Why does structure matter for toddlers?

Updated: Apr 19

Learning Centre, Pre-School, Playschool, they all denote an element of order and structure that promise to make the child school ready. However, a common cause for concern is whether this structure could instead stifle the child’s natural curiosity. Like most complicated questions the answer to this lies in a thick grey line that is neither black nor white.

Nurseries are bustling with such stories. For instance, it happened once that during a counting activity, a little boy gasped aloud at a lizard slowly crawling on the ceiling and all the children were now intently gazing at it. The teacher stopped the current activity and instead supported the children’s newly developed lizard-based curiosity, in a manner appropriate to their age and existing knowledge.

This meant that how a lizard climbs up a wall was not addressed in overwhelming scientific detail, but the children were encouraged to build on their existing foundation and count that the lizard had two eyes, and one tail.

Digital platforms today, often allow children to jump the order and learn what you feel like, without first establishing a strong foundation of essential concepts. Parents and educationists need to understand that jumping the order of the syllabus does more harm than good because just as when constructing a building, the foundation needs to be sturdy, or the building will fall.

When building for digital, flexible schedules with gradual transitions between subjects and friendly reminders on unfinished tasks can help the child deal with distractions and difficulties by developing a positive habit of coming back to finish what was started.

A flexible structured learning tool is one that addresses the child’s newly found curiosity but forces the child to start back where they left. Take for example you are reading a book, you identify the animal as a slug, but the book calls it a snail. Naturally, you leave to find out the difference and then the tool reminds you to come back and carry-on reading.

An ideal curriculum for these early years would be a structured one, designed with this common hurdle in mind. Transitioning between subjects would not be as stimulating as it is on a quiz show like Kaun Banega Crorepati where questions from a wide array of subjects, whizz past putting one’s agility to the ultimate test. Instead, the schedule would expose the child to gradual transitions. For example, learning a new word in language class, would transition seamlessly to a joining the dots activity that reveals the object that the new word represents in Creative Skills Class.

Following a schedule is the key principle behind most success stories, be it a diet, or one’s climb up the corporate ladder. Children tend to like schedules because it provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. Another benefit is that it provides opportunity for practice. Children do not get bored while practicing, instead, by repeating things, a child builds confidence in their abilities. Remember that even the simple act of drinking from a cup required repeated practice from the child.

Such schedules and routines are a collection of various events that occur repeatedly. So even when the activity holds no interest for the child, the answer is not frustration, tantrums, and never-ending breaks, because slowly and steadily, children exposed to such structures and schedules learn that the key to understanding difficult concepts lies in persistently finishing what they started. Introducing such structured learning during these formative early years therefore has twofold benefits: children learn to see routine with a broad sense of familiarity but also understand disruption of thought and the need to suddenly switch and adapt to changes. With our world constantly changing in ways unimaginable, in manners that are barely predictable, it is certain that the ability to address changes and adapt to them is paramount to making children future ready.

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