5 Building Blocks for Teaching Terrific Toddlers



Discover five building blocks for teaching terrific toddlers in your church nursery.

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“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.

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 terrific!

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 church:

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 children.
  • 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 shelves.
  • Place padding on protruding edges of tables and countertops.
  • 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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5 Building Blocks for Teaching Terrific Toddlers
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