Problems teaching toddlers English

cartoon of five toddlers of multi ethnic origin
10 Jul Shelley Vernon 1 Comment

A super-experienced English teacher wrote in with his problems teaching toddlers English.


Problems teaching toddlers in China


First of all I just want to thank you for all the teaching content over the years. I am a great fan. I have a problem and I really hope you can help.


Two of my classes here are baby classes, having students from age 2 to 3. These children can barely speak in their native language, and even though I am starting to win their confidence, some still look very scared when they come to class and see this 55 year old grandpa foreign teacher. To make matters worse, the parents sit behind their children, and scrutinize everything I do!


I have tried my kindergarten props such as animal puppets, plastic fruits, kindergarten phonics and English songs and as we have no set syllabus for this age level, I need to come up with fresh ideas every day. It is not really working, and I can see the look on their parents faces, they look bored, and dissatisfied, and the children don’t really learn anything.


I am the kind of person that likes to do everything well, and if my class is not good, it affects my mood the whole day. So much so that I now dread these baby classes and considering to give up teaching. I have been looking at English for Toddlers on your site and consider buying it. But I am not sure it will help, as I said these children are not native speakers where you can tell a story and they can at least sit down and listen and understand.


Do you have any suggestions or ideas that can help me out of this dilemma?


toddler playing with a football

Why are toddlers so difficult to teach?


You are a teacher and you want to teach. But with toddlers you can't teach. You have to play. You want to perform and deliver results. But it doesn't work like that with toddlers. You can't pull on a flower to make it grow faster.


Don't put yourself under so much pressure. The parents might be pushy and ambitious for their toddlers, but don't let that become your problem. If you put yourself under pressure the atmosphere will be tense. The kids will feel that. They won't understand why, but you'll make them feel nervous!


The teacher should be relaxed and enjoy spending time with toddlers. If the teacher isn't having fun, the kids won't be either!


Here are some ideas to try out with this toddler English class!


  • It's quite normal for a stranger to seem scary to a toddler. Get down on the floor with the toddlers, smile, and don't try to touch them or get to close at first. Let them come to you when they are ready.
  • Bring in something you really like, maybe you like kicking a ball around. If you do, be gentle. Remember toddlers are fragile. Get down on the floor and roll the ball. Make a goal for the world cup, play with the parents and see who can score a goal, chances are the kids will want to touch the ball. When they do you point and say "ball".
  • The advantage of getting the parents involved is that they won't be able to sit there scrutinizing your every move. If they are playing then it MUST be something worth doing.
  • The teacher chats away, using repetitive English, the same words over and over, and over, short phrases, the same ones, simple commands, touch, touch, touch, what is it? It's a ball! Over and over. The toddlers won't get bored of hearing the same words over and over. Get the parents saying ball too, that way they can continue English play with their kids at home.


teaching toddlers english by shelley ann vernon book

If this blog post gives you any hope then get the toddlers report for the full low-down on teaching toddlers English.


Let me know how it goes in the comments box below, I'd love to hear from you.


All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games


Hello teachers, Shelley here. I'm sharing an email I received on this post. I hope it reassures you if you are worried about teaching todders.... I want to say that this removed a lot of weight of my shoulders as I was thinking too much about how the toddlers lessons should go, instead of just going with the flow. This helped a lot becasue as you said I can't organize and get them to do things the way I want rather I should do things the way they want, which changed the game for me in the class last friday. THANK YOU!!

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