I have been teaching a toddler music class for 9 years now, and I can say it is probably one of my favorite classes. I watch these little shy toddlers come in not knowing what to expect. They aren’t babies anymore, but they are not ready for preschool yet. Now they are sitting in a group class ready for a new world of learning to open up to them. For many toddlers who come into my music class, this is a first class, and indeed it is a great learning experience!
Now I am all about singing and teaching musical concepts, but these toddlers are not only learning and absorbing music, they are learning what it is to actually participate in a group. Here are some benefits.
1. They are following directions. They have been learning this already from mom and dad. Now, they are listening to directions in an educational setting where a teacher is telling them things to do in a new activity. Hopefully this activity will be enjoyable enough to invite them to participate and want to follow directions. This is where the teacher has to make sure that he/she is offering fun activities that toddlers will enjoy so much that they will want to come back!
2. They are learning to sit still for small periods of time and listen. Anyone who has worked with toddlers knows that this does not happen naturally. Their little bodies want to move, so sitting down and doing nothing cannot happen for long periods of time. This is why I am constantly offering activities that offer movement. Learning to sit quietly and listen is a priceless skill to be learned for the classroom, but it does not come naturally. Parents should not expect that their toddler is going to sit down like a perfect angel, but should certainly steer them in the right direction. Being in a group like this helps them understand and learn a structure. This is a very important learning experience in itself.
3. They are learning to interact with their peers. Believe me this is a new experience as they are in a cognitive stage where they are still very egocentric in their approach to learning. Learning to understand and interact with their peers is not going to be easy or come naturally, so offering activities where they are learning to become aware of the presence of others is invaluable. At this stage, doing the right thing is something they have to do without fully understanding why. We as teachers and parents have to have the patience to remember that they are not going to have a sensitivity at this age to fully sympathize with the perspectives and feelings of their peers. It is merely a choice where doing the right thing offers rewards and doing the wrong thing could result in punishment. I have observed sympathy and empathy with young children. Good parents and teachers learn to teach them to understand and amplify these feelings that they are experiencing, and then learn to use behaviors that apply them.
4. They are learning to understand how a routine works in a classroom. Any parent or teacher knows this does not come easily for toddlers. Teachers and parents are constantly reminding them to stay with the routine. A sense of time and sequence of events is not clear. They will learn through repetition of the same activities and routines, and will eventually anticipate the events to follow. They learn to feel a sense of safety in routine which every good parent has learned to do to help create that sense of security and safety. The same idea works in the classroom. Toddlers learn to look forward to activities that they anticipate in a consistently followed routine. Good teachers of toddlers learn to adhere to a routine.
5. They are meeting new people. Toddlers are not comfortable around people they don’t know. They become secure in familiar surroundings, so new groups is something that takes some time for them to feel comfortable. This is a learning experience in itself. We as adults can understand this feeling, but the more exposure and experience we have with new groups teaches us how to handle it. It is the same with our toddlers. Parents want their children to be comfortable in new activities. This is a very important skill for success in clubs, sport groups, new jobs, interviews, business connections. Parents want to teach their children to be comfortable in many social situations.
6. They are learning about a teacher student relationship. This is a new experience for them. Up until this time the majority of their guidance has been coming from their parents, or a trusted babysitter or caregiver. Now they are receiving instruction fro a new person, a teacher. Although I am very much about making things fun for them, I am a new person who is teaching new activities. This is a relationship that they will be experiencing for the rest of their lives. A good teacher will be aware that he/she is someone that these little children are still not fully comfortable with. I try to move very carefully from activity to activity and make it fun! At this age it is wonderful for parents to have another person with new perspectives teach their children new activities with different methods. It also becomes a learning experience for parents as they watch their little ones watch attentively and mirror activities that the teacher is offering.
These skills alone are enough to make a toddler group class desirable. The things they learn in the class are important of course, but learning to be in the class is just as important, possibly more important. Their experience in the classroom can be so much better and be very successful. This is where educational success begins!