Look for teachers who understand a toddler's innate curiosity and enthusiasm.

Checklist for Toddler Curriculum Programs

by Julie Christensen

A high-quality toddler curriculum may seem deceptively simple -- no flashcards, tests or complicated drills here. Instead, toddlers need opportunities to explore through hands-on activities. Even simple daily activities, such as washing hands or eating snacks, teach toddlers valuable skills. The most important aspect of a toddler curriculum is not the curriculum itself, but the nurturing relationship between teachers and children.

1. Early Literacy

Toddlers aren't ready for formal reading instruction, but they love books. No toddler curriculum is complete without a ready stash of sturdy board books, made specifically for toddlers. Think "Where's Spot?" by Eric Hill, "Dear Zoo," by Rod Campbell, or "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," by Michael Rosen. And what's a book shelf without a cozy corner for reading together? Every toddler room should have a rocking chair or some bean bags and soft pillows. Experienced toddler teachers avoid workbooks and flashcards, but introduce literacy in fun, accessible ways. Point out elements of print to toddlers, such as that print runs from the top of the page to the bottom. Model writing on charts and papers. Use flannel board figures, props and costumes to bring stories to life. Toddlers who love books grow into children who love reading.

2. Messy Art

Toddlers crave tactile experiences, which is why they get into water, toothpaste, cereal or anything else they can get their hands on. Toddler curriculum should include lots of messy activities -- play dough, water tables, sand, finger painting and collage. At this age, toddlers don't care about the finished product. They just want to have fun exploring.

3. Hands-On Play

Toddlers learn through playing, so a toddler curriculum should include lots of pretend play. A typical toddler classroom usually has a play kitchen, blocks, dolls, trucks and other simple games. Teachers can introduce academics through play. A teacher can count blocks or make patterns out of Legos. The youngest toddler doesn't usually know how to pretend, but may bang toys together or dump play food out instead. Teachers can model how to pretend "kitchen" or "store" to help build skills.

4. Active Play

Busy toddlers need plenty of active play time to build little bodies. A toddler curriculum should include several periods of outdoor play every day. A toddler playground should include a sand area, toddler-sized slides and swings, and an assortment of outdoor toys, such as balls, bikes and sand toys. Toddler teachers usually plan some indoor motor activities, as well. Toddlers love to walk across a balance beam or play simple games like "Duck, Duck, Goose."

5. Social Emotional Growth

A typical day in a toddler classroom includes several meltdowns or tantrums. That's because toddlers are still learning to cope with intense feelings and situations. Wise toddler teachers know how to ward off some of these meltdowns by planning plenty of busy activities, along with some quiet, calm-down time. Teachers offer nurturing support and help toddlers handle challenging situations, such as sharing and taking turns.

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