By now, your toddler has become something of an explorer—grabbing, climbing, and sometimes tasting everything she can get her hands on. Here’s how to put those natural tendencies to use advancing her development in four major areas: cognitive, motor, communication, and social.
Roll a ball back and forth. Not only is this fun for her but it helps improve depth perception, visual tracking ability, and hand-eye coordination—and it teaches her about turn-taking.
Encourage dumping and sorting. Provide several baskets, boxes, or buckets full of like objects—for instance, one with blocks, one with stuffed animals, and a third with toy cars. Your toddler will enjoy emptying the items, sorting them, and returning them to their original containers.
Play pretend. Using toy versions of real-life objects, talk to one another on play telephones, cook in a toy kitchen, or build a house of blocks using a plastic hammer.
Have a race. Once your toddler is fairly steady on her feet, she’ll have fun competing with you—and stepping up her speed will help improve her coordination.
Practice fine motor skills. Show your toddler how to fold paper, stack blocks, and make shapes like balls or noodles out of clay. And when you read books together, have her turn the pages.
Encourage creativity. Have fat crayons and thick paper on hand for your toddler to scribble with. (You might notice she has a preference for one hand or the other; right- and left-handedness usually become apparent around age 2.) Clay and finger paints (with supervision) are also big hits at this age.
Sing songs that involve hand and body motions. There are plenty of classics to choose from: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “I’m a Little Teapot,” “Where Is Thumbkin,” “This Little Piggy,” and “Hokey Pokey” (although your child won’t yet know left from right), to name a few.
Talk, talk, talk! It’s one of the best things you can do to boost your child’s communications skills and intelligence. Researchers have consistently found a strong correlation between the sheer number of words a child hears from parents and other caregivers by age 3 and both IQ and performance in school.
Repeat and expand. When your toddler uses a new word or says a short sentence, repeat it and expand on it: “Yes, look at the big dog. He is wearing a blue sweater.”
Lead a sound tour. Choose a room in your house and explore its objects with your toddler, focusing on their sounds. Listen to a ticking clock, for example, the hum of the refrigerator, or the sweeping of a broom. Narrate what you hear: “The clock says t-t-t,” “The refrigerator goes hmm,” “The broom says swish, swish, swish.” This close attention helps your child become attuned to a full range of letter sounds.
Don’t force sharing. Your toddler can’t yet grasp the concept of sharing, so if she gets into a conflict with a playmate over a toy, it’s better to draw her attention to another toy or activity rather than insist that she share.
React matter-of-factly to tantrums. Your child will slowly but eventually learn to use words and self-control to express her emotions. But right now, she may use tantrums. The less you respond to these outbursts, the more quickly they’ll pass.
Turn off the tablet. Leave your smartphone or tablet in another room or, better, turn it off when you’re playing with your child. While most calls or messages can wait, these are moments with your child you won’t get back. They’re key to your bond and her development. She needs to see your face and your emotions as you talk to her.
Sing a silly song. When you’re cleaning or picking up toys, make it a game by singing about it, and as a way to encourage your toddler to help you.
Planning a birthday party? Even though your toddler is beginning to make special friends, a short party of about an hour is plenty of time, since 2-year-olds don’t yet interact a lot during play. They will enjoy side-by-side age-appropriate activities, such as sandbox play.