Oh two year olds! The age of exploration and questioning the world! What a fabulous age to be. Everything is new, exciting and filled with adventure.
As a teacher, how are you supposed to encourage this mindset, yet at the same time teach these young explorers how to work together as a team, respect space and follow adult directions?
I know that you have heard the word "play" before. Play is the foundation for learning in every age! Simple, hands-on experiences teach language, social and academic skills, and it is simpler then you may think to incorporate this into a two year old room.
Here are 7 simple ways to support your classroom and your children's development:
1) Create a space that is safe, free-flowing and organized.
Sounds easy right? Well.... as you know, safe and free are two words that don't belong together in a toddlers vocabulary!
Your positioning of classroom materials, furniture and choice of decor will directly impact the behavior of your group.
Create a variety of spaces within the classroom that have their own purpose. Use furniture, carpets, small tables and rugs to define each space.
Examples of areas:
- Art Area
- Block Area
- Quiet Corners/Calming Area
- Animals/Living things/Science Area
- Dramatic Play Area
- Sensory Area
- Group Time/Large Motor Game Area
Be mindful of colors and materials that you use. Bright and flashy colors tend to bring out energy (and sometimes chaos). Instead, use earthy tones (greens, blues, browns, etc). This will create a calmer energy.
When decorating walls, it is okay to have some empty space! Think about your home. Do you have the entire wall covered with pictures, photos, posters, etc? Probably not! Think in this same way for your classroom. Too much to look at and too many items on the walls can create too much stimulation for young children, resulting in misbehavior.
2) Don't have too many materials out.
Too many materials mean chaos! Consider only placing four or five toys in each area of your classroom. Rotate them out every week so there are new items (this will spark excitement and focus).
When you place a material out, put it on a shelf or in a bucket that is not shared. This creates clear and concise boundaries for these materials - easily definable when it is time to put them away. Take a photo of that material and tape it to the shelf or bucket it belongs in. For toddlers, both visual and auditory cues are a must.
In the art area (always have an easel area readily available) -
Week 1: Crayons, paint, child-safe scissors and glue sticks.
Week 2: Dot paint, stickers, child-safe scissors and glue sticks.
Week 3: Markers, empty boxes, child-safe scissors and glue sticks.
Week 4: Scrap paper from the month,
Then rotate again!
In the block area -
Week 1: Wooden blocks, cars, plastic people/animals.
Week 2: See through blocks, cars, plastic people/animals.
Week 3: Magnetic blocks, cars, plastic people/dinosaurs
Week 4: Recycled materials (empty boxes, paper towel rolls, tissue boxes), cars, plastic people/dinosaurs
Then rotate again!
Here is a link to the ITERS (Infant/Toddler Environmental Rating Scale) and ECERS (Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale). Keep these guidelines in mind when setting up your classroom.
3) Prepare Activities that require minimal adult-direction.
When you create your plan for the day, make sure that you have activities that the children can do on their own, with you there for support.
Instead of "cutesy little crafts" that require long attention spans, self-direction and, let's face it - too much supervision, plan some activities that spark creativity, imagination and social/language development.
If you are going to have formal "center time activities" for two year-olds, provide materials that have open-ended "products". Instead, focus on the process.
Table 1 (following directions): Make Playdough together (Here is a great homemade playdough recipe). Have the children interested, sit near each other and take turns completing each step. Beforehand, create a visual board - make a visual recipe for the playdough. You can download and example here.
Table 2 (Sensory and Creativity): Playdough and child-safe scissors, Popsicle sticks, plastic animal.
Center 3 (Movement and Vocabulary): Large Movement games. Jumping to the shape! If indoors, use painters tape to create large shapes on the floor. Write the same shapes on a three by 5 card. Hold up one 3x5 card and ask the children to name that shape and jump to it! This also works for letters, number and taped pictures (pictures of items that relate to your current theme).
Here is a video of this activity completed by a three year old who is learning about space! Each letter is the a different letter a planet starts with. They are doing this activity outside, so they wrote the letters in sidewalk chalk instead of tape.
Some Early Childhood Teachers and Homeschooling families have requested a sample daily schedule to plan out activities. I have created a plan for you. Feel free to modify it as necessary to fit the the unique needs to the children you are teaching. You can find this plan HERE.
4) Change the focus of your circle time.
Circle time isn't just about telling time, the weather, learning the calendar and such. Actually these topics are very advanced for most preschoolers, as they are abstract concepts.
Time, to a child, is what is happening next in their daily schedule - not what number corresponds to how light it is outside.
Circle time at this age is about group cooperation, taking turns, sharing space and following simple directions.
A group game is one of the simplest ways to teach children these concepts.
A successful circle routine:
- Welcome Song (that involves movement)
- Group Game (Also involves movement) like this one here!
- Short story! One that engages the children is best. Yoga ones have been so popular! Here is a link to some great ones!
- Job chart - Write each child's name on a Popsicle stick or piece of large paper that can be reused. While the children are sitting down, tell them that when you call their name, they are to get up, place their name on the photo of the job they would like to do that day - then line up or move on to the next activity you have in the day. It is okay if multiple children want to do the same job. This age is about teaching partnership, social skills and taking turns - so what better way to do that then to share a job with a friend?
Examples of toddler-approved jobs:
- Fish feeder
- Clean up helper
- Water plants/gardner
- Light helper (turn lights off)
- Greeter (greets all the children as they transition)
- Class counter (counts how many children are in the class as you move to transition)
- Lunch helper (helps get lunches on the table)
5) Schedule larger blocks of time for indoor and outdoor activities.
Create a day filled with large chunks of time. As you know, children aren't too fond of transitions! Leaving ample time to explore provides opportunities for building friendships, encourages imagination and creativity.
Recent studies state that children should spend at least 45 minutes in each free-play setting. But how are you supposed to get everything done and let them play for that long?
Here is an example of a morning schedule:
8:00 am - arrival/open play
8:45 am - greeting/morning circle
9:00 am - indoor free-play and centers
9:45am - clean up time
9:55 am - wash hands/bathroom
10:15 am - snack time
10:40 am - outside time
11:45 am - clean up time and transition song
12:00 pm - bathroom/wash hands
12:15 pm - lunch
12:40 pm - nap time
5) Create a calming space that provides hands-on and simple ways to support their emotional development.
If we teach children simple and effective coping strategies while they are young, they will be able to utilize those skills and strategies through their teenage and adult years.
Have you ever wondered why young children get so upset, acting out in a meltdown or tantrum?
You are not alone! According to Robert Plutchick, professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, more than 90 different emotions have been identified!
Unfortunately, humans aren’t born knowing how to process their emotions or problem solve. Throughout your life, you learned what techniques help you calm down.
The same goes for children in a classroom. They are unsure how to manage and/or handle these emotions. There is a lot of expectations throughout the day (listen, share space, take turns, wait, stop, let's do this instead... etc).
Using a hands-on and simple sensory-supports will help children learn self-soothing methods and how to manage their own emotions.
We created a Soothing Sammy Kit for parents and preschool teachers.The children's book, along with Sammy the plush dog and parent/teacher guide, creates a complementary set of tools that every home (or classroom) with young children will appreciate.
1.The "Soothing Sammy" children's story teaches different calm down strategies. In the book, children visit Sammy, at his dog house looking for help when they feel upset. Sammy teaches them how to calm down, identify why they were mad and encourage them to create a solution. Your child will learn:
- How to process emotions.
- How to communicate feelings.
- How to problem-solve.
- How to use their sensory system to calm down.
2. Sammy the Plush dog - Learn how to construct a "Sammy house" for Sammy, the plush toy dog (included) to live in. Sammy's house incorporates common household items talked about in the "Soothing Sammy" book. These items help children calm down when they are upset. This house helps children and families implement the calming strategies learned in the Sammy book. .
3. The parent guide discusses a variety of ways which your family can incorporate Sammy's lessons into your everyday life, including:
- Sharing space and items with other children.
- Encouraging your child to listen.
- Helping your child express their feelings.
- Preventing your child from becoming frustrated.
- Transitioning to and from different activities.
- Following Directions.
Here is more information on Soothing Sammy!
6) Have the classroom rules displayed in a way that is easy to understand and simple for children to refer to.
A daily schedule is a must! For children of this age, a visual schedule will go a long way! Take a picture of the children in your class completing each portion of your day and place the photos in order (within your daily schedule).
As children ask when mommy is coming - you can point to the picture that resembles that time. Point to the photos before and say "mommy will come after circle, snack and outside time"!
This will also help children understand what transition is coming next. They don't necessarily want to clean up, but if they know that snack or outside time is coming next - maybe they will change their mind!
Remember - children do best with auditory and visual cues when they are transitioning. Before each transition, give a five and two minute warning and use a clean up song on the CD or sing a clean up song when you are cleaning up!
7) Make sure their tummy's are full and they have plenty of rest time.
Make sure that you have bathroom time, snack time and rest time available throughout the day. :) Having children's basic needs met is the foundation to happy and pleasant behavior.
There you have it! The secret to a successful 2's classroom! Don't forget to include every parent in this journey. Consistency between home and school is a must. Send home a few photos of each child during the week. Write down some silly things they say and encourage parents to read a story with their child before they leave. Children will feel like their parent is just as excited to be at school and part of their day, even when they aren't there.
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