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Teaching Toddlers: Early Learning and Development for 2-3-Year-Olds

November 4th, 2019

Developmental milestones for toddlers and preschoolers and how to help your child reach them.

The toddler years are a critical time in learning for your child. As children begin to walk, talk, and explore, it is up to parents to provide the right tools and activities to help them grow.

Babies transition to toddlers at around 24 months old, after moving from crawling to walking (or “toddling”). At one-year-old, most children say their first words and begin pointing and using hand movements. From here on, your child will continue to learn more and more words (including some we would rather them NOT learn!) Their vocabulary will typically increase slowly during the first six months, then rapidly the following six. By this time your child’s vocabulary will have increased from one or two words to fifty or more. After this two-year-old developmental milestone, your child will begin to create simple sentences. They will also be able to follow simple two-step commands like, “Pick up your toy and put it away.” (Just a heads up, just because they CAN doesn’t mean they WILL. That might take some work.)

Children at this age understand more than they can express, which can lead to frustration and tantrums. If you see a tantrum brewing, try to distract your toddler with a book or toy. When teaching your child a new task or skill, try to find time when they are well fed and rested. A tired or hungry toddler is more likely to get frustrated and lash out.

As hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity increases, your child will begin to explore their surroundings and toys more closely. Safety becomes even more important as your child becomes more mobile and begins exploring your home. Make sure to childproof your home to prevent accidents. As your child becomes more curious and begins to explore, supply them with age appropriate toys. These toys should allow mastery of a skill before more complicated toys and tasks are given.

As toddlers grow, they become aware of what objects are used for and will begin to play accordingly. The concept of pretend play also begins. Your child will begin to use their toys imaginatively and invent creative play scenarios. Toddlers who are in daycare or are around other children may now go on playdates. Do not expect your child to play cooperatively at first. As a parent, you will have to teach them concepts such as taking turns, sharing, and nonviolence. In these situations, older siblings can be good role models in how to behave.

As toddlers become more independent they will want the freedom to explore. But after this, they will often come running back to you for comfort and reassurance. Allow the space for them to explore, while also making yourself available for support and comfort. Sometimes, your toddler might cry and cling to you when you try to leave. This is called separation anxiety and typically starts around nine months of age but can begin later. Separation anxiety begins to subside as your child develops social and language skills to cope with unknown scenarios. As they grow, your child will learn that their separation from you is only temporary.

Once your toddler begins walking, talking, and exploring the world around them, they will begin to learn and absorb information quickly. As a parent, there are things you can do to facilitate this learning. Allow your child chances to explore in a safe environment. Play engaging games with your child like peekaboo and pat-a-cake. Children often mimic behaviors of adults and are fascinated by things as simple as everyday housework. You can provide your child with age appropriate toys that will help with this such as a kitchenette or toy vacuum.

Other toys toddlers may enjoy include:

  • Simple puzzles
  • Brightly colored balls
  • Fat crayons or markers
  • Stacking or nesting toys like blocks to build towers
  • Toy animals and people
  • Pull, push, and riding toys
  • Peg boards and shape sorters to sort shapes and colors
  • Toy cars and trains

Additional activities and skills to improve your child’s learning include:

  • Organization – Encourage your child to put things back into their place, keeping their space organized
  • Empathy – Children who receive empathy from adults, develop the skill much earlier than those who don’t.
  • Encourage takings turns. Ownership should be secure before children can become comfortable sharing. Help your child wait for their turn and intervene if your child routinely begins grabbing at other children’s toys.
  • Teach assertiveness – Allow your child to develop their voice. Encourage them to voice their wants and opinions in a respectful manner.
  • Label emotions – Their own as well as the emotions of others. Recognizing others’ emotions is an important aspect of empathy and social interaction.
  • Praise your child and let them know why so they can feel good about themselves, instead of just seeking the validation.
  • Read – Reading to your child continues to be important as they can follow along with the stories. Be sure to point at the pictures as you read to help your child make connections. Encourage your child to name objects that they know. Afterwards, ask your child questions about the story.
  • Talk to your child about daily events or other topics to encourage language development.

Keep in mind that all toddlers develop at different rates. If you have concerns, consult your doctor or a specialist.