Amist the amazing printables and fun activities to be found for your toddler, it can be difficult to chose the best curriculum or set of printables. Should you do letter themes or book themes to teach your young one? How long should your tot school take? What is normal and what should you expect from your toddler? Will your toddler enjoy it or will be a daily battle? These are all questions that every mom has starting with tot schooling, and it can definitely be a little daunting. So today, we will take each of these questions and explain them in full, giving you the best foundation to find the perfect curriculum for your toddler.
How Do Toddlers Learn?
Before beginning your search to find the perfect tot school curriculum, take a moment to educate yourself on how your toddler learns. There are four different types of learning and by taking a few days to observe your little one, you will begin to notice a pattern of how they prefer to learn. The four types of learners are as follows:
- Visual- This type of learner does best with seeing information in picture form. In teaching a visual learner, you would use a lot of picture flashcards and picture books.
- Auditory- This type of learner prefers to hear information read. You can teach this child best through using fun songs and audio books. Help them remember what they learned by having them repeat information back to you or vocalize what they are learning.
- Tactile- This type of learner does best with processing information through reading or through writing. For this learner, quizzes are highly beneficial as well as writing out grammar rules or facts. With this learner, it is best if you give them a paper to read along with you rather than you just reading to them.
- Kinesthetic- This type of learner is your hands on learner. They learn best when they are actually doing and figuring things out for themselves.
For the most part, after you begin observing your child, you will see that they favor a particular learning style more than others. Of course, you don't want to cut out all the other styles because they prefer one. But you do want to focus on teaching them primarily in their learning style and allowing the other styles to be used less often. This is a great website to help you figure out what your child's learning style is by listening to how they speak.
This is another reason why one curriculum may work amazingly well for one child, but your other children do horribly with it. Be aware though that as your child grows and develops, their learning style may change too. This is a part of normal development, just do your best to stay tuned when certain things stop working for your child.
What to Expect
In the beginning of anything, there will be a learning curve, so just expect the first two weeks to be a little chaotic and not what you want. In these first two weeks, you as a parent will be tweaking and figuring out what works and what doesn't work as well. But as a note of caution don't write something off as not working until at least the second week.
One example of this would be the fact that as part of our curriculum I chose to do letter dot papers. My son was supposed to look at the letter at the top and dot all the letters that matched. This went horribly for the first week, and I really considered if it was just too advanced for him. I would grab the hand with the dot marker and ask him to find that letter that said ah. He would just get frustrated because he wanted to dot everything. But I did stay firm, on this paper we will only dot the letters that match,. So one tactic I used was to take the dot marker away and point to a matching letter. When he found the matching letter, I would give him back the dot marker to dot it himself.
By week two, I was able to give him the dot marker, tell him what letter we were dotting, and him successfully dot the letters. He did make mistakes though, so please do note that. I also allowed him free time to dot with the marker on construction paper. so he got to play with the cool marker outside of school. If you don't know what dot markers are you can click here to look.
Most toddlers learn by doing and are very hands on. They learn best through play. So bring this concept into your expectations: Tot school will not look like "school" at all. Your child will not just be sitting in a desk doing papers that you give them. This is very impractical and actually counter productive. Toddlers need to move and experience and this is a very important part of their development. At this age they are developing and strengthening their gross motor and fine motor skills which requires a lot of different and varied movements.
Another unrealistic expectation is that your tot school will last a few hours. The longest our tot school has ever been is 45 minutes, but mostly it stays around 20-30 minutes of guided instruction. I do schedule my toddlers time so the rest of his day is productive and learning, but it is done completely through play and exploration.
What Do You Want?
Every parent is completely different in why or what they want their tot school to produce. The purpose of my tot school is for my children to learn to read early on, so everything I do is for that purpose. If early literacy is your purpose you may enjoy these products.
The book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is absolutely incredible and so simple to use! Because we started it so young, my son did not get the rhyming part of it, but is still picking up the reading just fine. At 2 and a half, he is starting to be able to read simple 2 and 3 letter words. I also love the fact that it literally only takes us 15 minutes to do as well. Because literacy is the purpose of our tot schooling, we learned the alphabet in the order outlined in the book. We also only did 1-2 lessons a week, so I did not overwhelm him with too much information at a time. We did the book everyday, but we would do lesson 1, two days in a row and then lesson 2, two days in a row.
The other product that is truly a lifesaver for teaching early literacy is the Leap Frog Refrigerator Phonics. I absolutely love it and so does my son, as well as every child that comes to my house. There are some days, when I am just busy or too lazy to focus on his school. Because I don't want him to go too long without a lesson, I found this simple hack to do wonders. On those busy days, I do school with him while I am cooking in the kitchen. While I am at the stove, I have him ask him to bring me letter that says ah or mmm or whatever letters he knows. He brings me the letters and we review the sounds. We then put them in word format and practice saying the sounds the way the book indicates. This saves time and keeps him reviewing his letters on a daily basis.
If your main reason for tot school is just to add some learning structure while you work with your older children. You may enjoy doing play dough and alphabet play dough sheets, color sorting with pom poms, or lacing activities. To make it super simple to switch from one activity to another, it may help to make busy bags instead. You can find some really great busy bags on this website, or if you are too busy to make them, this is a really nifty set of pre-made toddler busy bags.
If your purpose of teaching your toddler is for them to learn colors and shapes, you may find that book themes work best. Below are some of my absolute favorite books for teaching these concepts.
Along with the books above, you can click on these websites on download some really awesome printables and file folder games to reinforce the learning concepts in the books.
What Does a Toddler Need to Learn?
After you figure out what the purpose of your tot school is, you also need to keep in mind what developmental skills your toddler should be learning and is able to learn at this stage in life. For this list, I am referring more to a toddler who is in between 2-3 years of age. Younger toddlers can definitely be introduced to these things as well, but they won't necessarily grasp or be able to demonstrate their knowledge. You can read my post here about having tot school with a younger toddler in between 13 months and two years old.
- Alphabet sounds
- Alphabet recognition
- Counting from 1-10 and possibly from 10-20
- Number recognition
- Shapes and Colors
- Basic animal names and sounds
- 2-3 Pattern Sequences
- Coloring for the most part in the lines
- Tracing lines and circles
- Knows Familiar Body Parts
- Fine Motor Skills- sort shapes, thread beads, button large buttons, pull up a zipper, use a fork and spoon,fold paper, and cut with scissors
- Gross Motor Skills- run, climb, hop, jump up with two feet, stand on tip-toes, and throw ball over head
I know a list like this can seem daunting, but honestly most of these tasks your toddler will learn even without you setting aside special time to teach them. But it is nice to know where they should be and what they are able to do. It also helps you to figure out fun learning activities that are developmentally appropriate. If you begin an activity and your child ends up frustrated, put it away for a couple of weeks, then bring it out again. It is incredible how much they develop in such a small amount of time.
When I was in Elementary school I had the privilege of having an incredible piano teacher. If I practiced a song for the week and came back the next week and was still struggling or overwhelmed with it, she would take it away. At first, it would really upset me because I wanted to master it, but in her wisdom, she would tell me that in a couple of weeks, we would try again. To my amazement when she gave it back several weeks later, I would be able to play it with little practice and no frustration. This is because, I just wasn't advanced enough to play it, and needed some more time to get to that stage. If your child is ever frustrated to tears trying to accomplish something, just know that they are not quite ready yet. I have done this a number of times with my son's toys. If I see that a toy is too advanced and he just gets frustrated, I take it away until he has the developmental skills to play with it.
Choosing the Curriculum
Keeping your child's learning style and your purpose in mind, now you need to find the curriculum that best suits your child. My son is primarily a kinesthetic learner, but he also loves to write or scribble. So far our curriculum, I wrote down the areas that I wanted my tot school to cover.
- Alphabet sounds and recognition
- Number counting and recognition
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Reading: where I read a book to him, like one that I linked above
After I figured that out, I needed to find my curriculum and printables. Here are the printables that I use and really enjoy. I printed all my papers on card stock, put them in sheet protectors, and bought these wet/dry markers to use with them. This way, I made the curriculum once and had it available for the rest of my children later on.
With the alphabet lacing cards and matching cards, I made a master copy so that I wouldn't have to locate the file later on. For lacing cards, I cut them out and then glued them onto a thick poster board so that they would last.
When I was through printing and prepping all of my papers, I made a list of what we would do every day and as well as hands on activities to help my child learn and develop his fine and gross motor skills. I certainly did not want to do every activity every day because it would take far too long and it would become a little boring. So instead, I just worked on one activity per skill I wanted him to learn. To make it simple I came up with a different plan for every week day and then did the same plan every week. For instance, every Tuesday is the same and every Wednesday is the same. For example, this would be a sample of one of our days.
Sensory: Red sensory bin
Fine motor: Letter threading
Gross motor: Alphabet action cards
Numbers: Number song and counting sheet
Alphabet: Dot Paper
Book to Read: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
If you want to take a shortcut, click the picture below to download my worksheet curriculum.
Putting it all Together
Now that you have a run down of how to create or find the perfect curriculum for you let's review a little.
- Find your child's learning style
- Figure out why you want to do tot school
- Establish what your toddler needs to learn during your school time
- Find activities to teach them these skills
I hope that this helped you to tailor fit the perfect tot school curriculum for your little one and weed through all the truly amazing activities and printables there are in this arena of education. I would love to hear in the comments some of your favorite tot school activities and printables! :)