Q. Will my 2-year-old get anything out of a toddler program? When I observed one class, the toddlers didn't seem to be interacting much.
A. Actually, that's just what you should see, because toddlers mostly engage in solo or parallel play, says Janis Strasser, PhD, associate professor of early childhood education at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. "Even though children may not be playing with other children, they are watching, listening, and modeling what they see and hear. We call this 'scaffolding.' For instance, a child may watch another child rock a baby doll in the dramatic play area, and the next day that child may pick up a doll and try pretend play herself." So there's more going on than what you may see on the surface.
Expect to see some kids playing by themselves, or wandering around the classroom, finding things that interest them. Toddlers should also have lots of opportunities to engage their senses, with water, sand, Play-Doh, and paint. And you should see the teacher interacting with the kids, but look for more lap time -- one teacher reading to two or three kids -- and less circle time. Each child should also get some one-on-one attention from a teacher, so look for a low teacher-child ratio (1 to 5 is good).