Although I’ve been presenting programs for various ages of young children over a couple of decades now, I still pause when I write up descriptions of what I do and what ages I do it for. For example, how do you define a toddler, as differentiated from an infant or baby on the one hand, and a preschooler on the other? It’s not an idle exercise when you are planning a library program.

For this post, I started in two places – Wikipedia and a book I often recommend to early childhood education students: Innovations: Infant and Toddler Development by Kay Albrecht and Linda G. Miller (Gryphon House, 2001). Wikipedia defines a toddler as “a young child who is learning to walk or ‘toddle,’ generally considered to be the second stage of development after infancy and occurring predominantly during the ages of 12 to 36 months old.” Albrecht and Miller define “toddlerhood” as the time “from 18 months of age to 36 months of age.” Albrecht and Miller’s definition is more socially and cognitively developmental; it’s the one I learned when I took my first child development workshops, and I still say “For 18 – 36 months” when I’m advertising my toddler storytimes. Wikipedia’s is more tied to physical development.

But both definitions recognize that toddlerhood is a time of constant change. A 20-month-old laughs and charms you one day, and throws blocks at you, shrieking, the next.

If you look at the schedule of baby and toddler programs in large library systems, you’ll see programs for babies who are walking vs. those who aren’t walking yet. You’ll see them for young toddlers (12 – 24 months) and older toddlers (24 – 36 months). The stories you read and participation rhymes you flex your fingers to might be a little different. But I find that I act pretty much the same with infants and three-year-olds; I stay loose and never move too quickly, I try for eye contact, I don’t shout (even though, ahem, I sometimes want to shout at the parents who take cell phone calls), I read to a rhythm, and I sing songs with my ukulele.

I’ve done plenty of programs for babies and toddlers together and they work just fine as long as the group is 25 children or less. But all too often these days, because libraries are one of the few community services that offer special programs for children under three years old, audience demand can grow huge. I’ve heard plenty of children’s librarians say that if they let everyone into their baby or toddler times, they’d have 70 or 80 children, plus all the parents and caregivers – AKA a chaotic mob.

It’s really because of numbers and demand that we so often see baby and toddler groups divided into subgroups – not because toddlers really need to be in subgroups.

However, I have to share the name of one of these toddler-subgroup storytimes with you. It’s held at the Morrison Regional Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC. It’s for 18 – 23 month olds – a subgroup if I’ve ever heard of one – and it’s titled “The Young and the Restless.”