To the frustration of many infant/toddler teachers in getting ideas for lesson planning, they find that it is a lot easier to find a multitude of ideas for preschool children and older. However, when it comes to finding lesson plan ideas for toddlers, you can be searching for hours without nothing more than a few Pinterest ideas that don’t really fit with what you were originally looking for.
I totally get all that, but, let’s take a step back and try to get down to the basics. When thinking about infants and toddlers there should be two main questions that we need to be asking ourselves: 1) "What should infants and toddlers in my classroom know?" and 2) "How do we know if the children are developing properly and learning what we are teaching them?” If you were standing in front of me, how would you answer those two fundamental questions?
If I may be bold, I might think that for the "what" question, you may have indicated that this could be referencing the curriculum or the experiences and activities you plan and use in your daily interactions with the children in your classroom. And for the "how" question, I’m willing to bet that you linked it back to a form of assessment or observations that you use to indicate if a child has mastered a certain skill or domain. Am I right? Well, if I am, let’s dive a little deeper into the topic.
What Even is Included in an Infant and Toddler Curriculum?
As we learn more about infant brain development, we have come to realize that the intent of the infant and toddler curriculum is designed to meet the individual needs of the children, and not so much a preplanned script as it is in older children’s curriculums. Infants may or may not be interested in the stages of a butterfly but may be more interested in the textures of a stuffed butterfly toy, or the crinkly sound its wings make when they squeeze it. Or heck, they might even be more interested in the fact that their hands can actually open and shut on command!
As early childhood educators, we know that we are not babysitters, and caring for young children is NOT babysitting. Caring for infants and toddlers is unlike teaching any other age group! The reason is an infant and toddler curriculum is not based on academics, but more on developing four key components. Those components are:
- Responsive relationships between the children, teachers, and families
- Creating predictable schedules and routines
- Promoting a healthy and safe learning environment which encourages free and active exploration
- Ensuring there is a school to home connection (i.e. a culturally and linguistically inclusive environment)
When looking at these four core components what should strike out at you the most is one common key ingredient…you, the teacher. Young children need to have a caring teacher on their side when they come into our programs. They need someone who is going to create lessons based on their interests and their abilities, and not from a book that says they must learn their ABCs and 123s. Those will come in time as they get older. For now, the infants and toddlers in your classroom need you to meet them where they are now and scaffold their learning towards something they can achieve.
One great tool to use in knowing what skills to develop is looking at developmental milestone trackers. Such trackers can be the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, or the CDC Developmental Milestone Tracker. Some state departments even have content standards for each age group of early childhood, including infants. If you are unsure of where to locate these standards, click on the Early Learning Standards and Guidelines link and find your state. This resource has your state department’s information embedded as a hyperlink for easier access. One you locate your state and their state department, I encourage you to look through your age group’s content standards to see what your state feels a child in your classroom should be able to achieve during their time with you. These content standards are typically based on child development research, and will give you a good idea of what to plan for when making your infant and toddler lesson plans.
What Makes an Effective Curriculum?
It goes without saying, to have an effective curriculum you must have meaningful experiences for the children. This goes for any age group, but more specifically for infants and toddlers. As mentioned before, infants don’t care about how many sides a cube has, but rather what does this cube feel like? What does it taste like? Why are there pointy edges on it? How come it makes a funny sound when I bang it on the floor? These are the types of experiences that mean more to infants and toddlers as they are actively engaging with their environment and exploring with their senses. Active exploration and connecting it to everyday life is truly where you should be focusing your attention on lesson planning. Not so much the colors and shapes of certain flash cards, as this is meaningless to very young children, and quite frankly, boring.
But, if you really wanted to know what the research has been saying in what makes an effective curriculum, don’t take my word for it, let’s look at what the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has to say on the matter. According to them and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, indicators of an effective curriculum should have (2009):
- Actively engaged infants and toddlers
- A set of clear goals that are shared between teaching staff and families
- Evidence based. In other words, it is based on research-oriented knowledge about best practices in the field of early care and education.
- The experiences and activities are meaningful and intentional and involve infants' and toddlers' engagement with active exploration of their environment.
- The experiences and activities build on infants' and toddlers' prior learning and experiences (aka scaffolding).
- The curriculum is comprehensive and addresses infants' and toddlers' multiple developmental domains such as physical (gross and fine motor), language, cognitive, and social and emotional.
What About Effective Assessments?
Ok, have I convinced you yet as to what makes an effective curriculum and lesson planning in an infant and toddler classroom? Well, now that we have that out of the way, we still have one more piece of the puzzle to address…assessments.
Can we even DO assessments in an infant and toddler classroom? Of course you can! Gathering information about the development of infants and toddlers in your classroom helps you make informed decisions about their growth and development, and helps you better identify their needs or any concerns that may require further attention by either a specialist or more in-depth individualized attention from you.
Effective assessments are those that are developmentally appropriate and take into consideration the whole child. NAEYC refers to the whole child as focusing on the developmental appropriateness of your activities, taking into consideration the child’s culture and diverse background, and including the family.
The use of assessments should be conducted in such a manner where they feel more like a play activity and are used to support the growth and development of the children in your classroom, and less like they are taking their SAT’s for college prep. Believe it or not, some teachers used to assess young children in this manner. What they quickly found out was that this method does NOT work for younger children, and they were not getting accurate results. It must come naturally, meaning, if you wanted to see if a child knew how to grasp a ball, you would start to play with a ball with the child and notate whether they can pick the ball up or not. Other ways assessments can be done is through observation during play. An intentional teacher will place certain materials out into the play space and see how the children interact with them. If the teacher was trying to assess whether a child could crawl, they would place some high interest items slightly out of a child’s reach and observe if the child attempts to crawl to get their favorite toy. Such observations would then be formally written in the child’s portfolio to reference later.
As with effective curriculums, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (2009) have a few guidelines when it comes to effective assessments. Those guidelines are:
- Assessments need to developmentally appropriate and culturally and linguistically sensitive for infants and toddlers in your classroom.
- Families are encouraged to be a part of the assessment process and know when you are conducting them.
- Assessments are done in realistic settings that reflect a child’s daily interactions and experiences and accurately reflect what you have been teaching them.
- Your assessments are evidence based (i.e. backed by anecdotal notes or pictures to show mastery or engagement in an activity)
- Assessments are used to promote the growth and development of each child.
- You are using the assessment tools as originally designed and your evidence is collected in realistic ways.
Stay current on the research.
But knowing about effective curriculums and assessments isn’t enough when it comes to writing effective lesson plans for infants and toddlers. One of the most effective ways to ensure you are conducting age-appropriate activities and lessons with the children is to stay current on the research in the field and attend regular professional development trainings and seminars. Veteran teachers in the field will tell you that one way to do this is to join professional organizations, such as NAEYC, or other early childhood organizations that are up to date on the current research trends. Networking with other teachers in your age group can help as well, as you can bounce ideas off one another.
Most importantly though would be to use your number one resource, the child’s families! Too often this valuable resource gets overlooked by early childhood professionals. However, the research is all too clear, promoting positive and effective relationships with families greatly improves a child’s academic outcomes from birth until high school! What better way to build this great foundation then is with you, a child’s earliest teacher and their families! From this relationship you can gain valuable insight as to what interests the child, and from there you can start to build individual lesson plans based on your state’s content standards and the child’s needs.
A final thought.
We hope that this was helpful in your search for infant and toddler lesson plans. I know this wasn’t the short and quick answer you were hoping for, but we hope it was a start for you. The ball is now in your court. Your next steps should be to communicate with your families and find out what interests each child. In doing so, you may start to see a common interest amongst your students. From there, build on that interest and link it back to your state’s standards.
What does the developmental milestone tracker say a child should be able to do at this age? Should they be crawling? Should they be starting to grasp or use the pincher grip? How would you create an activity to get them to start to grab items or give them the incentive to crawl? All these questions can be answered by talking with the children’s families, linking it back to your assessments, and trying a few activities out. Some may fail miserably, but some may be such a hit that you’ll find yourself doing them for days on end. And that is OK! Young children love repetition, especially if it is doing something they enjoy. And believe it or not, they are learning from that repetition.
If you want further guidance on lesson planning for infants and toddlers, we do offer some courses to help:
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Copple, C.,& Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice for programs serving children ages birth through 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for theEducation of Young Children.
Heffron, M. C., & Murch, T. (2010). Reflective Supervision and Leadership in Infant and Early C hildhood Programs. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/image/public_policy/Ethics%20Position%20Statement2011_09202013update.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009).Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PSDAP.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2003). Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation: Building an effective, accountable system in programs for children birth through age 8. Position Statement with Expanded Resources. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/CAPEexpand.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2009). Where We Stand on Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/StandCurrAss.pdf
Infant Toddler Curriculum. Virtual Lab School. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.virtuallabschool.org/infant-toddler/program-management/lesson-3