Child using shovel

Best Laid Plans

Question: I’m a toddler teacher and my director has been talking about how I need to do lesson plans for my kids. My center doesn’t have a particular curriculum we have to use, and honestly I think babies and toddlers are too young for lesson plans. By the time we get through all the diapering, feeding, changing clothes, going outside, and napping, we hardly have time for anything but just loving on them. Aren’t toddlers too young for a lot of formal lessons?

Answer: We are in whole-hearted agreement that toddlers are, indeed, too young for “formal lessons,” or any type of instruction that involves sitting and listening to teachers for long periods. Toddlers and young children are hands-on learners, and learn best through play and active engagement with materials.

That being said, when done correctly lesson plans can be very helpful, even with toddlers. This doesn’t mean you have to plan every moment of their day, or get so invested in a plan that you’re frustrated if you don’t get through it all. Lesson planning for toddlers often means just having a general idea of what you want to focus on for a day, week, or month, in order to keep offering creative experiences for them. In some ways, they’re more for the teacher than the children. It’s easy to keep pulling out the same favorite toys or sensory materials, because you have a thousand other things to think about, and the fingerpaint has worked before. But toddlers like novelty, too, and if you have a lesson plan in mind, even something as simple as “this week we’ll be talking about balls,” it can lead to new and interesting experiences for them. You might offer a box of plush balls indoors, focus on the circle puzzle, or share some books or pictures about children playing with balls. If some of your children don’t participate in any of this, it’s okay; it’s meant to be an invitation, not a requirement that they master the art & science of all things spherical by Friday.

It’s easy enough, even without a specific curriculum, to Google “toddler + ball” (or any topic) and get loads of ideas for activities, books, and songs. There are also blank lesson plan templates available online aimed at toddlers, if you don’t want to create your own. You can fill in your ideas for the week – which activities or materials you will plan to offer each day – so you’re organized and prepared, rather than frantically searching for an activity in a chaotic moment.

Having a plan in mind can also make it easier for teachers to guide young children’s play intentionally. For example, imagine a toddler playing with foam blocks on her own. She might chew on them, stack a couple, throw them, and examine them. An attentive teacher playing next to can add so much to her experience. A teacher might encourage her to notice the colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of the balls, point out and naming these qualities for her. The teacher might toss or roll the ball to the child and encourage her to roll or toss it back, both to model play and also to get important information about the child’s development – does she favor one hand or the other? Does she have the hand/eye coordination to catch or kick yet? The child is getting an experience full of new language and conceptual development, as well as just enjoying the equally important emotional connection of having fun with a caring, attentive adult. The teacher is getting to offer a new experience, and some insight into a particular child’s developmental milestones.