Activities to Teach Toddlers With Vygotsky's Theory
You're the mama of a toddler -- between the tantrums, night wakings, and overall mayhem, you don't exactly have the time to brush up on developmental theory. But you might be surprised to realize that the ideas of child development heavyweight Lev Vygotsky -- best known for his Social Development Theory -- can be applied to simple, every day toddler activities. The main ideas in Vygotsky's theory continue to inform us. Try these activities inspired by Vygotsky's theories with your toddler.
The Zone of Proximal Development
This principle of Vygotsky's work, the Zone of Proximal Development, is a concept that refers to the area where a child needs guidance and encouragement in order to achieve a skill, according to SimplyPsychology.org. Any activity that's a bit difficult for your toddler -- putting a diaper on a doll, solving a puzzle, or drawing a letter -- provides an opportunity to work within her ZPD, says Wisconsin's Early Childhood Excellence Initiative. Try not to be an overbearing Mamazilla and do things for her, but provide just enough help in order for her to accomplish something difficult and feel like a million bucks.
The More Knowlegdable Other
The More Knowledgeable Other is Vygotsky's idea that a key way kiddos learn is from another person with more knowledge and experience, notes SimplyPsychology.org. A key way toddlers tap into the MKOs in their lives is through group activities. KidsHealth.org recommends playing the Hokey-Pokey with a group of toddlers, during which they can learn from the instructor and peers where their body parts are. Playing with a parachute lets little ones take cues from others about direction. And hey, if your tot still doesn't know her left from her right, don't worry -- surely, she will bump into many other MKOs in the years to come!
According to Vygotsky, a key way toddlers learn is to engage in what he called "private speech"; essentially, they chat their way through planning and doing activities, and as a result, boost their powers of thinking and understanding, says SimplyPsychology.org. As cited in an article on ScienceDaily.com, Adam Winsler, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, notes that using private speech improves children's communication skills with others. Demonstrate self-talk for your tot. Talk to yourself about how you're getting your keys so you can go to the store and buy milk, how you're turning on the windshield wipers because it's starting rain. Try to ignore the strange looks you get as you blabber away to yourself. Vygotsky would be proud.
Vygotsky believed that social learning was key to cognitive development. In real life, this translates to kiddos playing an active role in learning, also known as reciprocal teaching. Summarizing, question-generating, clarifying, and predicting are the main principles of reciprocal teaching, according to Education.com. You can pave the way for this type of thinking during every-day activities. After you go to the park, summarize what you did there together; before bed, ask your toddler questions about his day. Make predictions together about what's going to happen tomorrow. These conversations might make your head spin as they jump from The Wiggles to purple cats to the potty, but believe it or not, they're helping your toddler's brain form important, lasting connections.
- Simply Psychology: Lev Vygotsky
- Kids Health: Games for Toddlers
- Wisconsin's Early Childhood Excellence Initiative: Scaffolding
- Science Daily: Preschool Kids Do Better When They Talk to Themselves, Research Shows
- Learning Theories: Social Development Theory (Vygotsky)
- Haggbloom SJ, Warnick JE, Jones VK, et al. The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Review of General Psychology. 2002;6(2):139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-26126.96.36.199
- Vygotsky LS. Thought and Language. Kozulin A, trans. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press; 1986. (Original work published in 1934)
- Woolfolk AE. Educational Psychology (14th ed). Pearson; 2019.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images