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Creating an Engaging Toddler Curriculum to Support Learning & Development

Feb 26, 2024    |   Infant & Toddler Learning

Toddlerhood is a fun and exciting stage of development that is filled with growth and learning. As toddler educators, we have the impactful role of building and facilitating a high-quality curriculum that supports learning and development for the little ones in our care. In this article, we explore toddler development and share ideas for creating an enriching and engaging curriculum for these early learners. 

Understanding Toddler Learning and Development

Toddlers are filled with excitement, movement, and ideas. At this stage of development, children love to be active and learn by exploring the environment around them. They also become more aware of their likes and dislikes and start to develop skills in self-regulation and language. This means that toddlers have strong ideas and big feelings but less developed communication and self-regulation skills, a combination that can lead to challenging behaviors, such as hitting, biting, and forms of physical aggression. 

For more information about toddler development, you might enjoy checking out G2K’s developmental milestone printables, below. Each printable, available in English and Spanish, offers age-specific information about social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skill development. 

Creating an Engaging Toddler Curriculum

By drawing upon our experience with toddlers and our knowledge of toddler development, we can plan an effective, engaging toddler curriculum for our early childhood programs.  Following are key elements to keep in mind when creating toddler curriculum, coupled with suggestions for structuring developmentally appropriate and inspiring classrooms, activities, and daily routines.

Relationships at the Center

Responsive relationships with caregivers are vital to toddler growth and learning. An article from NAEYC explains that, “toddlers in thriving relationships with special adults feel safe, protected, appreciated, and loved…Children use adults as secure bases from which to explore their world and to return to when they need to feel safe or desire food, attention, or a hug. Young children who experience secure relationships are happier, kinder, more social, less anxious, and better learners.” 

There are a number of specific actions we can take to build and reinforce trusting and nurturing relationships with the toddlers in our care. Examples include:

  • Spending one-on-one time with each child and enjoying simple activities together,  like reading books 
  • Engaging in back-and-forth communication with children throughout the day 
  • Responding with gentleness and empathy to a toddler’s calls for attention, such as by offering a hug when you notice a child crying
  • Acknowledging children’s feelings, by saying things like “you are so happy this morning!” or “you seem like you’re feeling really frustrated right now”. 

Opportunities for Movement

With their growing skills in movement and physical development, toddlers enjoy finding new ways to move their bodies. An article from the Maria Montessori Institute describes the benefits of movement-based activity: “Developing control of movements, balance and whole-body and hand-eye coordination are all essential in supporting healthy growth and development. Children learn to direct their actions in increasingly refined and delicate movements, the more control they gain the more they are able to bring purpose and intentionality to experiences as they explore their physical and abstract worlds. A virtuous circle begins where the mind and the body develop together: the more I can explore with my body the more I know and the more I know, the more I can explore.” 

A few simple ways to incorporate movement into your curriculum include…

Emphasis on Family Engagement

Open dialogue between families and care providers helps to set children up for success by creating as much consistency as possible between home and school. When parents and teachers partner together, they can learn from one another and collaborate to support the child’s learning and growth. 

An article about toddler curriculum-building from Neighborhood Villages describes the importance of partnering with families: “Family engagement is an integral piece of the work. As children’s first teachers and keepers of their unique histories, traditions, and cultures, families are engaged in a manner that aims to be thoughtful and culturally sustaining. Creating a meaningful connection between the classroom and the home is paramount.”

To encourage a culture of partnership with families, you might try…

  • Displaying family photos around the classroom at the child’s eye level 
  • Hosting community-building events in your classroom or program
  • Inviting families to participate in daily routines and activities 
  • Incorporating words from the child’s home language into your routines and communication 
  • Sharing photos of your day with each child’s family members or displaying photos from the day in your classroom for parents to view at drop-off and pick-up time.

Opportunities for Social-Emotional Skill-Building

Emotional skill-building during toddlerhood has a powerful impact on children’s relationships throughout their lives. Michigan’s Kids Matter website notes that, “Toddlers learn to explore and express feelings, engage with others, and become more independent when it comes to getting their needs met…During these years, toddlers are gaining skills to help set them on a path for school success. Trying new things, learning how to solve problems and get along with others will make a big difference in their school years and beyond.”

A few ways to support toddlers’ social-emotional skill-building include…

  • Sitting close by while toddlers engage with their peers so that you can jump in and provide guidance if conflict arises
  • Playing turn-taking games such as passing a ball back and forth to help children practice the art of sharing
  • Redirecting children from situations or activities that cause them emotional struggle  
  • Displaying consistent warmth and affection so that children know they can come to you for support 
  • Modeling positive conversations with other adults, so that children can observe examples of healthy, loving communication. 
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