"Beary" Fun Playgroups

The Family Enrichment Program Toddler Curriculum


"Beary" Fun Playgroups for Toddlers and their Parents

The strength and effectiveness of any curriculum is dependent upon the program staff. The primary component of any curriculum is the relationship that the staff has with the families and children they serve. In order to foster optimal development, relationships need to be consistent, predictable and nurturing. Staff members need to know the individual gifts each family brings to the curriculum as well as their strengths, and needs. A solid knowledge of infant toddler development is also an essential component for any curriculum. Staff members need to know the chronological age as well as the developmental levels of every child they serve in order to understand what foundational skills they have developed, what the developmental agenda is for each child, and what challenges exist that might interfere with each child reaching his/her own developmental potential.

An effective curriculum is one that is dynamic and is driven by the needs of the participants. Staff should be responsive to the changing needs of each group. In order to do this staff should meet prior to each group to discuss the plan for the day. When facilitating the group, staff should be able to work together to keep activities running smoothly, while constantly reading the cues of the participants in order to know when to linger or when to change the activity. All staff should know the purpose and goals for each group. Equally, all staff should be aware of the goals for each child and caregiver attending the group.

The Family Enrichment Program Toddler Curriculum is designed to provide a framework for Birth to Three Program Staff to facilitate interactions among parents and young children in a playgroup setting. It is our belief that rich and varied opportunities for children to use all their senses as they explore the world, guided by loving adults, provide the foundation children need to become the best that they can be. Each playgroup lesson is centered on a theme and incorporates the Ten Things Every Child Needs, which were identified by the McCormick Tribune Education Foundation on early brain development. The Ten Things Every Child Needs include interaction, loving touch, stable relationships, safety and health, self-esteem, quality childcare, communication, play, music, and reading. Icons for the Ten Things Every Child Needs are interspersed throughout each lesson to provide specific focus on these quality indicators, which are actually embedded in the entire playgroup session.

The playgroup lessons provide opportunities for large group activities, exploration of creative learning centers by parent/child dyads, and opportunities for free environmental exploration by the child. Even though each lesson follows a specific format with Warm-up Play, Gathering and Settling Time, Welcome Songs, Preview and Circle Time, Creative Play Stations, Snack Time, Transition of Parents to a Parent Education Group, Free Choice Play, Regathering Activities, Review, Home Play, and a Good-bye Song, it is recommended that following the lead of the parent/child dyads be paramount.

Literacy activities and music are emphasized in the curriculum. Children and adults share books as warm-up and regathering activities. Also, at the end of the groups children take home story sacks. The story sacks include board books and a toy and are made of a coordinating fabric. Music is also emphasized throughout each lesson. Children and parents sing familiar songs each week and also learn at least one new song. The songs are related to the theme and are sung to familiar tunes. Parents learn that it is easy to make up songs for their children. Also, children listen to a variety of types of music during Free Choice Play.

Creative play stations to match the playgroup theme are then set up around the room. The play stations focus on Messy Play, Creative Play, Language /Pretend Play, and Problem Solving Play or Active Play. The play stations are set up to encourage parent/child interactions, which are led by the child. Messy play encourages the children to explore with all of their senses. Creative play allows the children to express themselves with a variety of art materials. Fine motor skills are emphasized at this play station. Although the process of creative expression is encouraged over the product, the children's names are placed on their artistic creations and their creations are sent home. Language and Pretend Play are combined to encourage the development of receptive and expressive language skills and abstract thinking skills. Vocabulary, language concepts, direction following, and natural language development techniques are introduced. In pretend play child learn to think symbolically as they represent familiar experiences with their parents. Active play has a movement component and encourages children to use their bodies as they play. Problem solving play encourages cognitive development as children categorize, figure out cause and effect relationships, and explore size relationships.

The lessons are outlined in detail for staff and accompanied by one-page parent handouts in both English and Spanish. A curriculum guide has been developed to help child care staff select lessons with a particular developmental focus. Also, a vocabulary sheet in English and Spanish accompanies each lesson and is designed to help childcare staff provide a rich language environment for the children. Prior to each lesson, it is recommended that the vocabulary to be used be mastered by the childcare staff in the primary language of the children attending each group.

At the conclusion of each group, it is advisable for all members of the play group team to discuss their observations, thoughts and feelings about the group. Discussion should include the ways in which the group went well, what could be reconsidered, family and child reactions and future considerations for the next group. Also, information should be collected for individual child portfolios, including anecdotal notes, photographs, and work samples.

Curriculum should never take center stage. Rather curriculum should be used to support the relationships between families and their children and program staff and the families they serve. Please come and observe the curriculum in action at our site.


The "Beary" Fun Playgroups Toddler Curriculum was developed by the ECHO Family Enrichment Program Staff

Alice Feder Kusmierek, Ph.D., School Psychologist
Julie Balis, M.A., Speech/Language Pathologist
Diane Collier, M.A., Child Development Specialist
Kitty Cunningham, MSW, Social Worker
Jane Dwyer, M.A., Child Development Specialist
Judy Gray, Nurse Practitioner
Carman Igyarto, Registered Nurse
Geralyn Johnson, M.A., Child Development Specialist
Nancy Kuglin, M.A., Child Development Specialist
Yolanda Villagomez, Translator/Bilingual Family Advocate
Veronica Woods, Registered Occupational Therapist

With Special Assistance From:
Maura Arevalo, FEP Parent/Child Care Assistant
Mary Campbell, Child Care Assistant
Lupita Lopez, FEP Parent/Child Care Assistant
Keisha Nobles, Secretary
Lucy Orozco, FEP Parent/Community Advocate
Arcelia Sanchez, FEP Parent/Community Advocate
Carolyn Scott, FEP Parent, Child Care Assistant
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Family Enrichment Program
ECHO Joint Agreement
Park Forest, IL