The top 10 statements of the under-3 set — and why
these traits make teaching toddlers such a joy… and a
Exasperating,” “entertaining,” and “extraordinary” are among the
words used to describe toddlers. In fact, toddlerhood is probably
the most hair-raising, roller-coasterlike time on earth — until
the teenage years!
Teaching a room full of toddlers can bankrupt your energy
reserves. Yet the hilarious stories you gain can fill a book. More
importantly, though, is the influence you have over a young child.
Your investment of time and energy toward toddlers’ understanding
of God and their self-worth yields great rewards.
Developmentally speaking, a toddler is 12 to 36 months of age or
in the second and third years of life. While there’s a huge
maturity gap between a 12-month-old and a 36-month-old, these years
are clumped together due to a cluster of traits. To be a better
teacher, it’s helpful to review why toddlers act as they do. The
following are toddlers’ age-specific characteristics — in their
For a toddler, it’s all about me: my needs, my wants, my agenda.
Toddlers interpret events in a very individual way. For example, a
toddler who wants to leave the classroom and is stopped by a
teacher will take it as personal harassment.
Toddlers are self-absorbed, naive people who neither want to
share nor respect others’ needs. This explains why they grab toys
away from playmates. Because of their self-
interest, toddlers act in ways that seem offensive. They can
scream in rage until their needs are met, bite another child out of
anger, or knock down another’s block tower. Toddlers don’t
recognize or respect much, so they freely touch people and watch
others’ bathroom behavior. Many people call these children selfish
or insensitive, which is an accurate observation, but it’s because
they haven’t had enough life experience to think beyond their own
The worst thing an adult can do is belittle a toddler with
“being a brat.” Remember, we originally emerged from a perfect
environment where every need was met. Learning to satisfy our needs
in an appropriate way took years. To empathize, or see from another
person’s view, is a slow process as well. Because you have a room
full of self-seeking people, power struggles between you and them
or between each other are common. Skillful teachers don’t take a
toddler’s behavior personally, and they don’t insist that toddlers
share. To avoid eruptions, always provide duplicates of the same
toy or book.
Toddlers are the embodiment of energy with no thought for safety.
They climb, ram, throw, jump, touch, run, and push. They put
everything in their mouths. They resist any restraints, either
physically or verbally. Their mighty muscles and new nerve endings
literally need physical stimulation to properly mature. Yet these
children can’t predict behavior that causes injury or death. Driven
by curiosity and newfound motor skills, a toddler’s behavior can
exhaust you. Therefore, teaching toddlers isn’t for the faint of
Often teachers tell me they hesitate to take their classes out
to play because “the kids go wild.” This age requires tremendous
supervision. A supervision rule of thumb is one teacher for every
five or six toddlers. And here’s a secret to prevent accidental
poisonings: When a toddler gets access to a “no-no,” quickly cup
your hand over his mouth, rather than attempting to pry the item
from his hands.
Toddlers dart from one activity to another. And they can’t sit
still during storytime. Although kids this age have an increasing
interest in television and books, they usually sit still for only a
few minutes. A toddler’s attention span isn’t fully formed, and
toddlers need an assortment of brief activities. It can be
frustrating to corral a group of toddlers to the craft table only
to have one jump up with, “I’m done!”
As toddlers mature into their third year, and with the help of
loving adults, they’ll be able to sit still for more detailed
activities. Attention span is like a muscle: The more it’s used the
stronger and longer it grows. This is why reading aloud to a baby
is a good start. Read short, simple picture books. Then gradually
move up to ones with single words. In the toddler years, read books
with easy story lines. The progression of attention eventually
makes it easier for a toddler to focus on longer stories and, in
time, chapter books.