At this age, sometimes it seems as if your 2- to 3-year-old is adding a new skill every day, whether it’s in the area of social, communication, motor, or cognitive development. Here are activities to encourage your toddler’s progress.
Roll a ball back and forth. Not only is this fun for him, it helps improve his depth perception, visual tracking ability, and hand-eye coordination—and teaches him about turn-taking.
Puzzle it out. Guide your toddler as he works simple three- or four-piece jigsaw or shape puzzles (placing squares, circles, and triangles into matching slots).
Tap creativity. Art projects are not only a wonderful means of self-expression, they help kids develop spatial awareness and problem-solving skills, which will be essential when it comes to understanding mathematical concepts later on. Toddlers enjoy a wide range of artistic pursuits, from coloring to finger painting to playing with clay (as long as it’s malleable enough for their small hands). Be sure to supervise, however, as at this age they may be tempted to put art materials in their mouths.
Limit screen time. That includes TV, computers, and other devices. Indulging your child a bit is fine, but the majority of his play should be active, involving face-to-face interactions with real people and tactile experiences with toys and his environment.
Get out and about. Rain or shine, build outdoor playtime into your toddler’s daily schedule. He needs lots of opportunities to run, climb, and explore.
Ride a trike. Once your toddler has been walking and running for a few months, he has the coordination to try a beginner’s tricycle. A snug-fitting helmet is a good idea, not only to protect him now but so he’ll be used to wearing one by the time he’s ready to try a two-wheeler.
Encourage finger activities. Latch boards with knobs, levers, and locks are well suited for little hands to manipulate, as are dolls and stuffed animals that have clothing with functioning buttons, zippers, and snaps.
Let him be a page-turner. Have your child practice his fine motor skills by turning the pages when you’re reading to him.
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.
Keep on talking. Talking—and responding—to your toddler is one of the best things you can do to boost his communication 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.
Expand on what your child says. This type of elaboration will help stimulate his thought processes. If he says, “Truck,” say, “Yes, that was a fast blue truck, wasn’t it?” If he says, “I drive truck,” you might say, “Yes, you would like to drive a big, fast, red truck like a firefighter, wouldn’t you? Firefighters put out fires.”
Create an album. Focusing on familiar, everyday items—the dinner table, a laundry basket, your car, and so on—cut out pictures from magazines or use photos taken with your smartphone, and arrange them in an album, labeling each image. Go through the pages with your toddler and have him name what he sees.
Show your affection. Give lots of hugs to your child; they help foster his sense of security.
React matter-of-factly to tantrums. At this stage, reasoning, cajoling, and over-empathizing are unlikely to be effective. Your child will slowly learn to use words and self-control when he’s upset, but for now, the less interest you show in his tantrums, the more quickly they’ll pass.
Praise good behavior. Let your child know it when he has behaved well in public or while playing with a friend. Your loving words and hugs are all he needs for positive reinforcement, though; he doesn’t need a treat or new toy.
Make cleanup fun. Set a timer to see how many blocks you can pick up together in three minutes. Or sing a fun song while you tidy. Toddlers like to be helpful, and making a game of it instills the notion that cleanup is an enjoyable part of play.
Encourage socializing. Your toddler will make great gains from interacting with other kids his age. If he’s not in day care, consider joining a playgroup or organizing regular get-togethers with friends who have children his age. A group of three or four is a good size at this age.
“Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby's First Year” by Mayo Clinic.
“Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind from Birth to age 3.” by Jill Stamm.
American Speech Language Hearing Association: Communication Milestones. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/01.htm
“Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 (5th Ed)” by the American Academy of Pediatrics
“The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones.” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.