How to teach toddlers | 11 tips you need to read first…

How to teach toddlers | 11 tips you need to read first…

If you want to know how to teach toddlers and build a positive environment where they can learn and thrive then read on…


When we talk about ‘teaching’ we tend to think of more formal activities.


However, there are many organically occurring experiences that provide amazing opportunities to teach toddlers new skills.


As a preschool teacher and now home educating parent, I thought I should put together a post about how to teach toddlers…or how we do it anyway!


This post isn’t focused purely on the actual activities (if you want those then read 100+ easy toddler activities)


In this post, I want to talk about some key things that we need clear in our minds before we even attempt to teach toddlers.


So, here they are…9 tips on how to teach toddlers:

1. Be aware of developmental stages.

Despite how it may feel sometimes, our toddlers don’t wake up each morning determined to push our buttons.


As a society we tend to use negative words like “tantrums”, “manipulation” and “control” to describe what is essentially developmentally appropriate behavior.

How to teach toddlers

Most toddlers (if not all) will have  meltdowns during their preschool years.


These incidents of overwhelm happen because a toddlers brain doesn’t function like an adults brain…it simply can’t!


It is undeveloped, emotional and impulsive.


You may wonder what tantrums and meltdowns have to do with a post about how to teach toddlers BUT they offer huge learning (and bonding) opportunities.


Our role as carers is to support and guide our toddlers as they navigate their emotions and to build trust so that they will continue to come to us when they need help.

It has to be one of the most important things to teach a child.

Teach toddlers empathy
Showing kindness and empathy to children teaches them to show empathy and kindness towards others.

So, how can we support our toddler through a meltdown…? (Read this post about dealing with toddler tantrums)


2. Make sure their needs are met.


There is a lot of pressure on parents nowadays be seen to be parenting ‘correctly’. Our children need to be wearing cute clothes and smiling while they create the array of masterpieces that we have saved to our Pinterest boards.


As a result we put pressure on our kids to meet these expectations.


Don’t worry about what you ‘should’ or could be doing.


An exhausted toddler does not need to go on a nature hike (unless you’re carrying them all the way!) 


Instead, teach them to listen  to their body. Snuggle up and read together,  watch a movie or play Duplo.


Choose an activity that suits you and your child at the time.


3. Don’t force learning…make it fun!

This one is so so important if you want to foster a love of learning…it’s my golden rule for home schooling.


It’s actually a big reason why I had enough of teaching and left to home educate our boys.


Yes, you CAN teach a two year the alphabet and a three year old to read.


I am 100% certain that I could have taught my 3 year old to read… HOWEVER I’m also 100% certain that it would have put him off reading and distracted him from learning the name every dinosaur in his National Geographic book!

How to teach toddlers
Let them lead when you can. This day I had other dino activities planned but Leo led his own learning by setting up a resue scene!

Forcing a child to learn what we think they should know is pointless and will be far more of difficult than waiting until they are ready.


Research has shown time and time again than children who learn to read later not only catch up with their peers but also maintain a higher level of enthusiasm towards reading.


If they’re into it great…go with it. If not, just wait until they are ready.


Choose a topic they love and explore it together…(one of our favourite topics so far has been The Stone Age.)


4. Create a “yes” environment.

You know when you go for tea at your Aunty Jan’s and have to stress for two hours about whether little Billy is going to smash the vase or the teapot first…that’s not a “yes” environment.

How to teach toddlers
They look happy but I’m probably not! Note to self: non child friendly restaurants are definitely not “yes” environments. Avoid them!

When you have toddlers it is a good idea to avoid environments where you know you’ll have to use the word “no” frequently.


So, you’re “yes” environment should be a place where toddlers are free to explore, create and move freely.

How to teach toddlers
Ah that’s better! If I’m finding a situation difficult, I find that my parenting relaxes instantly the moment we move outside.


5. Model the behaviors you want to see.

Children learn from the adults around them.


They’ll pick up on both the good and the bad habits that we demonstrate each day.


It’s been well proven that behaviors like smoking are copied behaviors.  If you smoke then your child is much more likely to start smoking.


It can be hard to hear, especially if you’ve been trying to give up for a while but the way we live impacts upon the choices our kids will make later on.


We don’t have to live like Saints 24/7 but we should decide what is important to us and model these behaviors as often as possible.


For me that’s, living a healthy lifestyle is important. Making eco-conscious choices and not giving up on dreams or beliefs.


How to teach toddlers
Our boys help us to grow food and to shop. It’s an opportunity to talk about the choices we make as consumers.

Another example of this is practicing gratitude.


Forcing children to say “please” and “thank you” won’t teach them to be grateful, but these gratitude activities for kids will.



6. Set clear boundaries.

Kids need rules.

They need to know what type of behaviour is is unacceptable and unsafe.


Set rules for things that are important to you.


But, choose your battles. If you’ve created a “yes environment” then you really shouldn’t need a tonne of rules.


Any resistance can be responded to without shouting, threatening or shaming.


How to teach toddlers
Playgrounds are ‘safe’ environments where toddlers can be given more freedom to explore. I don’t help them up and I don’t help them down!


7. Be flexible.

Setting clear boundaries does not mean that you can never be flexible in your response to certain situations.


Having a rule that no-one jumps on the sofa is something that you should stick to if you set it.


However, if you tell your child that it’s time to leave the beach there is no reason why you can’t offer another 10 minutes if they aren’t ready to leave.


We can’t expect our toddlers to grow into confident, free-thinking adults if we insist that they blindly obey us all the time.


8. Consider whether a schedule would help.

For some children, a schedule can work really well.


It can help them to feel like they have more control and understanding over a situation.


The schedule doesn’t have to be rigid but a simple outline like breakfast, play outside,  chill, nap, indoor play etc may help a child that struggles with transition.


My first born really struggled with transitions and I actually found that he was worse when we tried a schedule. He responded much better to play…”Wow, let’s go chase that Diplodocus that went past the window!” 


Take a look at these homeschool preschool schedules.


Find out what works for you and don’t worry too much. 


9. Remember that behaviour happens for a reason…

As a preschool teacher I never had a problem teaching preschoolers.


Teaching preschool teachers however…that was a struggle! 😂


What those teachers demonstrated was that it’s not easy to listen to someone else all day.


Whether we’re tired from a late night, preoccupied after an argument or desperate to catch up with our friend who’s sitting across from us. Each of us are individuals and bring with us our individual issues.


The thing is, as adults, we’re generally allowed to feel feelings. OK, I can’t throw my laptop on the floor when I loose something I’ve been working on all morning.


BUT, I am allowed to feel angry. It’s likely that I’ll have a colleague that can empathize with me and IT Support will try to help out.


Compare this to the experience of a tired three year at playgroup who’s happily playing with Lego just as a younger child toddlers over and knocks over his stack of blocks.

As adults we may wonder:

What is all the fuss about?

Why is she reacting like this?

Why she can’t just share a few blocks of Lego?

Sometimes, our initial reaction is to punish the toddlers “over reaction” rather than to acknowledge her feelings.


To us that was just a stack of bricks but to the three year old it was a ladder to the moon or a tree full of squirrels.


OK, I get that the major difference between most adult and toddler reactions is that adults are generally better able to control their outbursts.


It’s not likely to go well for me if I walk over and hit a colleague every time he does something that irritates me.


However, the fact that a toddlers brain isn’t yet fully developed means that they aren’t yet able to control impulses.


Punishing them for this just doesn’t make sense.


If these behaviors seem out of character then try to establish what may be going on for your toddler.


Could they be tired from dropping a nap?

Do they have a new sibling?

Do they need a snack?

Are you feeling anxious?


If you can manage to pinpoint what is affecting your toddler then you can attempt to support them through it.



how to teach toddlers

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