5 Easy Ways to Teach Your Toddler at Home
Last year, I enrolled Chulengo in preschool to encourage him to socialize with kids his age. He was making friends, learning new skills, and blossoming. I was relying on his part-time preschool gig to give me some time alone to bond with our new baby, Bambino, get errands done, schedule appointments, and find room to breathe. And like the rest of the world, those plans fell through when the pandemic hit.
After Chulengo’s preschool shut down, I felt stuck. I panicked. While I would like to say I had a few silent cries in the shower to sort things out, I was much more dramatic. With so much uncertainty: our health (mental, physical, and emotional), our jobs, the economy, our ability to safely go out in public, it took months to figure out what to do.
I’ve always heard how important it is for our children to socialize with others. Preschool, playdates, and outings to the park are crucial. Socialization becomes more critical around ages three and four…Chulengo’s age right now.
And now, he’s at home with me not socializing with kids his age, not going through his preschool curriculum, not getting any experience from the outside world. How could I possibly make it up to him? How could I, without any training in preschool education, make it up to him? How could I help him grow? How would I know what to do?
Well, I did the only thing I knew how to do…bucked up and figured out how to make this work. So, I’ve spent the last few months finding what path (or paths) to take—finding out how to teach Chulengo—finding out how to help him grow. And in all honesty, how to keep us from going insane at home.
So, after researching and piecing together some traditional ideas with some non-conventional ones, I have come up with five different ways to teach a toddler at home.
Download Playing Preschool with the Busy Toddler
What is Playing Preschool? Created by a former preschool teacher, it’s an e-book program designed to make teaching preschool at home simple, fun, and engaging. With 190 days of planned lessons, divided into 19 units each, each year of the program is exactly what we were looking for:
- Straightforward, aka simple, which is required when juggling an infant and a toddler, with my husband’s unpredictable work schedule…during a pandemic. Once I familiarized myself with the program, the amount of time required for prepping has been minimal.
- Thorough units that touch on many diverse topics, promoting reading, math, science, and art, yet maintain a good routine for our expectations.
- Play-based activities that revolve around exploration and creativity.`
- Economical, with the cost of the program as little as $0.18/day, I really couldn’t find anything more reasonable that required such little work and preparation from me.
Playing Preschool is the perfect solution for my recovering Type-A personality that longs for simplicity, flexibility, and creativity.
After purchasing the program, I downloaded the file, printed it out, put it in a binder, skimmed through the details, and boom! I was teaching preschool to Chulengo the next week.
To make this experience unique for Chulengo, I started calling Playing Preschool, “Yod School”. It is a simple name that is easy for him to pronounce. Yod/Yaaad means “learn” in Farsi. Each night, we cuddle in bed and talk about what we did at Yod School and discuss the plans for the next day.
Each lesson plan consists of our daily calendar routine (which has quickly become a favorite of Chulengo’s), an opening activity, a read-aloud session, and discussion with a book related to the day’s lesson, and two different activities related to the lesson plan. One activity promotes free-play with a little bit of direction, and the other activity requires me to be more hands-on.
If Chulengo is super attentive, I get through the lesson relatively quickly. Somedays, I can complete our lesson within half an hour, which leaves the rest of the day for other activities.
If Chulengo is a bit antsy, has a harder time focusing, or (let’s be real) downright refuses to participate, then I break up the lesson throughout the day. It all depends on our schedule and Chulengo’s temperament.
Now that I am quite a few weeks into the Playing Preschool, I am comfortable spending just a few minutes each night to set up for the next day’s lesson. I spend much more time engaging with Chulengo through the lessons than I do preparing for the lessons, which I love.
Playing Preschool has been an answer to my prayers. As I scrambled to find something stimulating for Chulengo that was also routine enough for me, this program has gone beyond my expectations. It’s the perfect solution for our current preschool debacle. The activities that we do each day are themed, fun, and easy for me to set up. They keep Chulengo engaged and help me feel like I am actually doing something to stimulate his brain to help him grow. Thanks to Playing Preschool, I go to sleep, knowing I am enough for Chulengo.
Join The Activity Room with Hands on As We Grow
While I fell in love with the Playing Preschool program, I still had like eight other hours in the day in which I needed to keep Chulengo entertained. With the local parks closed, he was quickly growing tired of the few activities I had up my sleeve.
It’s a big enough struggle to parent, let alone try to be creative enough to come up with an activity and then have the supplies on hand to actually do them with Chulengo, only to have him engaged for 30 seconds.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
I want to spend quality time with Chulengo and Bambino. I want to make memories for them to look back on their childhood. While I could just wing it and hope to have some fun (because I’m sure we still will) — I also want to have some sort of plan!
I realized simple activities are key! And The Activity Room was the perfect solution for planning easy, yet engaging. activities.
I first learned about The Activity Room when I came across Jamie’s Hands On As We Grow Instagram account and took the 7-day-challenge. I was hooked immediately.
If you don’t know Jamie of Hands On As We Grow, let me give you a quick intro — she has this knack for simplifying activities down so they’re so easy to do, you have no reason not to do them. She also makes sure to use supplies that you have in your home, so there’s no time wasted running to the store getting the things you need. And she’s all about the fun!
The Activity Room is my dream come true. With membership, I get activity email alerts, connection to the online calendar, and access to the member community and the activity library. I’ve received grab & go bag prep ideas, quick-reference cards for activities, bonus week activity plans, and more.
For once, I feel like I have a handle on spontaneous, engaging, age-appropriate activities for Chulengo. I have tapped into a more creative side where I can now come up with things on the fly.
The Activity Room has been a perfect solution for keeping Chulengo entertained with ease. We are bonding over activities. Chulengo is learning, engaging, and playing. I get to spend quality time with him and include Bambino.
Discuss Topics Related to Your Profession & Hobbies
Before having kids, I worked as a Physical Therapist. So, I have started teaching Chulengo different things related to my profession.
We talk a lot about the body: bones, muscles, organs, and other body parts. (This has worked well with Chulengo’s recent obsession with Halloween and skeletons.) I create songs, teach new vocabulary, or give explanations on various topics. I incorporate exercises, movements, and balance activities in activities. Chulengo has even become a big fan of “taking” my blood pressure, haha.
While I know it isn’t common to teach physical therapy-related things to young kids, I have found it a great way to incorporate different skills, keep things fresh, and also prevent me from getting rusty while outside of the clinic.
This technique can work for any trade or profession. You don’t have to be a teacher to teach. There are so many ways to incorporate our knowledge into daily activities with our children…think math skills, role-playing work-related interactions, tech skills, and more. In what ways can you teach your children about things you use in your profession?
Practice Life Skills
As adults, and especially as parents, we complete dozens of life skills every single day. It’s easy to whiz through these tasks, but there are great learning opportunities for toddlers with every basic task.
I pick an activity each day and having Chulengo do it alongside me. For example, when I am washing produce, he pulls his stool over to the sink and helps. Chulengo has enjoyed learning how to water the plants outside. He uses his own little watering can. It took a bit of time to teach him not to overwater the plants, but he has the hang of it now.
Click here for a list of over 90 different, creative, essential life skills to practice with your toddler. Keep in mind; your toddler won’t be mastering each of these tasks at such a young age. But, walking them through how to do each of these tasks will teach them invaluable skills… and keep it interesting for you too.
Develop An Emotional Foundation
Whenever I pictured myself teaching Chulengo, I always imagined doing STEM projects, pretend-play, and arts & crafts. But, I just recently adjusted my focus to include building Chulengo’s emotional foundation.
My favorite tool for emotional development is the Generation Mindful Time-In ToolKit. What is the Time-In ToolKit? It’s a guided resource to help kids and adults embrace and nurture their social and emotional skills, through mindful, positive conversation and play.
The Time-In Toolkit includes:
- Digital Manual & Printables, which I highly recommend reading thoroughly. The Time-In Took Kit is really comprehensive and having this guide was crucial to implementing it in a positive light
- My Feelings Chart, with 32 different labeled pictures of feelings categorized into four different categories:
- Unpleasant & High Energy
- Pleasant & High Energy
- Unpleasant & Low Energy
- Pleasant & Low Energy
- My Calming Strategies, demonstrating 12 different techniques to calm down. Chulengo has a few favorites: to hug a teddy bear or pillow, take three deep breaths, and close his eyes.
- Calming Down Steps, a guide for Chulengo to use during his Time-In
- Activity Mat
- Meet the Peacemakers & Emotions, animal friends to help Chulengo relate to emotions
- My Feelings Match Cards, a fun game of matching to introduce and review different types of emotions
Instead of trying to avoid meltdowns, I am teaching Chulengo to acknowledge his feelings and learn how to manage them safely and efficiently. By enforcing Time-Ins, Chulengo is learning to process his emotions in a safe and comfortable place. He is starting to respond to his emotions rather than react.
I created this calming corner in Chulengo’s room, using the Time-In Toolkit, and we have both come a long way in understanding his emotional needs and responses. Honestly, I have become more aware of my own emotional needs and responses, also.
Our positive interactions depend on a mutual understanding of Chulengo’s emotional state. When he is aware of how he is feeling, he can verbalize his needs more efficiently. When I am aware of how he is feeling, I can connect with him proactively. Instead of him hitting and throwing things, hearing him say, “I am mad,”, “I am sad”, or “I am scared” is much more helpful.
While we definitely have some explosive meltdowns, as he is only three-years-old, we are both learning to work together to minimize the volatility of these emotional moments. We are focusing on improving our connection and decreasing stress during emotional moments, which makes the day much more enjoyable.
What teaching looks like for me may be very different than what teaching looks like for you. It is going to vary from household to household, child to child, day to day. We have to find what works for our children and run with it. I have realized that as parents, we are much more capable of teaching our children than we give ourselves credit. We are more than enough for our children, even on our worse days. We are enough.