Inside: When teachers set up their toddler learning centers, they are paying close attention to the materials that are placed in each area. They are creating inviting spaces that allow their children to explore at their own pace, with lots of hands-on exploration.
Our toddler learning centers time is an important part of our school day.
We create inviting, hands-on activities that allow for much exploration.
As with our 3 year olds centers time, our 2 year olds can spend as much or as little time desired at whatever centers they wish to go.
Because this is usually their first school experience, we want them to feel welcome, safe, and happy.
How to Set Up Toddler Learning Centers
I cannot stress this enough!
If you have too much available in your centers, you will overwhelm your toddlers and they will have a hard time becoming engaged.
It’s okay to have empty shelves. I admit, this is still hard for me. But because I have observed this age group during centers time for over 19 years, I know that it’s better to have less than to have too much. You can always add more if you feel it’s needed.
At the beginning of the year, I don’t have every center open. I am using this time to introduce them to each area of our classroom, showing them how to use the materials, helping them share with their classmates. Less is best those first few weeks.
Then, as I feel they are ready, I will open another center. And then a bit later, another.
Eventually, every center will be open.
Let me give you a tour in this video:
Managing Toddler Learning Centers
Our toddlers can move around from center to center at their own pace. We do not regulate where they need to be, nor for how long. This is a child-led time. (We manage our preschool centers time the very same way.)
I use this time to carefully observe how they are using the materials. I am close by if I need to help with a sharing issue (because this is ongoing with toddlers!) or to redirect a child who is having a hard time.
I do not control how many children can be at each center. I do have a certain number of chairs at the centers with tables, but it’s not uncommon for the children to pull up an extra chair. Our 2 year olds for the most part like to be close to each other. I will often find them traveling around the room in small groups. Sometimes the entire class is in one corner of our room! They usually move on to another area quite quickly, but still together. This is a great way for them to build those social and emotional skills!
What’s In Our Toddler Learning Centers
We have a small table in our book area where children can draw, write, use stamps, stickers, stencils, and other materials. We don’t have it all out at once, but choose different materials each week.
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Our reading area has a couple of bookshelves and a child-size couch. Children will often stop what they are doing and sit on the couch to look at a book before going back to what they were doing.
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Our light table is tucked into a cubby in the corner of our room. It’s the perfect size for one or two children. We love to explore light in a variety of ways, with all kinds of materials.
Playdough is one of our most popular ways of working our fine motor skills. Each week we change the playdough and the materials.
Puzzles and Manipulatives
We use this table to develop cognitive skills such as counting, sorting, and matching.
Our dramatic play area is adjacent to our block area, the more active part of the classroom. We change our dramatic play themes every week or two.
Blocks and Cars
The block area is popular with our 2 year olds. They start the year more interested in trains and cars, and as the year progresses they become more involved in block play. Like the dramatic play area, we change some of our toys every week or two so that the children can explore a variety of materials.
Because our classroom is on the small side, our science shelf is actually on top of our block area shelf, in front of our window.
We do a lot of process art with both our 2 and 3 year olds so that they can enjoy exploring different tools, paint recipes, and textures.
Our easel stands next to our art table and is very inviting to our 2 year olds. In fact, they often don’t even care if there is paper on the easel, or if a friend or two joins them. They simply love to brush the paint on the vertical surface.
Our sensory table is well-loved by our 2 year olds. They love to scoop and pour and feel the different textures. We usually change what is in our sensory table each week. It is placed near our classroom door, and often is comforting to those who might be having difficulties saying goodbye to a parent or caregiver.
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Don’t forget to add your centers signs!