Problems teaching toddlers English

cartoon of toddlers of different origins

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

Problems teaching toddlers English in China

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

Two of my classes here are baby classes, with toddlers aged 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 but to no avail. In addition, as we have no set syllabus for this age level, I need to come up with fresh ideas every day. However, it is not working, and I can see the look on 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 am considering giving up teaching. I have been looking at English for Toddlers on your site and am thinking of buying it. But I am not sure it will help because, as I said, these children are not native speakers where you can tell a story they can understand.

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

Why are toddlers so challenging to teach?

Why does this super-motivated teacher have all these problems teaching toddlers English, despite trying so many things?

toddler playing with a football

The answer lies in that this teacher is desperate to TEACH his toddler pupils when he should be playing with them! This teacher wants 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. 


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

Ideas to try out with this toddler English class!

It’s pretty 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 too close at first. Let them come to you when they are ready.

Bring in something you like; maybe you enjoy kicking a ball around. If you do, be gentle. Remember, toddlers are fragile. Get down to the toddlers’ level 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 their kids may get interested in a game and follow their example. In addition, they won’t be able to sit there scrutinizing your every move!

The teacher should chat away, using the same words and short phrases repeatedly. Repeat a few simple commands constantly. For example, touch, touch, touch, what is it? It’s a ball! Repeat that over and over. The toddlers won’t get bored of hearing the same words because they will be focusing on the ball. Get the parents to say ball too, to continue English play with their kids at home.

Check out this post on teaching two-year-olds entitled The perfect lesson and why it failed.

If this post gives you any hope, get the toddler’s report for the full low-down on teaching toddlers English.  Then, let me know how it goes in the comments box below; I’d love to hear from you.

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

1 thought on “Problems teaching toddlers English”

  1. 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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