The majority of things that your two year old learns will be through play and normal social interaction. At this age, children are like little sponges, picking up every bit of information about the world around them.
Both structured and unstructured play are important to develop these necessary skills. Most of what they learn, you won’t even realize that you’re teaching them.
Below are a bunch of things that you can help your 2-year-old understand. Practice and exposure is the best way to develop new skills with your child.
Also, always remember that every child develops at their own pace so don’t worry too much if your child doesn’t know all of these things yet. This isn’t a list of what they should know at this point, but rather a guide to help you understand what they are capable of learning at this age.
1. NEW WORDS AND CONVERSATIONAL SPEECH
Your 2-year-old should have gained a slew of new vocabulary words in the past year. Now they’re learning how to put these words together to form sentences and questions. Here are some of the common words, phrases, and concepts that your two year old should be able to say and understand:
- Body parts
- Animal sounds and names
- Names (their own first, middle, and last name, and names of family and friends)
- Household objects (food, utensils, furniture, clothing, etc)
- Colors and Shapes
- Direction words (below, above, next to, on top, underneath, etc.)
- Personal information (for safety reasons: address, parents names, and birthdate are good for them to learn)
- Weather (sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, snowy, hot, cold, etc.)
Before they turn 3, they should have a pretty full vocabulary. More words related to other skills are listed below. Here are more tips to get your toddler to talk here.
2. READING BOOKS
At 2, your child should definitely get the concept of reading a book. Of course, they won’t actually be reading the words, but they will most likely grab a book and snuggle in the corner of the couch to flip through the pages.
Make sure they understand how to read the book from front cover to back cover and the right way to hold it. They will simply look at the pictures at this age, but as they get later in their 2’s, they’ll start to recognize that there are letters and words on the page that actually mean something.
When you are reading to them, be sure to use your finger to follow along with the words on the page so they start to associate the letters with what you’re saying. At this point, you can stop making up your own words or just telling them the pictures on the page and actually read word-for-word. This way, your toddler will get the concept that a story is being told.
3. PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE
Your two-year-old is probably begging to do things on their own so give them these opportunities to learn, understand, and make mistakes (within limits, of course).
Of course they may not have perfected the skill yet, but the only way a child will learn these new skills is by doing it by themselves. You can help them to complete the task once they’ve tried it. They should be increasing their independence in areas like:
- Dressing: choosing their own clothes, dressing for the weather (warm items or cool items), taking on/off a shirt, pants, underpants/pull-up, shoes, and socks, and learning the right way to put on items so the shirt/pants go own the right way and shoes are on the right feet.
- Feeding: using utensils without spills, choosing their meals and snacks, opening containers, drinking from a straw cup regularly, but an open cup with supervision
- Brushing teeth and hair: putting toothpaste on with help and brushing on their own
- Cleaning up: wiping up messes, putting toys away, bringing dishes, cups, & utensils to the sink when done, throwing away their garbage, using handheld vacuum to clean
- Hygeine: Blowing their nose, washing their hands, using a washcloth to wash themselves in the tub
- Transitions: Getting in and out of the car on their own, going up and down the stairs, ending one activity and moving to the next without complaining
Be sure to model and show your childhood to do these skills the right way so that they don’t keep practicing something the wrong way.
4. PRETEND PLAY
Using their imagination opens up a world of fun and play for your toddler. This skill typically comes naturally as they copy and imitate what they see in the real world, in books, or on tv. They will use a combination of imagination and reality to copy the things they see daily, like these:
- Cooking in a play kitchen with pots and pans
- Hosting a tea party for their dolls and stuffed animals
- Feeding, burping, and changing a baby doll with play spoons, bottles, and diapers
- Talking on the phone with a play cell phone
- Playing doctor with a doctor or nurses kit
- Going shopping with a shopping cart and fake food
- Driving a car
- Sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming the floor
5. DRAWING AND CUTTING
This is a great fine motor activity that 2-year-olds should be practicing. At this point, they should have moved past scribbling and be able to make some intentional marks on the paper, including a straight line down, straight line across, and a circle. Of course, these may not be perfect, but they should get the concept of making intentional marks.
They’ll love coloring pictures, but getting them used to making marks will help improve their drawing and writing down the road. Print out pictures of their favorite characters or get a coloring book from their favorite tv show. Also, you can draw or print out pages with letters so they can trace and get familiar with the alphabet.
I highly suggest these finger crayons (shown below) for the young ones. They are perfect for little hands and promote a good grasp when holding the crayons.
Cutting is a skill that can start practicing at 2. Be sure to use child safety scissors so they can’t hurt themselves. At this age, just snipping or cutting across the paper is age-appropriate. You’ll need to help them hold the paper and using sturdier paper like construction paper will make it easier on them.
6. NUMBERS AND COUNTING
Your 2 year old should be able to count 1-10 (with some errors at times) from memory and maybe even up to 20 with more practice. They can also work on recognizing and identifying those numbers and counting objects.
You can practice counting with so many different objects: count each step while you’re walking up the stairs, count the number of French fries on their dinner plate, and count the number of toys in their bin. Numbers are everywhere so be sure that they are counting whenever they can.
The concept of one-to-one correspondence (one object is one number) comes later, but many toddlers can get the idea early on. Just be sure to correct them if they start saying 2 numbers as they count one object or skip over objects when counting.
7. LETTERS AND SOUNDS
They should already know all the letters of the alphabet and can recite the ABC’s from memory (with some errors and help as needed). Now you can work on recognizing letters, as well as the sounds they make.
When talking about a letter, for example M: say M says mmm for mom. Always have them repeat you to etch it into their memory.
Be sure to have your child look at both uppercase and lowercase letters when learning. Most children are taught all of the uppercase letters first, however, the lowers case letters are the ones that they will see more often when they read or see words.
Related Post: Sticker Activity for Learning Letters
Building helps to improve your child’s hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. They’ll be able to use their imagination and creativity to create masterpieces and then knock them all down when they’re done.
Toys and activities like these encourage imaginative play and let them problem solve and investigate the world around them.
Puzzles are a great activity for fine and visual motor skills (hand-eye coordination). Having to fit a piece into it’s correct spot by turning and manipulating it is great for visual-spatial awareness.
10. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND GETTING OUTSIDE
Two-year-olds are known to be pretty wild so you probably won’t need much coaxing to get them active. However, make sure they’re getting plenty of physical activity to learn new gross motor skills. These include:
- Pedaling a tricycle or ride-on toy
- Throwing/catching/kicking a ball
The best way to get them active is to give them lots of outdoor time. Take them to playgrounds to climb on the equipment as they offer so many opportunities for enriching gross motor skills. Take them for a walk and point out all the sights you see.
11. MUSIC, DANCE, AND RHYTHM
Children love rhythm and music so get them singing, dancing, and exploring their bodies with music. Put on music for them to dance to, sing along to their favorite songs with a microphone, or make their own music with toy instruments like maracas, xylophone, tamborine, etc.
You can also make musical ‘instruments’ with so many household objects, like shaking pill bottles, banging wooden spoons, or filling plastic Easter eggs or water bottles with uncooked beans or rice.
12. POTTY TRAINING
Around 2 is the typical age that most parents decide to start potty training and at this age, most children will be fully capable of using the toilet. You can start gradually by introducing the potty and have them sit on it during different periods of the day when you know that they usually go.
Be sure to wait until they’re ready and don’t force it on them. Here are some great tips on potty training your toddler here.
13. SENSE OF TIME
Of course your two year old will not be able to tell time, however you can still teach them a basic sense of time, including:
- Recognizing the numbers on a digital clock. If can identify numbers, they should be able to see the first number and say it’s 7 o clock.
- Knowing when they have 1, 5, or 10 more minutes. They still won’t have a true sense of how long these increments of time are, but setting a timer really helps them to understand when time is up.
- Days of the week. This will probably just be a song you teach them now, but they can definitely learn the different days of the week.
Of course, safety is a crucial lesson to teach your child. This is the age where they will probably have no fear or understanding of dangerous situations. The following practices need to be taught and don’t just come naturally to your little one:
- not running away in public
- not running out into a parking lot
- stranger danger
- staying close to mom or dad
- being cautious when crossing streets
- holding hands when in public or outside
- sun safety: applying sunscreen, wearing hats
15. MANNERS AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS
Understanding how to properly treat others is a valuable trait to instill in your child. This goes for respecting both adults and other children. It’s important to teach your children how to use polite words and actions to show manners.
At this age, they are starting to test their boundaries and explore new ways of getting what they want. Instill rules for respecting others even through times of frustration.
- Saying excuse me when needing someone to move or get their attention
- Patiently waiting for a parent to finish talking to another parent before chiming in
- Saying please and thank you shows consideration and appreciation
- Making eye contact when speaking to others
- Apologizing when you do something wrong
- Ask questions to others about how their day is or how they are feeling
- Compliment others on their clothes, hair, or something they did
- Share their toys or items that belong to them
- No pushing, hitting, biting, or pulling hair to hurt others in any way
16. STAYING HEALTHY: GOOD HYGIENE AND EATING WELL
Teaching your child to practice good hygiene and healthy eating is great to start young. Build-in their hygiene routine throughout the day and they will become accustomed to this regimen. Eating healthy foods early on to set them off for a healthy diet for the rest of their life. These include:
- eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Avoid: processed foods, unhealthy snacks, and sweets
- washing hands after meals and potty
- brushing teeth morning and night
- bathing daily
- brushing and combing hair
- cutting finger and toenails
- cleaning inside ears with a child safety q-tip
- keeping their clothes and body clean while they eat or play
- covering their mouth when they sneeze or cough
- blowing their nose into a tissue
- wiping their own privates after going potty
Related Post: How to Get Your Picky Toddler to Try New Foods
17. ACTING APPROPRIATELY IN PUBLIC AND UNDERSTANDING “NO”
Toddlers are very ego-centric (only care about themselves). It’s totally normal for them to only think about how things will affect them. This almost always leads to inappropriate behaviors as they learn what behaviors get them what they want.
Don’t always give in to every cry and teach them that sometimes they can’t get everything that they want. Don’t always give them the cookie that they’re begging for or the new toy at the store. If they must get the object that they desire, make them earn it.
Teach your 2-year-old how to act appropriately to avoid tantrums in public. Try putting rules in place when you are out so they know what is expected of them. Always have a way to redirect or distract them when you see a tantrum starting (using something else they are interested in). Lastly, just avoid situations that could set them off.
This is a great article about Tips for Cry-Free Shopping with Your Toddler
18. EMPATHY AND COMPASSION
From a young age, you want to fill your child with compassion and empathy for others. Teach them about emotions and to be conscious of other people’s feelings.
- If they see someone crying, ask what’s wrong.
- If they see someone alone, go over and play with them.
- If they see someone that looks different than them, treat them equally.
- If they hurt someone, apologize and make it better
It’s never too early to talk to your children about race, ethnicity, disabilities, and recognizing differences between others.
19. HAVING A ROUTINE
Your child probably already has some routine in place throughout their day. However, you want to ensure that they are consistently doing what is asked of them so that they could even do it on their own if needed. The more structure that your child has in their day, the more they will start to understand time and a daily schedule.
I love using a routine or responsibility chart (like the blue/green one on the right) so my toddler can have a visual cue of everything that is expected of her. Use one with pictures instead of just words, (like this Mickey Mouse chart), so your toddler actually understands what it’s for.
Here are some examples of day-to-day routines that you can create a specific pattern for:
- Bedtime: Brush teeth, go potty, wash hands, put pajamas on, read a story, go to sleep
- Morning: Go potty, wash hands, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast
- Before naptime
- Pre-dinner wind-down time
- Cleaning time
Related Post: Why Your Child Needs a Daily Routine and How to Make One
20. STAYING ON TASK
A toddler has a very limited attention span (unless of course, they’re watching their favorite television show). It’s only reasonable to ask them to focus on a task for around 4-6 minutes at this age. However, it is important for them to be aware that once they start a task they should finish it to completion. My daughter loves to grab a puzzle and put in 3 pieces and walk away or sit down and read 2 pages and then walk away.
The goal of teaching your child to stay on task is to complete what they start. Here are some tips:
- While playing with your child, make sure that they complete the entire activity, ie. puzzle or read through the whole book, before they get up and run around.
- If they’re coloring or building a tower, keep them engaged in that one activity for as long as possible before you let them move on to the next.
- During mealtimes make sure they remain seated and finish their meal before getting up and playing.
- Make sure they clean up one activity before moving on to the next
21. BE A HELPER
Little kids LOVE to help grown-ups. They want to do everything that you’re doing because they’re starting to gain this growing confidence and independence. Invite them to perform tasks that they may not be able to do independently, but that they can help you with.
- Get the mail
- Take the trash out
- Refill the toilet paper roll dispenser
- Help with cooking: mixing, adding ingredients
- Carrying in bags or groceries
- Fill the dog bowl
- Entertain a younger sibling
Technology or screen time should be limited for toddlers to 1 hour a day, but it is important for your child to learn how to use these devices. The fine motor skill of swiping, clicking, and sliding to nagivate through tablets and smart phones are something that your 2 year old can easily learn.
Ipad educational games like ABC Mouse are great to sharpen a lot of the educational skills listen above, as well as practice using a tablet or smart phone. My toddler loves ABC Mouse because of the wide variety of games and fun. She’s learning how to trace letters, numbers, make new sounds and words, etc. They’re giving a FREE 30-day trial now so sign up while you can!
Leapfrog Laptop is also a fun interactive computer that toddlers can easily use and learn on.
Have fun teaching your two-year-old and enjoy watching them blossom this year. They’ll be growing and developing before your eyes so don’t blink! Here are some more great activity ideas to do with your 2 year old.