Updated: Sep 28, 2020
A Prequel to Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool Curriculum
This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Proceeds go to support this blog and my mission of inspiring parents of babies and toddlers to find quiet moments in the chaos to read to their children.
All suggested activities require adult supervision.
Searching for Answers: What Am I Supposed to Do with My Toddler All Day?
I remember being a first-time mom and the point at which my child had the mobility of a toddler but the attention span of a gnat and thinking "what I am I supposed to DO with him all day?" We went to Mommy and Me gymnastics once a week but that still left a lot of hours to fill. We attempted Story and Craft Time at the library but he was not a member of the captive audience. He would sit in my lap and read with me so we did LOTS of that at home but nothing else held his interest very long.
I started searching Pinterest for engaging ideas but half the time I would spend more time prepping the activity than he spent doing it and the other half cleaning up the mess. Looking back, I had no concept of what was developmentally appropriate and no purpose for what I wanted him to learn, other than to play independently for more than five seconds.
At some point I discovered Busy Toddler and started to explore some of her activities, but by that time I was pregnant with my second child and wondering how I was going to handle my life. When the baby arrived, I was desperate. I knew it was going to be hard to leave the house for a while so I purchased Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool program in the hope that it would answer the question "what am I going to do with my two-year-old all day?" And you know what? It totally did!
It gave me a plan for structured learning time and activities I could do with my toddler while the baby napped. I LOVED having a curriculum to follow and a theme to focus on and I finally felt like I was teaching my son something meaningful. Looking back, I did it for ME, not because HE was developmentally ready (the minimum recommended age is 2.5), but because I needed lifeline as I learned to navigate having two children. To hear more of my reflections on my experience, see my post Playing Preschool Lessons Learned: the Do's and Don't's.
Hindsight being what it is, I have no intention of rushing things with my second child. But I do think I have a better idea of what I can do in his second year that will help him develop the skills to be successful in Playing Preschool when the time is right. I include him in the activities his brother is doing whenever possible, but I also want to be intentional about giving him opportunities to play that are more targeted to his age (17 months) and ability. (On the flip side, I have set up activities specifically for him and seen my three-year-old wake up from his nap and immediately gravitate to them. I think it safe to say these activities bridge the age gap effortlessly).
Preparing for Playing Preschool: Skill-Building for Tabies and Twos
Busy Toddler coined the term "Taby" to describe the stage between a baby and a toddler. In her new book Actual Parenting she has this to say:
"Having a name for this middle area feels like a move in the right direction to honoring these kids and their unique needs and skills... It's like finally getting permission to treat these kids as the age group they are - not asking them to play up [toddler] or down [baby] a bracket." - Susie Allison, Actual Parenting
She suggests that we value this stage (one year old, give or take a few months) for what it is: a time to remove the expectations and "let them be and develop on their own path without rushing to hop on the toddler train." Susie also advocates that for all children under the age of 2.5, learning should consist of reading, conversation and play.
"They can just be tabies - little humans who have some growing skills, walk a bit like Frankenstein, and say a few half words. We can honor exactly who they are." -Susie Allison, Actual Parenting
That being said, I know there are other moms (like me) who are craving some structure in their day. As an administrator of the Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Curriculum Group on Facebook, I have seen the need for something to bridge the gap from a child being "not-quite-ready" to "ready" to begin the curriculum. (For signs of readiness and information about age range visit the Playing Preschool FAQ page on Busy Toddler's website.)
So for all the moms of tabies and two-year-olds, I have put together a "plan" for you to follow, while keeping Susie's ethos of reading, conversation and play at the forefront. I've combined books to read, things to talk about and Busy Toddler taby activities for introducing sensory play or practicing skills to create a curriculum of sorts (although I hate to even call it that, because it is not intended to be academic, but experiential).
Before You Dive In, Let Me Explain
I'd like to point out a few of the "hows" and "whys" of how I designed this unit. It is intended to mirror the basic structure of Playing Preschool, but with the needs and abilities of tabies and two-year-olds in mind. Each day may only take 10-15 minutes (depending on how long your child engages with the activity), and could easily be broken up into smaller increments (song/book/activity). Five minutes is a lot to expect of a taby's attention span but the older they get and the more opportunities they have to practice, the longer they will be able to attend. When possible, leave the activity out so your child can return to it throughout the day or week (see more about repetition below).
Research shows that young children benefit from reading the same book repeatedly for many reasons including vocabulary, fluency and reading comprehension. For this reason, I would advise you to read a single book together for an entire week, or choose 2-3 and repeat. As you read, point to the animals (i.e. "cluck" said the chicken [point to chicken] and her chick [point to chick] said "peep") and emphasize the sounds they make.
Please bear in mind that unlike adults who crave novelty, children enjoy repetition because it is familiar and they need lots of it when learning a new concept. For that reason, I've designed the "lessons" to repeat previous content, then build on it. I encourage you not to rush the process, even if it seems boring to you; they're still learning how to learn.
I chose "Animals" and their sounds/names to be the theme of this unit for several reasons:
Young children can often mimic animals sounds before they can actually form the words. There is a wide age range when it comes to speech development, so depending on where your child falls, he/she can either practice the animal's sound or say its name. (If you have questions about your child's speech development, consult your pediatrician).
The way you teach animals and the sounds they make is the same approach you will use to teach letters and their sounds in Playing Preschool. For example, when you tell your child "This is a cow. The cow says "moo," it employs the same concept as "This is an A. The A says "aaa"."
There is an important pairing of early literacy happening: making the connection between images on the page of a book and real-life objects and their names/sounds.
Some of you may be thinking "but my child already knows all the animals names". Bear with me here and remember that identifying is a Level 1 skill (recall/retell/regurgitate), the most basic type of learning. The skills they are developing as they DO the activities is where the real benefits are: experimenting with cause and effect, categorizing (Level 2), problem solving, critical thinking (Level 3), creativity, imagination (Level 4) not to mention fine motor skills (dexterity, grip) and gross motor skills (balance, spatial awareness) and alllll the benefits of sensory play (self-control, tactile learning).
Materials: Here's What You'll Need
Here is list of common household items or toys used in this unit, but please make substitutions as needed.
Melissa and Doug Wooden Animal Magnets (or similar)
Melissa and Doug Farm Wooden Chunky Puzzle (or similar)
White Kraft Paper (or brown)
Tin Foil or Gift Tissue
Oatmeal Container with Lid
Oatmeal, Cornmeal or Rice
Muffin Tin or Ice Cube Tray
2 Ears of Corn
Washable Tempera Paint (any color) or Finger Paint
Sensory Bin (41 qt Sterlite or similar)
Optional: Animal figurines or tractors for interest
Additional Book Suggestions - Farm
The Very Busy Spider - Carle, Eric --> This one uses repetition instead of rhyme but still perfect for this age and theme.
Little Blue Truck's Halloween - Schertle, Alice --> A lift-the-flap delight and a great fit as you reveal what the animal "says"!
Moo Baa La La La - Boynton, Sandra
Oink-Oink! Moo! Cock-a-Doodle-Doo! - Sattler, Jennier
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? - Dr. Seuss
Barnyard Dance - Boynton, Sandra
Pete the Cat: Old MacDonald Had a Farm - Dean, James
Spot Goes to the Farm - Hill, Eric
Cock-a-doodle-doo! Barnyard Hullabaloo - Andreae, Giles (for more advanced readers)
Additional Book Suggestions - Zoo
Dear Zoo - Campbell, Rod
Can You Say It Too? Roar Roar - Nosy Crow
Night Night Zoo - Parker, Amy
If Animals Said I Love You - Paul, Ann Whitford
If Animals Kissed Goodnight - Paul, Ann Whitford
Good Night Zoo - Gamble, Adam
The View at the Zoo - Long Bostrom, Kathleen
Goodnight, Gorilla - Rathmann, Peggy
Giraffes Can't Dance - Andreae, Giles
Hello Hello - Wentzel, Brendan --> A new favorite in our house!
Hello World! Rainforest Animals - McDonald, Jill
Zoo Day - Rockwell, Anne
Rumble in the Jungle - Andreae, Giles (for more advanced readers)
Week 1: Farm Animals
Sort the magnets and pick out only the animals that would live on a farm. You may want to start with just a few and add more animals as your child masters them. Incorporate these animals into your morning opening song. (Hint: turtles "hiss", rabbits "sniff", fish "glug").
Farm Animals - Day 1
Opening: Sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm"
Read Aloud: Big Red Barn - Brown, Margaret Wise or Little Blue Truck - Schertle, Alice Introduction: What animals live on a farm? Hand your child a magnet (or point to each one individually on the fridge) and tell them its name (i.e. this is a horse).
Skill-Building Activity: Modify Busy Toddler's Card Slot Drop Activity to drop the farm animal magnets into the container! Extension: Let them pull them off of the fridge.
Skills Used: Fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, dexterity
Farm Animals - Day 2
Opening: Sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm"
Read Aloud: Big Red Barn - Brown, Margaret Wise or Little Blue Truck - Schertle, Alice Things to Talk About: What sounds do the animals make? Tell your child the name of the animal and the sound it makes as you show them each magnet (i.e. the cow says moo).
Sensory Activity: Read Busy Toddler's article How to Set Up Your First Sensory Bin. You may want to keep it simple at first. Pour oatmeal or cornmeal in a bin, toss in some toys and/or tools like colanders, funnels, bowls, spoons, or tongs. Model how to play and stay close to teach boundaries. This is something you will want to practice on-going. Change it up by using different (taste-safe) sensory bases or items. Note: If you're still not sure about sensory bins, read Busy Toddler's article Why is Sensory Play Important?
Skills Used: Life skills (pouring) independent play, self-regulation, pre-math skills (capacity, spatial awareness), fine motor skills
Farm Animals - Day 3
Opening: Sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm"
Read Aloud: Big Red Barn - Brown, Margaret Wise or Little Blue Truck - Schertle, Alice Things to Talk About: Can you repeat the animal sounds? Tell your child the name of the animal and the sound it makes and ask them to repeat. (i.e. the cow says moo. Can you make the cow sound?)
Process Art Activity: Peel the husk off ears of corn to create prints by rolling the corn in washable tempura paint, then rolling onto a sheet of white paper or card stock. Put a sheet tray underneath to catch the mess.
Skills Used: Hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, abstract thinking/creativity
Farm Animals - Day 4
Opening: Sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm"