significant predictor with their later proficiency in reading and writing. And so there’s a lot of research out now that tells us it’s a really good idea if you can go and start this.
Yeah, we’ve discussed that of a number of times on the Podcast, as well, just that language and early language is so critical and is really a key foundation, and reading being part of that. And as a parent, of one of the things I love the most is seeing my kids learning and loving it at the same time, definitely is one of the coolest things to see.
And as I’m sure you know, learning and teaching children during the global pandemic that we’re all living through at the moment is a lot harder than normal. And so we’re exhausted; educators are exhausted; parents are exhausted. A lot of us have been quarantined and had limited social interaction. So, we’re all running on lower energy in lots of cases and maybe not feeling that same motivation as we did before. And it’s harder to see those kids smiles, all the things that we’re dealing with. Any suggestions from your end for parents and caregivers, teachers out there who are trying their best but struggling with some of these challenges?
Yeah, I mean, first off, teachers are rock stars. I mean, this has… I can’t imagine how hard this has been for every one of you. I mean, I left the classroom so part of me feels a little guilt because I’m not there with you, biding this. But I just want to say, I have so many teacher friends and they never complain. I just can’t get over [it]. I mean, I literally think about them every day just thinking how hard this must be. So, I just think they’re awesome; teachers are awesome.
And you can’t pour from an empty cup. So, that’s one of my biggest advice I give, is just make sure you find ways to have relaxation time. And that’s really hard. And just find ways to refill your cup every day, if possible, because those are just so important for your mental health. And we’re a year into this now, so I just can’t imagine. But little things like, take deep breaths, be mindful, be present, be in the moment.
My dad’s a psychologist and he’s amazing. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been working since we were kids, is just deep breathing, making sure because if you have anxiety, that’s you thinking about the future; if you have depression, that’s you thinking about the past. And if you’re present and you’re in the moment and you’re taking deep breaths, it’s a lot better to stay in the present and you’re more able to do that.
And the reason I say all this, the reason why it’s important to fill our cup, is we have one of the most rewarding, most hardest, most important jobs, if not the most important job out there. We’re shaping the minds of the littlest ones coming ahead of us.
And so I just think it’s just really important because research has shown the most powerful influence of whether and what children learn occurs in teachers’ interactions with them. And those are the small moments; those are the everyday moments. And they actually have the greatest impact on their development and their learning. So, if we can find it in us to keep pushing through, I think we’re just going to want to be there for our kids.
And it actually helps create high self-esteem, having that personal and nurturing relationship with your kids and also helps them start kindergarten with confidence and with joy. But again, this is one of the hardest years. And it’s important not to pour from an empty cup. So, just taking care of yourself and finding those little moments when you can do that.
Yeah, certainly filling that energy cup is super important and something that we’ve talked a lot about at HiMama with our team, as well. And the thing that I’ve learned through this, too, about that, which I found kind of interesting, is sometimes those things are surprising. You never know what it is. Somebody I was talking to, they said they got energy from pulling weeds in their yard. I learned – we’re in Canada, of course – and I learned that I get energy from snow shoveling. Apparently, that’s something I enjoy doing. So, you just never know.
And one idea that that I heard, which was pretty good, is to just to write down some things, write down five things that give you energy when you’re done or you feel more energy when you’re done. And also, the other thing, too, is write down five things that you walk away from having less energy. Because sometimes you can be surprised by that, too.
Sometimes I think myself, I’m like, “Oh, I’m stressed, I’m tired. I’m going to go watch TV for a while and relax.” But actually that doesn’t give me energy. I feel more tired after doing that. So, writing those things down I think is a good plan of action, too. So, definitely that piece resonates. Now, tell us a little bit more, before we run out of time, about T Is For Tot and your curriculum.
Yeah, so as I said a little earlier, I saw a need for a toddler-preschool curriculum. I didn’t really see anything out there that checked all the boxes for me and my son. So, I just thought, “This is an awesome opportunity to try to come up with something that works for my son, that also works for other little ones out there, hopefully.”
And I just wanted to… the goal of it was to create a super awesome, easy transition into kindergarten because it is important to not have a head start but to go ahead and get them ready for it. And it’s not just with the alphabet, it’s with all the different things.
And that’s what I tried to include in this curriculum, is have social-emotional learning with the characteristic of the week. Because preschool years are crucial time for kids to develop qualities like consideration for others and knowing the difference between right and wrong. So, that’s one of the things I wanted to include in the curriculum.
And I guess I need to back up a little bit. So, what it is, it’s an alphabet curriculum and it’s 26 letters, obviously. It’s broken into units. So, each week is a letter focus. But inside the letter focus, it has 22 activities; it has social-emotional learning, like I was just saying; it has physical activity because obviously you need to do stuff with getting them up and moving because they shouldn’t be sitting all day. Actually, half of their time should be spent in movement throughout the day, if not more, obviously. And then it has fine motor skills inside of it. It has lots of different fine motor skill activities, sensory development.
And then one of the things I also wanted to include in it was poems. That’s something I did every single day. And we would learn a new fluency poem when I was in the classroom. And that helps so much with so many different things. Poems can do so much to help little learners with oral motor development, with vocabulary, with phonological awareness.
And then another thing I went to include was daily books. So, every single day there’s a new book. And they have questions for teachers that are ready for you to go. And these are questions that a kindergarten teacher would ask your child when it comes to kindergarten. So, that’s one of the things when I would do parent-teacher conferences, parents really struggled with, “What questions do I ask?” So, I’d make them a list of questions with some ideas.
So, I thought that would be really cool, is to have five books in each of the units. So, every day you have and book and you can just pull them up on YouTube; or you can go to library and get them ahead of time; or you can just get them if you want to have them in your library. But these are books and they have the questions already in them. And that’s one of the things I was really wanting to make sure I got into this curriculum.
And they also has STEAM activities and experiments that are age-appropriate and simple to implement. And again, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. So, it has tracing posters which teach us the correct way to trace the letters. And then has arts and crafts.
But yeah, there’s 22 hands-on activities and they can be as easy as print-and-go. But also there’s a supply list that is included. So, these are the supplies you would use throughout the entire curriculum, making it really easy for parents. And it also helps kids because they know there is a method to the madness, basically. They know what’s coming next.
And the thing is, a curriculum is much more than just a collection of activities. It actually provides a framework for developing a coherent set of learning expectations that then helps children to achieve these identifiable goals. So, that was the reason you say “curriculum”, or like, “Well, this is for toddlers and preschoolers.” But really it’s not just that. It’s all the activities that go with it and then they’re broken up. And then it actually helps kids reach these goals. Or it doesn’t even have to be goals. It just helps them get into the mindset of going into kindergarten, ready to learn.
And then also I started a new monthly subscription where basically it’s sent straight to your inbox. And it’s five learning games and then five activities like arts and crafts. And they’re monthly inspired. And basically how I would say it is, it’s Pinterest meets Teachers Pay Teachers.
So, it has all the cutesy stuff that I know parents and teachers love. But it also has the stuff that is ready to get them going in the right direction with learning. So, it actually is not just… it meets the kids where they’re at and where they’re supposed to be going to get ready for kindergarten. But yeah, that’s basically it in a nutshell.
Awesome, it sounds amazing. And who typically would use your curriculum?
Well, when I created it, I created it for parents in mind. But there’s teachers who use it as well, caregivers. I actually worked with a lot of nannies in nanny agencies, getting this out there, as well. And I think, honestly, nannies, they really can benefit from this a lot just because it helps them know that… because a lot of parents, there’s still some that are not taking them back into a preschool setting yet. They’re probably getting close to that. But because of that, they’re having preschool at home. So, this is actually a really good tool for them to have at home, as well.
Yeah, that’s amazing, a tool for somebody at home where it’s like you’re trying to figure out stimulating activities that are going to help with development anyways. So, why not use a tool like this where you can really help that development and that love for learning, which is the topic of today, the love of learning.
Meghan, it’s been wonderful having you on the Podcast. Before we wrap up, if our listeners would like to get in touch with you, learn more about T Is For Tot Curriculum or check out some of your stuff, where can they go to get more information?
My website is www.TIsForTot.com. And then also I’m on Instagram where I’m @TIsForTotCurriculum. And when I say “tot”, it’s t-o-t. So, “tot”, like in toddler. And then I’m also on Facebook with the same one, T Is For Tot Curriculum. Yeah, thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed this!
Yeah, it’s our pleasure. I love what you’re doing with T Is For Tot, taking your background in in education and your learnings as a parent and applying those to create something where kids can get ready for kindergarten and have a love for learning and have that play-based exploratory learning that we’re all really passionate about in early-childhood education. Meghan, thanks again for joining us on the Podcast. It’s been wonderful having you!
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it!