Introduction to the Toddler Stage (12 months – 33 months)

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Section Three

Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Toddlers

a. Young Toddlers (12 – 24 months)

b. Older Toddlers (22-33 months)

Introduction to the Toddler Stage (12 months – 33 months)

The toddler stage of development is one characterized by a tension between the desire for independence (I CAN do it!) and the need for continued dependence on a trusted caregiver (I NEED you!). Toddlers are maneuvering their way at becoming unique social beings; however, this requires lots of assistance in managing relationships with others – both adults and peers. The need to be self-sufficient and competent begins to emerge along with problem-solving skills. Through their explorations toddlers understanding of the world changes from the discovery and function of things to the purposeful manipulation and investigation. Toddlers need a secure base that supports their need for exploration and discovery. This secure base is a consistent, loving, and affectionate relationship with a trusted adult. Then they can begin trying out their independence, while returning frequently to the adult for guidance, affection, and reassurance. Also, toddlers are not yet equipped with the complex expressive language skills therefore often rely on body language, gestures, single word phrases, and physical overtures to form the basis for their social interactions. As language skills develop, toddlers have more success in communicating their needs. Young toddlers often enjoy parallel play next to or nearby a peer, while older toddlers begin to enjoy more cooperative aspects of play with friends.

Physically, toddlers begin to lose the unsteady side-to-side walk that characterizes the early months of this stage. As they grow and become more adept in movement toddlers begin to have better coordination and balance. This leads them to practice running, climbing, jumping and skipping. Toddlers also gain greater control over their small motor skills increasing their ability to use their hands to manipulate small objects. Since a toddler’s grip still involves the entire hand the wider the manipulative, the better. As they grow and their experience increases, toddlers begin to use the forefinger and thumb to manipulate materials to write, color, and paint.

Toddlerhood is also marked by a significant effort for mastery in self-help skills. The “I can do it myself” attitude permeates toileting, feeding, dressing routines and daily routines. This self-guided mastery will build a toddler’s sense of self-competence and self-esteem. Toddlers need opportunities where they are encouraged and successful in their quest for self-help skills. Caregivers should allow toddlers some control and choices throughout their day to support their increasing independence. Toddlers will need encouragement to try new things and support in their exploration of various roles and experiences.
Throughout toddlerhood language development, both expressive and receptive, takes on new importance. Mastery of language is another step on the road to independence for a toddler. Language in all of its forms and complexity opens a critical door for a developing toddler. Whether playing with a friend, communicating a need to an adult, or listening to a story read aloud, language is powerful and functional, creative and fun - just the elements needed to entice a toddler into interactions. Singing, reading, chanting, and rhyming are all delightful means of exposing children to the gift of language. Toddlers enjoy the sound of their own voice, often babbling, screaming and making noises with their mouth. Later they enjoy announcing “mine!”, and asking “why?” In addition to the pleasure of sound, toddlers’ ability to communicate with the world around them is supportive of their growing independence.

Intellectually, toddlers are actively constructing their own knowledge. Their ability to hear, see, smell, taste or touch their immediate environment allows toddlers to explore concepts, practice skills, and solve problems. Toddlers practice early numeracy skills through sorting by shape or by dumping blocks and saying “all gone.” Experiences like those provided at the water table, with small containers, ladles and other age-appropriate materials, introduce basic geometric skills such as size, volume, quantity and conservation. Toddlers also begin to develop their imaginations. This is shown by their ability to hold pictures in their minds, to use scribbles and marks to recreate an image on paper, to pretend in the housekeeping area, and to tell a story. The magic of symbolic thought opens the door to more complex play with peers, to developing shared perspective, and to practicing human interactions. Allowing toddlers adequate time and space to play, whether they are simply imitating a trip to the grocery store or creating a new version of a favorite story, is important for healthy growth and intellectual development.

Caregivers should be sensitive to the range of development and individual needs that occur for children 18 to 33months of age. Activities and materials that are appropriate for 36 month old children may not be appropriate for the 18 month olds. Learning occurs when experiences are meaningful and individualized to the toddler and their specific needs. Toddlers need ample time to fully participate in experiences that build their self-confidence and sense of autonomy. Such experiences can be weaved throughout the day, particularly during daily routines. Whether it is time to play, time for a snack, a nap, or a loved one to return, knowing what will happen next gives toddlers security and emotional stability. It helps them learn to trust that caring adults will provide what they need. When children feel this sense of trust and safety, they are free to do their "work," which is to play, explore, and learn. 

Social-Emotional Development for Toddlers

Social Development encompasses a child’s ability to relate to and interact with people. Relationships are a foundation to children’s social development. Toddler’s are experimenting and learning the dance of interactions that occur between themselves and the people around them. Interactions with toddlers need to be respectful and responsive to their needs and skills.

Adults are models of behavior and culture (both their own and acceptance of the child’s family culture). This modeling is a constant source of information for the toddler and their ability to respond to the world around them. Strong positive interactions are the basis and prime time for learning experiences to occur.

Emotional development is defined as the understanding the self, feelings and regulation of behavior. (Martin and Berke 2010) Emotional development is based on the child's secure attachment to his/her caregivers. Emotional development is supported through consistent, responsive and caring relationships and routine. Toddlers need to be supported in their expression of feelings, development of self-awareness and ability to self-regulate.

The learning guidelines for social-emotional development for toddlers are:

Relates to, trusts, and becomes attached to consistent educators.

Notices and interacts with toddlers their own age.

Experiences and expresses a range of emotions.

Progresses in regulating own feelings and behavior.

Develops a positive sense of self.

Learning Guideline: The toddler relates to, trusts, and becomes attached to consistent educators.


Young toddler (12-24 months) may…

Suggested supportive Learning Experiences

SED1. The young toddler has positive relationships with several different adult, including educators and family members.

-greet educators when entering the room through either waving or walking over to the adult.
-demonstrate feeling safe with significant adults by seeking them out in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
-only accepts specific care (i.e. feeding) from specific adults.
-appear uncertain when parents, caregiver or special educator leave the room.

- Recognize children upon entry into the room with a greeting by name (i.e. “Hi Mary- I see you have new sneakers on!”)
-Provide regular and purposeful interactions that include holding, talking, cuddling, hugs, pats on the back and other physical touches when appropriate.
- Squat down to child’s eye level when they seek you out.
-Recognize new people in the room and explain to toddlers who they are and why they are there.

SED2. The young toddler responds to directions from familiar adults.

-follow simple (one step) directions from familiar adult.
- when given directions, look to caregiver for confirmation.
- respond to basic guidance and requirements.

-Recognize when the toddler is following your directions or interactions. (i.e.” You were able to put your coat away! You heard exactly what I said.”)
-Play simple games and sing songs with directions, like “Ring Around the Rosie” or the simplest “Simon Says”

SED3. The young toddler relates to adults through shared exploration of materials and environments.

-show favored caregiver a creation on the easel.
-periodically check in with favored educator when playing alone or with peers.
-pulls adults towards areas in the playground.

-Allow toddler to lead you to their discovery and explore and enhance their findings with descriptive language and questions.
-Observe toddlers during play. Look for opportunities to share experiences.


Older Toddlers (22-33 months) may…

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED4. The older toddler demonstrates increasing comfort with most adults.

-ask for familiar adult by name.
-initiate interactions with familiar and unfamiliar adults.

-Respond consistently to child. Listen carefully and with interest and expand on their message.
-Play games with the names of educators and peers. Sing songs that contain names.
-Provide opportunities in different places and at different times for the toddler to interact with familiar and unfamiliar adults
-Encourage children to greet other educators by name.

SED5. The older toddler demonstrates and labels relationships of others such as “Mommy, Daddy and me are a family. You are my teacher- I love all of you.”

-cry for familiar adult when facing a challenging situation.
-ask for a variety of people during the day such as “Daddy” or “Nana” even if they are not part of the day to day routine.

-Recognize and support children’s need for information about people. (i.e. “Yes your Nana visited you this week but she went home on the airplane.”)
-Read books about diverse families, being sure that each variation of family in the program is represented. (i.e. single parents; gay and lesbian parents; grandparents raising toddlers, etc.)

Help toddlers make sense of where family members are during the day, by having pictures of their homes, their parent’s workplace etc.

SED6. The older toddler follows the directions of adults.

-change their focus and listen when adult is speaking to them.
-engages with adults in simple conversation during transitions

State clear expectations and boundaries while supporting children and their learning.

Let toddlers develop some program’s rules with trusted adults. Simple statements like “we walk in the classroom/house”, “use inside voices”, and “put toys away after playing” help a toddler to connect the adults’ directions to something they have helped create.

-Use positive statements when giving directions. “Blocks are for building.”, “We hug our friends.”

SED7 The older toddler seeks adults for information and support in understanding things

-follow favored educator around.
-ask adults “why” or “how” questions.

-Enhance the older toddler’s natural curiosity by answering “why7” questions with new vocabulary and concepts.
-Read books that answer “why” and “how” questions.
-Try asking the older toddler “Why do you think” and help them in formulating answers.

Learning Guideline: The toddler notices and interacts with toddlers their own age.


Young toddler (12-24 months) may…

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED8 The young toddler notices, relates to and engages with children around the same age.

-cry or become distressed if another toddler cries.
-watch other children.
-seeks specific children for regular interactions.

-Provide consistency in the groupings of toddlers. Don’t make unnecessary changes, keep toddlers together as long as possible.
-Provide toddlers with opportunities to be around and observe other children, including those slightly older than themselves.

SED9. The young toddler is responsive to playing next to and with other children

-watch a peer during play.
-imitate peer without actual interacting with them.
--smile, laugh or talk to another child.
-bring toys over to other child and offers the toy for play.

-Provide time and supervision for children to manipulate materials within the same area.
-Recognize when a child imitate or is watching another child. (i.e. “Amy did you see how Mary was using the car? Mary, Amy is rolling the car just like you did.”
-Read books and talk about friends and friendships.
-Model and provide the words to help toddlers learn to share materials with each other.
-Have duplicates of favorite toys and toys that it takes two to play with.


Older Toddler (22-33 months) may…

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED10. The older toddler becomes attached to people around their own age.

-seek certain children for play
-notice when specific children are not around.
- talk to other children.
-raise voice to other children when seeking attention.

-Keep toddler groups consistent.
-Recognize children’s preferences for playmates and encourage interactions as such.
-Provide opportunities for toddlers to pay attention to who is in their group. Plan activities where children find their picture or their name on a card. Acknowledge who is missing in the group and provide words to use to describe feelings about missing friends.

SED11. The older toddler is responsive to other children.

--observe and imitate play of others
-respond with laughter and “chatter” in interactions with other children
-raise voice to other children when seeking attention.
-may become aggressive in their play, pushing or hitting.

Verbally support children in interactions. (i.e. “Tell Sam-- I don’t like when you hit me. Hitting hurts me”).
-Recognize children’s preferences for playmates while setting up opportunities for new friendships to develop.
-Provide photos and dolls that represent the diversity in the program, including children with disabilities.
-Provide toys that can be played with by 2 children.
-Read books about how we treat friends.

SED12. The older toddler begins to develop increased “cooperative” play with peers’.

-begin to engage in play that has a story line.

-begin to take on roles of familiar people, animals, or characters.

-with support, start to understand about taking turns.
-may express frustrations when playing with others.

-Use props (duplicates if possible) to expand play. (i.e. several baby dolls and cribs)
-Provide activities that call for cooperation

( i.e. games that need turn taking; painting a mural; imaginative play that assigns roles that need to work together.)

-Expand children’s play through conversation that recognizes their storyline. (i.e. “I see that you are pretending to be mommies Mary and Amy- what else does a mommy do besides take care of the babies?” Provide new vocabulary.
-Encourage and support small group play and work.

Learning Guideline: The toddler experiences and expresses a range of emotions.


Young toddlers (12-24 months) may….

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED13. The young toddler expresses a range of emotions, sometimes with intensity.

-experience intense feelings of sadness and jubilation when leaving and reuniting with parents
-name some emotions.

-Indentify specific factors in the day that help the child understand when they may be leaving (i.e. “You go home after we play outside in the afternoon.”)

-Play games, read books, have pictures of toddlers showing emotions and use to help toddlers identify feelings as they are occurring.

SED14. The young toddler recognizes his/her own feelings.

-appear uneasy when approached by an unfamiliar person.
-express themselves in different ways including verbally and physically.
-may go to favored educator when feeling strong emotions.

-Labeling expressions. (i.e. “You look worried? Do you need some help?”)
-Hang simple culturally appropriate pictures at toddler’s eye level depicting a range of emotions with labels.
-Provide comfort and holding when a child seeks it.
Provide recognition when child is successful. (i.e. “I see you were able to help yourself!”)

SED15. The young toddler begins to express their likes and dislikes.

-refuse to stop activity when liked.
-want to wear the same clothing daily.

-Supportive experiences where children are allowed long periods of time to engage in activities they enjoy.


Older Toddlers (22-33 months) may…

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED16. The older toddler begins to label their feelings.

- laugh and say “I am so happy today.”
-yell, “NO! That makes me mad!”

Provide recognition of child’s response to activities or situations. (i.e. “WOW- you seem happy, you must really enjoy playing in the water!”)

-Provide recognition of distress. (i.e. “You seem upset” rather than “its okay”).

SED17. The older toddler begins to demonstrate need to complete tasks on his/her own.

-insist on dressing oneself (i.e. “I do it!”)
-refuse help only to ask for it when they become frustrated.

-Allow children to complete task at hand with support. (i.e. “I see you putting on your shoes- would you like me loosen them for you to slip your foot in? Then you can close the strap.”- If child answers “No.” do not insist on helping them remain supportive while they continue to complete the task.)

Learning Guideline: The toddler progresses in regulating his own feelings and behavior.


Young Toddlers (12-24 months) may…

Suggested Supportive Learning Experiences

SED18. The young toddler is developing the ability to control his/her emotions.

-express themselves in different ways including verbally and physically.
-move away from frustrating experiences.
- with support, show more impulse control.

-Allow child to meet their own physical needs or sucking through the use of their thumb.

-Support transitions from activity to activity with preparation of transition for toddlers (i.e. “In five minutes it is time to clean up”).

SED19. The young toddler begins to develop strategies to manage his/her expression of feelings.

-suck their thumb to soothe themselves.
-uses facial expressions and physical indicators (i.e. clenched fists)

-Provide supportive experiences where children have valid choices (i.e. “You can have water or milk”).
-With close supervision, allow toddlers time to work through their emotions.

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