Tot School: Net Week (BUGS!)

by Melanie on July 2, 2013

20 Months Old

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I think boys must be hardwired to love bugs. This little man carried his net around with him all week, on the prowl for buzzin’ insects. When he couldn’t find any, he filled it up with balls and toy cars instead.

We found bugs that fly, bugs that live in the dirt, bugs that sneak into the house, and bugs that crawl on the porch! It was a very creepy crawly sort of week and I’d have had it no other way!

Letter: Nn

Object: Net

Vocabulary Development Theme: Bugs

Shape: Circle

What’s on the tot trays?


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Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Big Button Transfer, 2. Bug Puzzle, 3. Playskool Busy Gears, 4. Bug Race (ladybug missing above), 5. Lacing Net, 6. Paperclip The Bookmarks, & 7. Letter Nn Printables

The tray activities and the skills we were shooting to expose with them were:

  1. Big Button Transfer (transferring)
  2. Bug Puzzle (matching/dexterity)
  3. Playskool Busy Gears (fine motor skills/motion play)
  4. Bug Race (fine motor skills/motion play) The bug toy pictured on the tray requires concentration and fine motor skills to wind. Rocket isn’t able to wind it on his own yet, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. The ladybug which is not pictured above (it was missing at the time of the photo) goes forward after being pulled backwards, which can be done independently by Rocket.
  5. Lacing Net (stringing)
  6. Paperclip The Bookmarks (fine motor skills)
  7. Letter Nn Printables (Nn recognition/vocabulary exposure/using writing utensils)

The big buttons I purchased from Oriental Trading Company are one of my favorite learning manipulatives for young toddlers. They aren’t a choking hazard like small buttons and small hands can wrap around them just perfectly.

Rocket knew exactly what to do when I pulled the tray down. He immediately transferred a couple of handfuls into the empty plastic container before reaching for the lid.

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We also use the big buttons to review colors.

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Sealing it shut with the lid (after dumping the rest of the buttons on the floor)!

And then what was there left to do but to shake it all up?

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The Playskool Busy Gears set is my latest thrift store find. I took it home for just a couple of bucks and am so glad I did! As is typical of boys, Rocket loves toys that involve motion. He has also always liked examining things closely to find out how they work. I knew gears would be a great fit for his learning style.

The toy is actually impressively durable and seems to be made to withstand the crashing hands of children. Unfortunately, I think Playskool stopped making it. There is a different “Playskool Busy Gears” now that is electronic and requires a button to be pushed rather than the crank to be turned. I would not recommend you spend your money on that toy new, as I’m sure you can find a manually-operated gear set that encourages more hands-on play for a similar price. Please leave a comment on this post if you have one that you recommend!

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Turning the gears.

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Rocket decided to retrieve some items from the sensory tub and add them to his gear play!

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It was fun to see how the insects, marbles, and gems moved inside the gears when the crank was turned.

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He even tried the plastic grass and porcupine balls.

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I’ve been trying to include more puzzles to our weekly agenda because Rocket really enjoys doing them. They’re great for working on both his matching skills and his dexterity as he tries to fit them in the right places.

tray puzzle

As Rocket solved the puzzle, I told him what each insect was called to expose him to new words.

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An example of our conversations during puzzle play:

“Is that a bumblebee?” I ask.

“Bum-bee!” he answers, learning new words as we go.

The paperclip & bookmarks tray got a brief visit from Rocket, but was mostly ignored.

trays bookmark

trays bookmarks

And the printables made a comeback! Last week, he had practically no interest in even looking at the sheets. This week, he was all about it, asking for his tray of printables on his own several times. I get the feeling he may just be more interested in nets & bugs than he is in mice & small mammals! He was far more curious about knowing the words for the different bugs.

He used some writing utensils, but was mostly into the new sticker book filled with bugs.

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Choosing his next sticker.

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Placing his sticker on the net.

He also worked on the lacing net a little bit, but as usual didn’t want to spend too much time on it. I make these lacing boards every week so that they’re available if he wants to give them a try, but lately he has shown very little interest in them and that’s okay too. He only picked it up twice and worked on it for very short periods of time. That’s fine!

At this age, the schoolroom is his to explore based on his needs. It isn’t a place where I enforce “work” of any kind if it’s not a fun experience for him.

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What’s in the sensory tub?



  • Gems
  • Marbles
  • Plastic grass
  • Porcupine balls
  • Toy insects

The tools I included with this tub were:

  • Tongs
  • Jumbo tweezers
  • Measuring spoon
  • Cardboard box
  • Small net (pictured below)
  • Plastic ball container

There were all kinds of new plastic insects for him to catch with his net in this tub!

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As he looked at the insects, I took the opportunity to name them and point out their colors for him.

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Comparing the hornet and the grasshopper.

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Ripping the wings off the hornet and the fly. Ha!

He really got a kick out of the plastic ball container. He liked to see what items from the sensory tub fit inside.

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This bug was too big!

And when all that got old, he decided he wanted to feel the sensory tub on his feet… but was stopped in his tracks by Mom!

sensory tub


What other toys were in the schoolroom?


other toys

Along with this lovely green net, Rocket’s old toy Leapfrog Alphabet Pal stayed in the schoolroom this week. Usually, I keep electronic toys out of the schoolroom, but made an exception for Net Week. Rocket loves the Alphabet Song and this friendly caterpillar sings it when pulled across the floor. It’s a nice toy for teaching the letters and letter sounds.


The Reading List


reading list

I decided to stick mostly with one author, whose collection includes many classic bug reads: Eric Carle. I myself was a big fan of The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I was young (and still am today). I love Eric Carle’s imaginative stories and cute illustrations.

Below, I am only including links to our absolute favorites. This doesn’t mean the others aren’t fantastic as well, but that these were the ones that Rocket wanted to read over and over again.

  1. The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  3. The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle
  4. Bumble Bee by Margaret Wise Brown and Victoria Raymond
  5. Slow Snail by Mary Murphy
  6. The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle
  7. The Very Clumsy Click Beetle by Eric Carle

Rocket also currently has several favorite books outside of the schoolroom. Among them are:

  1. Look At Me! by Rachel Fuller (This books is about welcoming a new baby. We aren’t expecting, but he chose it himself from the library and loves it!)
  2. Hola! Jalapeno by Amy Wilson Sanger
  3. Playing by Liesbet Slegers
  4. What Happens Next? by Cheryl Christian
  5. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury


Arts & Crafts


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The invitation for the butterfly craft was set up like this:

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I glued googly eyes and antennae to the Popsicle stick and finished it off with a drawn-on smile. My freehand cutting of the wings was a bit on the crooked side, but let’s just say it gives the butterfly some character! The Popsicle stick and the wings were not attached until after the art project.

The container to the right included different dot paint colors.

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When he finished trying each of the dot paint colors, he asked me if he could use markers. Of course he could! And why not some stickers too? He chose only to put stickers of butterflies on the butterfly.

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I stuck the final product on the window temporarily for him to see!

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Last week, I mentioned that Rocket has been wanting to paste a lot lately. Since our art project this week didn’t scratch his itch to paste, we also did a cut-and-paste marker job on a later day.

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What else did we do?


 1. Bug Bite Word Exposure.

We actually got a number of mosquito bites to kick off Net Week. Boo!!!

But it was due to this that Rocket now knows how to tell me that he’s “itchy” and that he wants to “scratch.” I told him that the itchy bumps are mosquito bites and that he shouldn’t scratch them, even though they itch. We counted the torturous bug bites on both of us. I guess there is always an opportunity to learn something!

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This photo was taken by Rocket without my knowledge that he had my phone! Ha! I marked his bug bite with a red arrow.

2. Catching Bugs With A Net.

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Rocket brought his net along on our day walks, but we didn’t come across any butterflies or flying insects. Scott and I did manage to catch lightning bugs at night with the net, although I didn’t get any pictures. Rocket loves to hold the lightning bugs himself and let them fly off his fingers.

He also discovered another creative way to use the net!

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3. Ants In The Pants Board Game.

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I am a big believer in board games. They encourage family connectivity and are just plain fun! I was scavenging thrift stores for something age-appropriate to get Rocket started on the wonderful world of boards games and came across Ants In The Pants. At first, I wasn’t sure if he’d have the fine motor skills to make the ants hop, but I figured I’d buy it anyway for when he got older.

It turns out that not only can he make the ants hop, but he WON THE GAME when we played together as a family! He got one more point than each of us. Ha!

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Do you like his insect shirt? Keeping with the theme!

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Making the ants hop.

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I also brought out the hopping frogs to add to the mix.

4. Tot Notebook.

Last week, I mentioned that Rocket wasn’t that interested in the printables or his binder. As I mentioned above, this week was a different story entirely! He independently asked to work in his binder AND on his printables multiple times throughout the week.

He started with the binder when it was still filled with sheets from Mouse Week:

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Coloring with dry erase markers.

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Wiping off the marker when he was done.

He kept on coloring after I changed out the binder sheets for Net Week.

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Coloring the net.

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He was especially interested in putting the caps back on the markers!

5. Spying On Bugs.

We’ve gotten a few flies trapped in the house so far this summer. A nuisance every other week, but it works out well when we’re talking about bugs!

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6. Outdoor Bug Hunt.

Of course, we had to hunt for bugs outside!

We spotted an army of ants hovering around someone’s lost food fragments, saw some beetles scurrying about, and took turns holding a squirming worm in our palms before releasing it into the dirt.

We also found a worm that didn’t quite make it across the sidewalk on a hot summer day.

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We also found some anthills along the grass.

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7. Vocabulary Magnet Play.

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We reviewed the bug magnet set frequently during our time in the kitchen. Rocket is a big fan of bugs!

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8. Catching Balls With A Net.

I had this invitation set up in the schoolroom one day and he knew exactly what to do!

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We took turns holding the net and catching the balls or being the person throwing the balls. It was such a fun game, I have a feeling we’ll be repeating it!

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9. Circle Shape Play.

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Our focal shape this week was a circle. Since Rocket was so into his dry erase markers, we used them to review the shapes.

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Coloring the diamond.

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Coloring the rectangle.

After working on the shapes for a while, we hunted the room for things shaped like a circle. When I handed Rocket this wheel, he noticed that it somewhat resembled a gear and added it to his gear set!

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Figuring out that the crank doesn’t fit in the wheel.

10. Reading Books In Vietnamese.

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I found the jackpot of Vietnamese books in my city! They’re at the Iroquois Library, where I’ll be visiting regularly to find books for his reading time with my mom.

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Reading one of his favorite books We’re Going On A Bear Hunt in Vietnamese with O Pho.



I had a special activity planned out for our song of the week “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” This was a last minute idea that turned out to be the highlight of our week!

I freehand cut out the shape of a spider, laminated it, and glued some googly eyes to the head. I then tied the spider to a stick and we took it outside to the water spout to enact the song.

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We even had a squirt bottle to water down the spider for the “down came the rain and washed the spider out” line. Rocket loved this!

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We took turns controlling the spider and the squirt bottle. Rocket greatly enjoyed doing both!

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Afterwards, we went on a walk. He didn’t want to put the spider down, so it came with us!

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Videos & Technology


We didn’t get around to any videos this week. He played with two electronic toys: the Alphabet Pal caterpillar mentioned above and the toy phone pictured in the section below.


Mom’s Favorite Moments


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Eating some delicious pho, the signature Vietnamese dish!

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Deeply absorbed in a very important phone call.

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Playing guitar with his #1 hero.

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Helping the librarian clean up after toy time.

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At the water park with new friends from the library.

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Admiring the baby!

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Lying in a basket.

moms favs

Reading with Gramps.

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Look how pleased he was after climbing onto the chair with his stool!

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He can reach the light switch now!

Find other great tot school ideas on the following link-ups:


See Vanessa Craft

Rainy Day Mum

Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas

No Time For Flash Cards

Living Montessori Now

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Umar Kothari July 30, 2013 at 6:10 am

your a great mom


brenton-sellheim October 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

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Clarissa Chan December 27, 2013 at 6:31 am

I admire your simple, yet fun activities for tour toddler, and he is also extremely adorable!


damara headley January 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Fantastic website. Plenty of helpful information here.
I’m sending it to a few pals. thank you to your effort!


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