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Creating a Toddler Lesson Plan That Works

Cholee has worked in childcare for over ten years and has taken several early childhood development classes.

Some of the Eric Carle books we read in my toddler classroom.

Some of the Eric Carle books we read in my toddler classroom.

Toddler Lesson Plans: The Basics

Despite what most teachers and parents believe, young toddlers are capable of learning and sitting still for more than two minutes at a time. The key is routine and structure. Without structure and routine your room or home will ultimately fall into chaos.

Following a structured routine will ensure that the toddlers know what to expect and how to behave each day. Breaking up the learning with movement activities will allow toddlers to sit again for learning without feeling the need to get up and move around.

For example, a toddler can sit for fifteen minutes at a time learning and reading stories, especially if that time is followed by fifteen minutes of dancing or running around outside.

Many of my co-workers think it's crazy to make my toddler class sit that long, however they can, and most days they like to sit and learn. Some days are harder, so you shorten the time and get up and move a little longer, and try again later in the day. The key to a successful learning session is watching and taking cues from the children.

When I started in my classroom I could not get the children to sit for even 5 minutes, however two months later, they will now sit for fifteen sometimes twenty minutes at a time, asking for more. They choose to sit because they enjoy learning and know how the day goes because I follow a structured routine that is easy for them to follow and remember.

Below is a sample lesson plan complete with pictures of art projects and books we read in my toddler class which is primarily a class of one-year-olds.

Eric Carle Lesson Plan for Toddlers

At the daycare facility I work at, the themes and materials are given to you for each lesson plan. However, most of it lacks creativity and imagination so I have been bringing in my own ideas to create a lesson plan that follows the given theme, yet allows for the children to create 3D art projects that take more than 2 minutes.

For those of you who may not know who Eric Carle is, he is a children's author. He wrote the books "Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See", "1,2,3 To The Zoo", "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", among others. Trying to plan your day around this theme can be difficult, however, I have found a foolproof way to stick to the theme and create a lesson plan that toddlers can understand and enjoy.

Toddler Lesson Plan Calendar

Day of the weekMondayTuesday


Musical Instruments

I'm A Little Caterpillar

Language Development

"Little Cloud"

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

Art/Sensory Exploration

Make Clouds

Coffee Filter Butterflies

Imaginative Play

Be Weather people

Act Like Butterflies

Gross Motor

Follow the Leader

Run Outside

Fine Motor/Self-Help Skills

Play and Name Instruments

Find Bugs in Pom-Poms


Sing Weather Songs

Craw Through Tunnel


Animal Action

Walk Like An Animal

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

"Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See"

"1,2,3, to the Zoo"

"From Head to Toe"

Marble Paint Brown Bears

Make Alligators

Learn Senses Through Pudding Art

Act like Animals

Be Zookeepers

Play Dress-up

Play Copycat

Animal Action

Jumping Jacks

Animal Puzzles

Play-doh Creatures

Build with Legos

Color Matching

Animal Flashcards

Flannel Board Stories

Flannel Board Stories


Table Top Toys

Lesson Plan Explained:

The table shows individual learning categories and the activity that we did for each learning category. The day did not necessarily run in the order shown. This particular lesson plan is harder to follow but is the one we have to use at my facility.

You can make an easier lesson plan by writing out fifteen-minute time slots and filling those out with learning activities to do with your toddlers. These time increment lesson plans work out better because you have the ability to see how each activity will flow into the next. These types of plans also allow you to identify where transitions will be made. Noting where transitions are is crucial, as most toddlers will have a hard time with transitioning from one thing to the next until they can establish some sort of routine. For your toddlers that are having a harder time, I recommend using songs or rhymes that are easy for them to learn. These songs will help them recognize when it is time to change activities, making the transitions easier for them. You can read about easy songs for transitions and why they work here.

You can start your lesson plan at 8:00 a.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. putting down specifics for each time slot. For example, thirty minutes for breakfast, fifteen minutes for art, thirty minutes outside, two hours for nap, and so on until the last child is scheduled to be picked up.

Structuring the Day With Toddlers in the Classroom

Early morning circle is a great way to plan learning and teaching of the alphabet, numbers, simple rhymes and songs, colors, and animals. Each morning I separate learning numbers and letters with songs and reading stories. Or looking at animal flashcards with singing simple songs.

The toddlers love it and they get to learn important things too. Allowing fifteen minutes for circle followed by fifteen minutes of dancing is a great way to start the morning in my toddler classroom. They get some learning in and are still able to dance and get the wiggles and giggles out before art projects and more fun learning.

Planning ahead is key to any classroom running smoothly. In this case, I would advise creating a lesson plan like the one above and then making sure to gather materials and other items needed for the upcoming week. For example on Friday the week before, we made sure we had egg cartons in the classroom so we wouldn't have to go searching for them the day of.

Staying organized and planned will help not only the day, but the lesson run smoothly. You have more time to spend with the children and you will spend less time running around looking for things you need to complete an art project, or trying to find that book for your daily reading.

Personal Classroom Accomplishments

After only two months of teaching this toddler class, my children can now name and identify animals such as hippo, zebra, orangutan, and seal. When I started most of the toddlers didn't talk and would use hitting or biting as a way to get what they wanted. Today my toddlers use their words and can carry on a short and simple conversation with me and the other teacher. Many of these same children can use simple sign language such as more and please. If you are having trouble with biting in your classrooms, my article about biting prevention is a great place to start learning how to redirect your child's behavior.

Toddlers can be taught, through patience and persistent teachers it is possible. All the children need is a little structure and someone who believes in them.

Questions & Answers

Question: How can I have more control in my classroom?

Answer: Without specifically knowing what issues you are dealing with I'm not going to be able to give direct advice. I can, however, give you some guidelines, and you can compare to how you are running your classroom and make adjustments from there. These are guidelines that I use all the time when I am teaching toddler classes.

First and foremost it's important to have a positive, fair, and consistent classroom. This can be achieved in many ways, and below I will explain some of the ideas that I follow and enforce in my rooms. Children need to know the rules and what is expected of them. With young children, it's important to constantly continue to remind them of the classroom rules and what the consequences will be if they do not follow them. Along with rules the classroom design should be constructed in a way that promotes learning rather than playing. Keep clear boundaries between play areas and arrange the room in a way that prevents running by not creating large open spaces or straight long "aisle" like pathways.

When the room and rules are set it's important to look at things such as the order and daily routine of your day. Do the children know what to expect and is the material age appropriate? Making fun and engaging lesson plans is a must for children of such a young age. Children will listen and behave better when they know what is expected of them every day. It's important to keep the routine the same. However, it's also important to be flexible. Keep the order of how the day flows (for example: music/movement, calendar, art, free play, ect.), but remember that the time limits alloted to the activities can change and should to meet the needs of the children. If they are being unusually unruley shorten calendar time and lengthen the time you play out side for example. Your scheduled day should have plenty of room for moving different activities around to meet the needs of the children for that day.

If you are having trouble with group times it's important to remember that some children need to work up their ability to sit quietly. If you are finding that chaos ensues only during "quiet" activities or group times start out with short sitting times and gradually build up the time that you spend together on the floor.

Redirection is also your best friend when dealing with outburts of unwanted behavior. Something as simple as whispering during calendar time is enough to redirect the children back to the task at hand. The key is to be creative and get the children involved.

Finally, do not raise your voice and remain calm and rational. It's important to use positive reinforcement and redirection rather than punishments or timeouts when dealing with such young children. Remember that children of any age feed off your energy, so if you are stressed, angry, anxious, or uncertain (whether you think you are portraying these emotions or not), the children can sense this and it will cause them to feel anxious and stressed as well. Anxious children are more likely to act out and cause chaos.

Question: What can I do to get a very shy and quiet child to participate in our tutoring class?

Answer: If the child is talkative, but unwilling to share in front of others, I find that putting them in small groups with outgoing students can really help with their communication. Sometimes it takes becoming friends and being comfortable with the people around for shy or quiet children to be able to participate in large group discussions. Having even just one outgoing friend can greatly boost the confidence of the shy child. Watch who the child communicates with, or what they are comfortable doing during different activities. Use this information to help make the child feel more involved and safe in the classroom during large group discussions.

If the shy child is not talkative, give them space. Let them become comfortable in their environment and take things slow. It can take shy or quiet children longer to become comfortable enough to share in front of the class, and I would not do anything that would cause them to feel embarrassed (for example calling on them if they don't have their hand raised). When you see outgoing behavior, reward it and encourage them to express their thoughts more often. Saying something as simple as "that is a great thought 'Tommy'" or "I really like how you raised a quiet hand 'Susan' what would you like to add?" will show the child you noticed they had something of value to contribute to the group and encourage them to continue participating.

Shy children, in my experience, usually take much longer to open up in the classroom setting, but once they feel safe, comfortable, and have a sense of belonging, their behavior changes in leaps and bounds. It will take time. Allow the child to participate and open up on their terms. Reward outgoing behavior, and you will soon see them becoming more talkative and wanting to be apart of the conversations and large group activities.

Question: In about two weeks, after training I’ll be working as a lead teacher. What are some tips for someone who is just stepping up to the role as a lead teacher?

Answer: The most important thing to remember is to be consistent and have a daily routine. This means explain consequences (daily if working with young children), and act fairly. Children notice if some are being favored over others. Define roles and show that you are in charge. If the children don't know who's leading the classroom they will take over and chaos will be an everyday occurrence. It's also important to be flexible and listen to the children. For example, if you are noticing they are becoming unusually rowdy it's time to move on to the next scheduled activity. Keep calm, children can feel and read our emotions and will feed off any anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. Finally bond with them, and give them a safe and fun learning environment.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on July 25, 2019:

Hi Berenthea!

It will depend on what eco system you are planning to use, but I think these activities will work nicely for any food chain you are planning to talk about. Since the children are so young, I think these will be a fun way to show how each animal gets larger the farther up the food chain you get.

You could use styrofoam or other plastic cups to glue plant/animal names and pictures to. Once assembled they will set on top of each other and the names will show the different species going up the "chain". You could do something similar with notecards and have them draw or glue magazine pictures of different animals within the food chain and then hole punch the tops so you can string them in the right order.

For example your bottom cup/card would start with grass, followed by an insect, mouse, snake, owl if you were doing a prairie eco system.

There are a few food chain books you could try and find at the library for circle time. I like keeping everything cohesive, which for me means picking books that I can use for group activities too. You could even find some masks or make them during art and have them wear those to act out the food chain.

There is actually quite a bit you can do, since the food chain has such a broad aspect to it. I'd narrow it down to which habitat you want to focus on and then try to find some books, games, art projects to tie everything together. At such a young age, you don't have to worry about making it too scientific. Hope this helps!

Berenthea Swartz on July 25, 2019:

I need to teach a daily lesson plan for 3 to 4 year olds the theme is food chain need to include circle time and 2 group activities. Do you perhaps have an example or an idea what I can do.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 05, 2018:

Hi Emmy,

With shy children it's really important to let them become more outgoing on their terms. Pushing a child to participate or speak out loud can cause more anxiety. I've found that it's also good to find out why they are being shy. For example is it because they are fearful of the new situation? Maybe they are anxious or have some tensions about what is going on around them. Is it possible they are embarassed about something? It sounds like you will be teaching English to children that is not their first language. If this is true it could take awhile for the child to become comfortable trying to learn a new language. Taking all these questions into consideration will help when trying to find the best strategy to help your shy child.

What I like to do is slowly involve the child. I don't pressure them to speak in front of the class or engage in large group activities. It's important to make the child feel safe and included, but you also don't want to cause anxiety, but trying to make the child do something they are not comfortable with yet. When something is new sometimes it's best to let the child watch for awhile and let them decide when they are comfortable opening up. When they do decide to show some willingness to participate let them (even if you were going to move on to a new activty, question, ect.) and reward that behavior so they will continue it.

Finally I would also engage the parents and have them help you in trying to make him more comfortable. Have the parents talk to him before you arrive and let him know what is going to happen that day. Maybe share your lesson plans with them so they can better prepare him for what he can expect. I would also encourage the parents to ask him how it went after the lesson is over. See what he liked or didn't like, and what he would like to do instead. This will give you an idea of how to structure the day so he will feel most comfortable and be more willing to open up.

Remember that it will take time and the best thing you can do is encourage and support him now and he will continue to grow and become more social.

Emmy on April 04, 2018:

Hi Cholee,

This article is awesome and is very helpful. Thanks!

I'm teaching in an early childhood setting. My students are from 0-5 years. We've been doing play classes that develops the child's physical, cognitive, and social skills. I have this twin students whose Mom is very active. She hired me as a private tutor for the kids. The class is primarily for English lessons, and will only last for an hour, three times a week.

This twin has totally different personalities. While the other one is free spirited, the other one is so shy and quiet. He won't even look at me. He also acts that way even in our play classes. In this tutoring class, I already have a plan prepared. There'll be reading/ story time, dancing and singing, and playtime as well.

What can I do to make the other twin be comfortable with me being there at their house and teaching them?

Thank you so much Cholee!

karlinaarifani on March 22, 2018:

Hi Cholee,

Thankyou for your response. It made me more sure with my idea.

Actually, if they are join toddler at my school (under 2 y.o), they had learned some objects. but, i'm affraid if my idea is too hard for them.

Thankyou and nice to know you. Have a nice day

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on March 21, 2018:

Hi Karlina,

It will depend on the child and how much educational/learning things you have done with them.

At 1.5 I think many children know common objects like apples, fish, shapes, ect. Colors could be a little harder, but if you keep to the more common ones (red, blue, yellow, ect.) you should have no issues.

Good luck! It sounds like you have some great ideas, hope the children enjoy the treasure hunt.

karlinaarifani on March 21, 2018:

Hai Cholee, i'm Karlina.

Nice to meet you.

your article was amazing and really helpfull

Actually, i was working at school around and i got some task to develop program for children age 2-5 years old.

I need to make some ideas for them to make sure either my kids are well developed or need more special treatment.

i should do that 6 months earlier before they go to the next grade. So, it means that for toddlers, i should assess them at age 1,5 years old.

i have a idea to make little treasure hunt for them. So i will let them explore the playground to find some hidden objects there.

i will give them one small bag with list of objects they need to find.

the objects will be like 2 red apples, 1 yellow fish, etc.

Do you think it is possible for 1,5 years old kids to make it ?

Thankyou for your kindly answer, it will be helpfull for me dear :)

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on February 07, 2018:

Hi Sarah, I'd be more than happy to help!

It sounds like the children have not had any sort of routine, which means you will likely have to take it slow and be very consistent. I would start with 2-4 minutes of learning and gradually increase the time until you can have the whole class sit for 10, 15, 20 minutes (or whatever time you would like).

The key is to be consistent so the children can learn what is expected of them. I would highly encourage not picking up or carrying children around as well. I would always sit on the floor with them, which helps the children feel safe and more willing to explore. Knowing you are close by helps them in learning how to interact with their new classroom as well as other children and teachers. Sitting down also allows for more children to be close to you at one time. When you are sitting you can have as many as 3 or 4 children next to you, rather than only having the ability to hold one child when standing.

As far as lunch goes, I would consider talking to your director/boss about getting a new table or chairs. We always had either one table that the children sat in (the chairs where built into the table), this makes it so the children cannot get out of their seats and walk around. This comes in handy during art as well. If a new table is not an option I would look into getting chairs with buckles. Same concept and probably cheaper. In the mean time redirection is the only thing you can do to stop the wandering around. Take their food away and place it back at the table. Let them know why they cannot walk around and what will happen if they do. Again consistency and repetition until all the children understand what the rules are, is going to be key.

It will likely take a few weeks, but the more consistent you are the faster the children will catch on. I would encourage you and the other teacher to create a plan and a set of rules so you both are on the same page as well. Nothing will change if you both do not have the same expectations for the classroom and children.

Sarah on February 07, 2018:

I have worked in a daycare setting for about a year now. As of last month, I took on a new position as lead teacher of the one year old room. I am in need of any advice in how to get the children on a schedule. My room is chaotic and right now all that I have planned just kind of happens when I can fit it in. This is not how I vision my classroom to be. I just recently got a set of twins and it adds to the chaos of 4-5 of the 12 who wants held constantly. Lunchtime is a disaster as food ends up everywhere. I can't seem to keep them from eating off of each other's plates or from throwing their food all over them, let alone some of them who take their food and wonder around the classroom.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on January 02, 2018:

Hi U Avalos,

I didn't provide descriptions for some of the activities, because they can be done in several ways and all of them are perfectly acceptable. I left some of the activities open to imagination and interpretation for that reason.

For the clouds I like to have a predrawn cloud picture that they then glue cotton balls to. Cotton balls create a texture element and young children really benefit from learning about textures. Another one of my favorites is using puffy paint. Same concept, having a predrawn cloud and letting the kids paint it. Puffy paint has an airy texture and works great for giving the illusion of real clouds. You could also use plain blue construction paper and let them go crazy with the puffy paint and then cut them into cloud shapes later or leave the paper as is.

For sensory instead of art, I've done whipped cream and pudding. It's fun for the kids to swirl around, and is non toxic if they decide they must try it; which almost always happens. They don't always turn out like clouds, but with sensory my main focus is on the texture not the actual "clouds".

Hope this helps!

U Avalos on January 02, 2018:

So where are the descriptions of the activities. For example, "Make clouds"... i could think of a couple of ways of doing that...

Mary Juett from Omaha, NE on July 19, 2012:

That's exactly what I was looking for. The struggle I have with designing the right program for us is trying to remember that little kids are learning with everything they do and see. Formalized lessons aren't necessary because they learn through play. I'm just trying to get a good balance so I can start transitioning them to more "lessons" as they get older. I like seeing what other people are doing to get ideas and compare/contrast my practices. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it!

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on July 19, 2012:

My toddler class is there from 7:30 to about 5. Between that time we probably only do an hour to an hour and a half of education.

In the morning we do 15 minutes of learning and reading stories. (We practice counting and the alphabet as well as simple songs such as The Itsy Bitsy Spider). As well as 15-30 minutes of art and sensory learning were we teach them about textures or how to glue paper together.

In the afternoon we have another 15-20 minutes of learning were we read stories from the morning (for repetition) as well as practice shapes, counting, alphabet, or songs. Really depends on the day and how long the children are willing to sit for on a given day. But I really try to "teach" throughout the day. Either by teaching sharing or taking turns and other development learning.

The rest of the day is made up of center play which basically means the children get to explore different toys in certain, trucks/blocks, bugs/magnifying glasses, etc. Which we teach them how to use the items properly and talk about the items.

Hope this helps:)

Mary Juett from Omaha, NE on July 19, 2012:

I've been creating units as well. I use books to provide the base topic, then we read the book(s) several times during the week to create repetition, and build activities for different areas based on the focus of the book. Thanks for answering my question, but I think I needed to clarify it better, sorry, lol. What I wanted to know is for toddlers, how much time do you spend total in one day on education? Some days I spend an hour or so, others I'll spend up to four hours. Do you do the same, or do you have set school hours?

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on July 18, 2012:

mkjuett--I always found lesson planning fun, especially the trial and error stage when they are little:)

Most lesson plans I make are only a week long, unless I can stretch it into something really fun and still have the children interested in learning about it. For example our water, sand, and sun unit is two weeks because it is such a broad subject you can add quite a bit of material to it.

Mary Juett from Omaha, NE on July 18, 2012:

Love this! Thank you so much. I'm a sort of newbee homeschooling mom, meaning my kids are still little (2 & 4), so it's been fun figuring out what projects and lessons formats will work for them. It's all about testing it out and seeing what works! Anyway, my question is, for the above lesson plan you give, what is the approximate time frame for it?