Working with toddlers

Last month marked eighteen months living here and working at the sweetest little nursery school. Oh, you guys, can I just tell you about the nine toddlers who fill my days with joy and frustration and sticky fingers and belly laughs and noise? They're amazing. Truly, wonderfully amazing. (And frustrating. But amazing.)

This time at our sweet school has been so valuable. I remember coming home after I first began working there, completely intimidated by such patient and loving teachers and the smart, careful language they used while guiding little ones through each day. I'd been nannying and babysitting kids since I practically was one myself, and I came into the job with tricks up my sleeve and a fairly good grasp on early childhood development. But all that paled in comparison to what I've learned here.

I forget things if I don't write them down, so here, for posterity, are a few things I've internalized:

1) Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. Give the children the time and space to do something themselves, working through frustration to succeed. It's an incredibly valuable lesson.

2) Narrate. Our toddlers are all between the ages of one and two. They're at varying stages of language development. The best thing we can do to foster language growth is to, quite literally, talk them through their days. "You're stacking a blue block on top of your red one!" "We're going to change your diaper now. I'm going to put my gloves on!" "You're patting the baby's back so gently!"

3) Give words (and tones) to emotions. The best way to curb our toddlers' meltdowns is to get down on their level and validate what they're feeling. "You're feeling so frustrated! You really wanted that toy!" "It's getting close to lunchtime. You seem like you're feeling hungry!" "Look! You buckled your chair all by yourself!"

4) Rotate toys and books. We choose specific natural objects to put out each week, starting minimally at the beginning of the week (a bucket full of crunchy leaves with a few small cups to scoop with) and adding a few things as the week progresses (crunchy leaves, scoops, and barn animals). This week we have all sorts of circular objects in one area (small tree stumps, napkin rings, etc); next week we'll put out small shiny metal objects. These all change on at least a weekly basis, which keeps everyone engaged.

5) Having several sensory-based opportunities helps keep everyone calmer. We have carpet square samples with various textures from Home Depot, as well as things like sandpaper, fabric samples from Joann's, and plenty of messy play (shaving cream is a favorite!). When the kids need a calming/centering activity, we pull out extra sensory materials. A recent no-mess favorite is paint or hair gel inside ziploc bags (taped shut) — it's fun to manipulate and squeeze.

6) It's the process, not the product, when it comes to art. This week, the toddlers painted on white cardstock and then shook salt from salt shakers on top (they loved that!). The salt made the paint look shiny and textured, and it was really fun fine motor work.

7) Sometimes when the kids are losing it and my patience is zapped, bubbles are the magical answer to all problems.

I want to add onto this as I go along.

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