Reaching Terrific Toddlers


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Discover five building blocks for teaching

“No, Mommy! I don’t want to!” wailed my 2-year-old. She clung to
my neck as though I were sending her off to be inoculated.

I peeled her off me and went into the foreboding classroom with
her. Once inside, Tiffany was eager to play with the other children
and didn’t even glance back as I left the room.

As in Tiffany’s case, toddlers’ emotions are often extremely
intense and can change within minutes. Toddlers are torn between
their drive for independence and the realization that the world can
be a scary place.

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Toddlers aren’t intentionally difficult; their emotions are
simply stronger than their ability to control them. Toddlers are
active, curious, self-centered and cuddly. Toddlers are

Because of the myriad of challenges toddlers face in their rapid
growth, we need to create a classroom that provides warmth and
security as they learn about God.

Work with these five building blocks to reach toddlers in your

1. Greet children at the door. The teacher is
the toddler’s first impression of the classroom. Helpers may come
and go, but toddlers will be more secure if the teacher is someone
who teaches the class regularly.

After the greeting, show each child a teaching prop, such as a
puppet or a picture, that’ll be used in that day’s lesson. The prop
will pique a child’s curiosity and help in the transition between
leaving the parent and joining the class.

2. Teach creatively. Toddler attention spans
are short, and their growing bodies demand constant activity.
Encourage toddlers to imitate hand and body actions as you teach.
Also provide items they can see, hear, touch and taste that relate
to the Bible story. For example, use pictures, sound effects,
stuffed animals and animal crackers to teach children about Noah’s
ark. Finger plays and songs with motions help active toddlers
learn. Sing songs with rhyming words to help them remember facts
from the story.

3. Maintain routine. After deciding to have a
special Easter service for our toddlers, we changed our teaching
format and rearranged the furniture. Our toddlers were frustrated
and exploded with temper tantrums.

The children no longer felt secure in their classroom. We
learned that instead of changing our entire format to accommodate a
special teaching, we should’ve incorporated special teachings into
the established format.

Don’t rush toddlers from one activity to another. To indicate an
activity change, use a ritual such as ringing a bell, singing a
song or quoting a special poem as you lead kids to the next
activity area.

4. Guide toddlers’ playtime. Toddlers need to
be taught how to play together. Supervise toddlers at all times so
that arguments are addressed before they begin.

To lessen the risks of fighting over the same toy, provide more
than one of an identical toy. With our older toddlers, we’ve
created the Giving Game for when conflict occurs. Instead of asking
each child who had the toy first, we ask who chooses to be a giver.
We continue to demonstrate this “game” by giving the toyless child
a different toy and encouraging both children to give their toys to
others. We teach that giving makes our hearts happy. Many times,
other children rush over to play the Giving Game.

If you have an extreme case and neither child gives in, set a
timer for a predetermined amount and give each child an opportunity
to play with the disputed item.

5. Discipline calmly. Even though we can
minimize confrontations by adapting classroom activities to meet
toddlers’ growing needs, the need for calm discipline may still
arise. If so, remove the child from the situation and use positive
phrases such as, “We use our hands to help our friends, not to hurt
them,” rather than negative phrases such as, “Don’t hit Sally!
That’s mean!”

Virginia Shunkwiler is a nursery coordinator at her church
in Minnesota.


Make your toddler classroom a safe place with these tips:

  • Follow these teacher/toddler ratios: 12 to 23 months-one
    teacher per five children; 24 to 35 months-one teacher per 7
  • Adult chairs (especially rocking chairs) should be removed from
    the room or placed in a protected area. Replace small child-size
    chairs with small carpet squares.
  • Make sure all bookshelves are anchored or nailed to the walls
    to avoid tipping over. Also, place heavy toys on lower
  • Place padding on protruding edges of tables and
  • All electrical outlets should have protective covers. No cords
    should be accessible.
  • Keep all classroom decorations that contain staples or paper
    clips out of reach.
  • Supervise craft activities to prevent small items from being
    placed in the nose or ears.
  • To avoid choking, insist that children eat only while seated.
    Don’t feed the following foods to toddlers: round foods such as
    wieners, raisins or peanuts; or hard, non-soluble foods such as
    carrots, celery or apple peels.

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