What should we be teaching toddlers?
In this post I wanted to talk a little about things to teach toddlers.
The toddler years are an amazing time of growth both physically and intellectually.
As parents or early years educators we need to nurture our toddlers enthusiasm and desire to learn by engaging them in activities and experiences.
But, what should we be teaching toddlers?
What do toddlers need to learn?
There is a huge amount of pressure nowadays to have our toddlers reaching “milestones” and achieving “school-readiness”.
There are books telling us how to teach our 2 month old to sleep, how to teach our one year old to use a potty and how to teach our three year old to read.
But, is any of it necessary?
I spent four years studying how to teach in the early years. I then spent 10 years working in Education.
What I learnt about our Education system, was that teaching was based on forced learning.
By that I mean, teaching a child BEFORE they are ready and willing to learn a specific skill.
Take reading and writing for example.
Both are pretty essential basic skills that most parents want their children to learn.
However, we don’t really need to “teach” (in the formal sense) reading and writing.
Most children will learn these skills organically, provided they are given a variety of learning opportunities.
But…they will learn in their own way and at their own pace…not when we think they should.
Unless a young child is enthusiastic to do so, there is no need to teach them to read or write.
Studies show that there aren’t any long-lasting advantages for children who learnt to read early.
There’s no need to compare our toddlers to their playmates or feel pushed into teaching a specific skill.
So, if teaching toddlers isn’t about insisting that they sit down to learn how to read then what is it about?!
What to teach toddlers? | Social and Emotional Skills
THE most important skill that we can teach our toddlers is social and emotional intelligence.
Early experiences are key to developing these skills and our daily lives provide ample learning opportunities.
In order to be socially and emotionally intelligent our children need to learn how to: navigate their emotions; express their needs appropriately and respond emphatically to others.
These skills not only help us to foster positive relationships with others but also to develop self worth, self esteem and resilience.
Things to teach toddlers:
– Empathy – we develop a toddlers empathy by showing them and those around us empathy.
– Guide them – if you take your toddler to a playgroup or social event then stay close-by.
Show them how to interact and express themselves.
Regular hitting, kicking and biting is often the result of frustration.
– Don’t force sharing – teach your toddler that it’s OK to ask some one to wait until they have finished playing.
Forcing sharing will often make a toddler more possessive.
Help them to assert themselves if they need you to. You could say “Jane is playing with this now. You can have it when she’s done.”
– Help them to figure out their emotions – When it’s your toddler on the receiving end of a “no, I’m playing with this truck”, help him to navigate his emotions.
“You want the truck too! Leo is playing with it now but you can have it when he’s done?”
He may well get upset but teach him how to verbalize what he wants and empathize if he gets upset.
Avoid using distraction techniques to get them through it.
You don’t need to fix this just be there to listen to him.
– Give names for feelings – Talk about feelings.
Don’t be afraid to use words like “angry”, “jealous” or “scared”…these are normal emotions and talking about them openly will help our children to process what they are feeling.
Books are also great for prompting conversations about feelings.
– Limit physical contact – As parents we have a responsibility to show our children what behavior is unacceptable.
The most important way we teach toddlers this is by modeling gentleness and compassion ourselves.
However even the gentlest of parents will no doubt have their toddler experiment with biting, hitting, pushing at some point…
You can’t control your child’s actions but you can control your response to your child.
If your child hits another then state clearly and in simple terms that it isn’t OK.
Empathize with their upset and don’t be afraid to leave that environment if your child is struggling to cope.
Remember that playgroups are actually kinda setup more for parents than the kids so if it’s not working don’t go!
I always found an outdoor meetup worked better. Something like forest schools or a play date at the park…fewer toys to snatch, fresh air and plenty of space to run around.
What to teach a toddler? |Gross Motor
Did you know that a child needs to develop their gross motor skills before they can master their fine motor skills like writing!
Gross motor skills are developed by encouraging our toddlers to do all those fun things that they naturally want to do anyway…running, jumping, climbing, splashing, pulling, swinging.
There are so many fun things to teach toddlers that will develop their gross motor skills:
Find a playground – Playgrounds are great spaces to allow your toddler to explore what his/her body is capable of.
Find a playground nearby, pack a picnic and go relax* at the park.
(*I’m not sure the words ‘toddler’ and ‘relax’ ever go together!)
Explore the forest – show me a toddler who doesn’t love the a day in the woods!?
OK, they may hate getting their waterproofs and wellies on and off but they smile in between 🤣
Tree climbing, den building, log carrying are all wonderful ways to get toddlers moving.
As long as your toddler is safe then let them discover what their body is and is not capable of.
Explore and enjoy!
Choosing the right play equipment can really help to encourage kids to play outside.
Take a look at what play equipment we have in our garden.
Create a muddy area
If getting out into the woods is difficult then create a space where toddlers can get dirty digging, splashing and pouring.
Build an obstacle course
Use a cardboard box, sofa cushions or hoops to design an obstacle course to challenge your toddler.
Catching and kicking a ball is great fun and good for gross motor development.
Play “be a…”
Find some space and get your toddlers role-playing.
“Be a snake, wriggling in the jungle”
“Be an elephant, stomping to the watering hole.”
Get creative and ask toddlers to “move like” the weather (a rain storm, the wind, April showers) or act out different activities (sweep the floor, play basketball, ski)
What to teach a toddler? |Cognitive Development
Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes.
It includes remembering, problem solving, and decision making.
We can help our toddlers to develop these skills through every day experiences and activities:
Ask questions and ‘commentate’– don’t go overboard with this one as you don’t want every activity your toddler engages in to become a quick-fire question round.
That said, asking questions and talking to your toddler about what is happening will help them to understand in addition to developing their language skills.
“Can you collect the shells?”
“Could you use the sieve to help you?”
“The shells don’t fit through the holes in the sieve.”
As a child I loved playing this game with my Granny.
She probably loved it too as it takes practically zero effort and you can drink a cup of tea while you do it!
“Can you find something green?”
” Find me something spiky!”
Hide and seek – I love watching toddlers play hide and seek!
By around 6 months old a baby will start to understand that an object continues to exist even when it disappears from view.
Have some fun and help your toddler to develop this learning by hiding toys under a blanket and playing peek-a-boo!
As your toddler develops, find more challenging hiding places and count to ten as your toddler experiments with hiding places (guaranteed cuteness!).
I just love how proud he looks of himself!
Early science activities
Learning about science doesn’t have to be just for older kids.
There is no reason not to talk to your toddler about gravity, friction and photosynthesis.
You’re just giving a name to a concept that many older toddlers will already understand.
For example, climbing up a slide with slippery socks is harder than with grippy shoes or bare feet that provide fiction.
Don’t underestimate what a toddler is capable of understanding.
Plant a seed
What better way to teach a toddler about life than to plant a seed.
If you have space then a garden is a wonderful thing to plant together.
Choose vegetable varieties that grow quickly like salad leaves and different coloured carrots.
If you have less or no space then a few sunflowers in pots or simply a jar of cress can be exciting.
It can also be a great way to get toddlers to try new foods too.
What to teach a toddler? |Creative Activities
Mixing play dough colours, turning paint various shades of brown and using too much glue…are basically rights of passage in early childhood.
We follow a season themed ‘curriculum’ that is focused on exploring nature through art. My Autumn Activities Project is free here.
Toddlers also need plenty of time to create without adult interference so keeping a box of junk (items destined for the recycling) is a great way of allowing them this freedom without letting them loose in the craft cupboard.
Things to teach toddlers About Our World
One of the most important things we can pass on to our toddlers is a love of the outdoors.
If we want to raise little-ones who will care for the plant as big-ones then get them outside enjoying nature early.
Research shows that kids who play outdoors will care more for the environment as they get older.
Being outdoors is also great for toddlers physical development and it may even help them to sleep better! (We can but hope!)
Leaf and bark rubbing
Take some wax crayons outside and make some nature rubbings. A great activity to talk about textures.
Look for beautiful stones, empty snail shells and autumn leaves.
Take a book and a blanket outside to read together.
Give toddlers a piece of cord tied to a thin stick so that they can thread it through leaves…like a needle and thread.
Choose activities and experiences that your toddler will enjoy. Don’t worry about what other preschoolers can or can’t do.
Enjoy your child’s firsts and have fun exploring with them.
What do you think are the most important things to teach toddlers?