Does My Toddler Need Online Classes?

Have you been asking yourself, “Does my toddler need online classes?” Maybe you’re currently exploring online classes as an option for your young child.

Or maybe your hunch is that your child doesn’t need them. But you see so many ads for online classes for young kids, and you start to doubt yourself.

You worry that if you don’t enroll, your child will miss out on something important. You feel mom guilt when you see some of your friends enrolling their kids.

If you can relate with any of these, read on.

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I often hear moms frustrated that their kids don’t “pay attention” during online classes. “I feel like I just wasted my money.” “He doesn’t respond to what the teacher says.” Sadly, some blame the teacher, or the child – or themselves, feeling like bad moms if their kids aren’t contentedly sitting in front of the screen and doing the work.

If you’re a mom going through this, I feel you. (If you’re the teacher who is getting blamed, I feel you, too!) So if you’ve already made the decision to enroll, and you just want to learn how to make the best out of the situation, read on too! I’ll share some tips on what you can do.

A note to parents reading this who may be doing teletherapy: This article does not apply to therapy that is done online. In teletherapy, a therapist has personalized, one on one sessions with a child and the parents. The therapist tailors the sessons specifically for that particular child. If your doctor prescribed teletherapy for your child, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Why Young Kids Do Not Need Online Classes

Online classes for young kids are a relatively new thing. As of now, there are no published researches documenting how much kids actually learn during an online class. It will be difficult to conduct researches about online learning, because each online class is different.

Some of the published researches, like this one, talk about the parents’ experiences. In this research, the parents overwhelmingly had a difficult time with online learning for young kids.

Despite this lack of research specifically on online classes, we do know how young kids learn and how their brains work. Based on what research tells us about toddler learning in general, your toddler does NOT need online classes. The truth is this – the brains of young children are not wired for online classes.

So if you did not enroll your child in an online class, you can rest your mind and stop worrying. Your child is not missing out.

Here are the reasons you should consider if you are thinking, “Does my toddler need online classes?”

Toddlers do NOT need academics.

Before asking whether toddlers need online classes, we need to ask whether they need classes in the first place. To answer this question, let’s look at what toddlers need to learn. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the skills we should expect from toddlers.

12 months

  • takes the first independent steps
  • holds a crayon, scribbles
  • shows objects to parent to share interest
  • points to an object that he likes
  • uses gestures like waving, and follows a one-step command with a gesture

18 months

  • runs
  • crudely imitates a vertical stroke
  • points to some objects and body parts
  • uses 10-25 words

2 years

  • kicks and throws a ball
  • imitates drawing a circle and a horizontal line
  • plays alongside another child
  • follows a two-step command
  • uses more than 50 words and has two-word sentences

Nowhere does it say that two-year-olds should be tracing shapes and learning the alphabet. Academic skills are expected for older kids.

For example, a five-year-old is expected to read 25 words, and to know the sounds of vowels and consonants by the end of kindergarten. Yes you read that right! FIVE years old! So why are there so many programs that expect two- or three-year-olds to be able to do these skills?!

If your child is already interested in doing more advanced skills, and you are not stressed or pressured about it, then that’s fine! But do not force it. Your child will not be any less successful in life just because she learned to read at age 5 instead of at age 3.

In fact, if you allow your child to learn at her own pace, she may even be more successful. Our society today pushes kids to do too much, too soon, and kids are paying the price. We have kids who, in first or second grade (!) are already burned out and tired from school!

Society places immense pressure on our kids. It is taking a toll on their mental health, and often their physical health too. So spare yourself and your child these problems in the future.

Academic online classes don’t develop the skills that toddlers need to learn.

What do toddlers and preschool children really need to learn? If you look at many toddler and preschool learning activities, you might be tempted to think that it is most important for young kids to learn about academic skills such as the alphabet and numbers.

However, this is simply not true! At this age, it is more important for kids to learn interactive language. This means using a combination of words, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact to communicate.

Want to learn more about language development during the toddler years? Read this article.

Interactive language is VERY important. It is much more vital to learn this skill early on, during this critical period of brain development. The alphabet and numbers can wait.

In my clinic, I notice that parents take this skill for granted, because we focus so much on academic skills. That’s why when I see a child using interactive language well, I always point out to parents that this is so much more valuable than a child knowing how to count to 50. Parents are often surprised, because they never thought about it that way!

Many of cues for interactive language are lost in online classes.

In our Zoom meetings for work, we can’t even tell whether or not our colleague is looking at us. We can’t see whole body language, and we can miss many gestures. If it is already difficult for us as adults, imagine how much harder it will be for your child!

I have heard moms saying, “My child doesn’t mind the teacher.” Well, how would the child even know that he is supposed to mind the teacher? Especially if your child has watched videos in the past, your child may even think that he is just watching a Youtube video!

Toddler brains also cannot translate what they see on screen from 2D to 3D. As adults, when we see things on the screen, we have years of experiences to help us interpret what we see. That experience helps us when we do online learning. Even then, we already have a hard time! Just imagine how much more difficult this will be for a young child who has not had these experiences.

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Online classes are quite different from a one on one video chat though. Particularly now that we may not get to see our loved ones as often, video chat is a good way to stay in touch. You can also do a video chat with a friend who has a kid around your child’s age. This has a great bonus of letting you stay in touch with other mom friends. Even if your kids don’t actually talk with each other during the call, they will enjoy waving, smiling, and maybe even singing a nursery rhyme.

Young kids’ brains are wired for exploration, NOT sitting in front of a screen.

If your toddler is always running around and climbing furniture, she is not being naughty. This is how nature programmed her to act, because this is what is best for her development!

Toddlers NEED physical activity to be able to develop well. They also need this for good health. That’s why the World Health Organization recommends at least three hours of active time each day, spread throughout the day.

I often hear moms say that they need to exert so much effort to keep their toddlers in front of the screen. “He only looks at the teacher for a few minutes, then he will run around and want to play.” This is not your fault, the teacher’s fault, or your child’s fault. Your child is doing exactly what is expected, and trying to get the activity and stimulation that he badly needs.

If you look at what research actually says about child development, your child needs movement and the exploration more than she needs to sit in front of a computer and listen to a teacher on the screen.

Also, many online classes come with worksheets that the kids need to fill up, and mom needs to scan and send to the teacher. Do NOT force your child to sit at a desk and answer these worksheets.

Just think of how much stress and work this means for mom, too! Choose your battles, mommy. This is not a battle worth fighting. We have enough to worry about as it is, without adding this to our plate as well.

Here’s one thing you can do. Think of all the hours you will spend policing your child so that she will sit through an online class. Instead, spend the same amount of time doing the one thing that research has actually proven will help your child grow up smarter, healthier, happier, and more successful.

Trying to decide whether it is time to enroll your child in preschool?

For a process you can use to help you make your decision, watch this webinar replay for free.

But I already decided to let my toddler do online classes. What can I do?

There may be some ways that you can make the best out of the situation. Whatever you do, don’t let the online classes add to the stress and overwhelm of toddler mom life. Try these tips.

1. Don’t force your child.

Don’t force your child to sit in front of the computer or tablet to attend the whole class.

If there are worksheets that you should submit, don’t force your child to complete them. If the school’s teachers are well trained in child development, they will understand.

But wait, you may think, am I not breeding bad study habits? Am I teaching my child that it’s okay to leave work unfinished? Well, remember this – your child is only a toddler! It’s WAY too early to talk about study habits.

Your goal at this point is to instill a love of learning. You will completely defeat this purpose if you force your child.

Hopefully also, the classes should be short. A 15- to 30-minute class is already plenty of time for a toddler.

2. Choose classes that have age-appropriate activities.

Select activities that are age-appropriate and that your child will enjoy.

Here are some examples:

  • Circle time where the teacher sings an action song that your child can imitate, or reads a story
  • Movement and exercise classes. The exercises shouldn’t be complicated, and your toddler doesn’t even have to follow them exactly. The important thing is to get moving!
  • Playdates that are for interaction with other kids, similar to doing video chats with loved ones

Do you need these? You don’t, so don’t feel pressured to enroll in any. However, if you really want a program for your toddler, choose a class that respects your child’s developmental level.

To get an idea for what are age-appropriate activities, get this free guide to easy, no-prep toddler learning activities.

3. Don’t take “grades” or evaluations too seriously.

Students are evaluated in different ways during online classes. Some of the evaluations are based on what teachers observe during the sessions. Sometimes, parents scan and submit their child’s work. Some schools also ask parents for feedback. Despite these methods, it is very difficult to truly gauge a child’s skills online.

Do not be stressed about these evaluations. They will NOT predict how successful your child will be in kindergarten, much less in life! In fact, this applies not only to online classes, but to face to face classes as well. This is why many schools choose to give descriptive feedback rather than a formal evaluation.

Want to learn how to develop the ONE thing that research has proven to be MOST important for success in life? This is just one of the things you’ll get in our online course, Learning Through Play 101.

4. Talk with your child about what is happening.

Treat your online class just as you would any screen time, such as watching a Youtube video. Pediatricians recommend that for toddlers, parents should watch with their child and explain what is happening.

Prompt your child and say, “Wow you’re going to sing a song with your teacher and classmates!” You can sing along with them and do the actions too!

5. Use the online classes to replace less desirable forms of screen time.

If your child already spends some time watching videos or using apps, the online class may be able to replace the time she spends with these.

Use the online classes to replace other forms screen time. The classes should NOT decrease the amount of time for active play. Active play is WAY more important for your child’s health and development.

Avoid “online classes” where the teacher simply plays videos. You want the online class to be more like a video chat with the teacher and an online playdate with other kids.

Remember also that you will need to take precautions to prevent the physical effects of excessive screen time, such as digital eye strain, back strain, neck strain, and headaches.

Avoid classes that are too long. One hour is already plenty for a toddler! Take movement breaks and eye breaks at least every twenty minutes.

Again, don’t force your child. Who knows, your child may already be feeling eye strain, that’s why she looks away and starts running around!

Recommended Reading: Striking a Healthy Screen Time Balance for Toddlers and Young Children

What can I do instead of online classes?

If you live in a place where face-to-face classes are not yet allowed, you may feel that online classes are your only option. However, that’s not the case. There is plenty you can do at home, and it doesn’t have to be very difficult for you!

Recommended reading: Six Things You Can Do to Set Up Your Toddler for Success – with clinical psychologist and author of bestselling books on learning and parenting Dr. Queena Lee-Chua

Kids learn best through play. The best activities are those that you do as part of your daily routine. That way, you help your toddler learn without the added stress, and you can still get things done. Read this article on why toddler activities and learning through play shouldn’t be stressful for you.

So the next time you see an ad for a toddler class, you can let go of the mom guilt. You will know that your child is NOT missing out. What your child needs most is YOU, and not some online class.

Did this post help you? Share it with someone you know who will find it helpful too!

About the author: Dr. Victoria Nolasco is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, clinical associate professor of pediatrics, and a certified positive discipline coach. She is also mom to a three-year-old. Her blog, effectivemommy.com, is dedicated to happy and confident parenting for toddler moms. Follow Effective Mommy on Facebook or Instagram.

Want easy, no-prep toddler activities that actually work?

Boost your child's brain development too!
Get your FREE guide: 45 Stress-Free Toddler Activities. Brought to you by a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and toddler mom.
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