Creating a Toddler Lesson Plan That Works

Updated on July 26, 2017
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Cholee has worked in childcare for over ten years and has taken several early childhood development classes.

Despite what most teachers and parents believe, young toddlers are capable of learning and sitting still for more than 2 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 2 months later they will 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.

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

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:

Day of the week
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.

Art Projects for an Eric Carle Lesson Plan:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Egg carton alligatorsOur marble painted brown bears.
Egg carton alligators
Egg carton alligators | Source
Our marble painted brown bears.
Our marble painted brown bears. | Source

Planning Ahead:

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. If you are having trouble with biters in your classroom this hub has some great insight in how you can help prevent future incidents. 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.

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.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


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    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 2 weeks ago from Wisconsin

      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.

    • profile image

      Emmy 2 weeks ago

      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!

    • profile image

      karlinaarifani 4 weeks ago

      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

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 4 weeks ago from Wisconsin

      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.

    • profile image

      karlinaarifani 4 weeks ago

      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 :)

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 2 months ago from Wisconsin

      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.

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 3 months ago from Wisconsin

      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!

    • profile image

      U Avalos 3 months ago

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

    • mkjuett profile image

      Mary Juett 5 years ago from Omaha, NE

      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!

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      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:)

    • mkjuett profile image

      Mary Juett 5 years ago from Omaha, NE

      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?

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      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.

    • mkjuett profile image

      Mary Juett 5 years ago from Omaha, NE

      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?