Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teaching Toddlers

I was talking with a friend from college the other day, and she really got me thinking (unintentionally, I think).  She is in the middle of a very exciting and successful career, and is working on her masters at the same time.

We talked a little about how our paths had diverged since our college days hanging out in the physics lab, and she innocently asked the question, "So, what do with your kids all day?"  She quickly clarified, "I mean, I play with my nieces and nephews all the time.  We play dress up, I give them pony rides on my back, we read 4 stories, we have a snack, and then I look at the clock and only 15 minutes have passed!  How in the world do you keep your kids occupied all day every day?"  What a great question. 

I have a 2 1/2 year old and (almost) 1 1/2 year old.  They are both pretty fantastic at finding things around the house with which to amuse themselves (like spreading basket-fulls of clean laundry around the living room), but they very much appreciate a little (lot) bit of mommy-intervention in their busy days.

A few months ago, I got really inspired.  My mom is a daycare teacher who writes weekly lesson plans, complete with songs, crafts, books and activities, all for her little classroom of one-year-olds.  "I could totally do that," I thought.  We'll go to the library every week, I'll find songs and coloring pages and activities and have a weekly theme that pertains to the season or upcoming holidays.  It'll be amazing!"  

Well, apparently my 2-year-old missed the "amazing" memo.  What?  He'd rather go stomp in the snow outside than sit quietly at the table, coloring pictures of policemen?  And my 1-year-old must have slightly underdeveloped "being quiet at the library while mommy picks out books" skills.  She'd much rather toddle through the shelves, grabbing every spine and tossing it on the floor.  I gave up for a while.  And now we are revising our carefully laid plans.

Turns out, my mom's daycare kiddos think her lessons are totally fantastic (I'm sure they are really good) because that's the only way they can experience the world while staying within the confines of their little classroom.  Most of them are there every weekday, sometimes from 6 a.m. 'til 6 p.m., in the same room, same playground, same toddler gym. Their teachers have to be armed with a barrage of fascinating activities to help the kids stay active and engaged in learning new things.  But as a stay-at-home mom, I have an incredible advantage: I can take my kids anywhere I want, to see the world first hand!  This means, instead of being confined to a book about ducklings, we can head to the park any day to feed the ducks for ourselves.  We can linger at the grocery store as long as we want, learning the names of all the vegetables.  We have half a dozen local playgrounds to choose from, as well as a huge forest right behind our house to romp through to our hearts' content.  What an incredible privilege!

So my focus has shifted a little bit in this whole toddler-teaching game.  For the time being, we are spending a little less time at the table coloring, and a little more time outside chasing the chicken around the yard feeding the chicken.  A little less singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and a little more looking for bugs in the yard.  I know as the kids get older and more able to sit down and focus on abstract lessons, our plans will change again.  But for now, it's refreshing to all of us to be able to go out and experience our big world.

I know I am just getting started with raising and teaching kids, and I would LOVE to hear some ideas from those of you who are old pros in this area.  When do you think kids are able to sit still and learn abstract ideas for reasonable periods of time?  Do you have any fantastic suggestions for toddler-engaging activities or places to visit?


  1. I don't have any great ideas, but just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog. Hope you're having a wonderful day!

  2. Thanks, Stacia, I really enjoy your blog as well. :) Say hi to your cute kids for me.

  3. Mother Nature is the biggest teacher. I think we all overschedule our kids only to realize they need some free time too to do what they like. I totally agree with your descision to go with what they like.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, radn. The kids seem to like my decision, too!

  5. Love it! This is so true about being able to be hands on. I have been talking a little bit on my blog about this new season that I feel the Lord bringing us into and it actually goes along with what you talk about in this post. We are getting chicks in a couple days too so I will totally have to get some chicken advice from you soon.

  6. Messy Mom, I am very far from being a chicken expert, but I'll be happy to help if I can! I look forward to reading more about your new season of life.

  7. What a great post! I, too, stay home and the kids learn so much by just hanging out in the yard or helping in the kitchen. My 1-year-old loves to bring me the watering can meaning "pick me up and hold me while you water the plants", and my 4-year-old loves picking flowers and making pretend fairy houses. These are the types of activities that would not happen if we weren't blessed to be at home together.

  8. One of our favorite (summer) activities was exploring volume with nothing more than a bucket of water and containers of various shapes and sizes. We did it in the bath as well, but it was infinitely more fun to be messy in the yard.

    We also did "sand art" using baking soda, made paper, made play-doh, made sock puppets, did nature scavenger hunts, counted scales on pinecones, discussed symmetry using the dogs and ourselves .... This list could go on for hours. Lol!

    I hope those are the sort of ideas you meant!

  9. Sarah, I am excited for my daughter to be old enough for fairy houses! It is such a blessing to stay home.

    Noodle, those are exactly the sort of ideas I meant! I love the symmetry discussion using the dogs!! Thanks for the fantastic ideas!

  10. Danielle, it's so true - many times we need to drop what we're doing or "planning" and do more hands on with the children.

    Taking walks, going to the park, - my husband built a large sandbox that the children love to play in during summer months in our backyard. I get in there with them and start building forts and castles - it's fun.

    It all falls into place. ;-)

  11. Wow, thank you so much for writing this and sharing your experience. I have been struggling lately and feeling like a terrible mom because the crafts I pick or the activities I try to do with my boys (ages 3 and 2) seem to be a 1 in 10 success. My two year old wakes up asking to go outside and my three year old loves the outdoors too, but Moreno isn't interested in crafting/coloring as engineering and being hands on with how and why things work oppose to a crayon & paper. I have gone back and forth between thinking maybe crafts aren't for them right now but then also I tell myself to keep trying and keep providing opportunities for crafts or table time things. Same with learning most things, they both learn more on the go vs being sat down at a table. I have a hard time teaching and making things relevant as we are outside all the time, but I try through song or repetition of beats or things that can be taken anywhere, no matter what the setting.


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