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Learning through play 2-3 years

When your toddler reaches two and they’ve developed more physical skills, you’ll notice they start to need more independence. Taking the time to support them in their learning and play is more important than ever. Here are some hints and tips to help.

Toddlers sitting with father

Toddlers at this age will start to ask lots of simple questions like ‘What’s that?’ ‘Who’s that?’ or ‘Where?’ They want to find out more about what’s happening around them. At the same time, they’ll be starting to understand concept words such as ‘big’ or ‘little’.

Encourage them by:

  • Sitting on the floor opposite them while they’re playing and wait for them to show you what they’re exploring. Talk to them about the objects they’re looking at and then leave a pause. It will give them time to think and a chance to say or ask something themselves
  • Talking about the order things need to be done, like brushing teeth or getting ready for bed. Sometimes showing them simple pictures of each step will encourage them to get them done. Help them to guess which order they need to put their clothes on and which way round they go
  • Providing puzzles and jigsaws to help them learn about shapes and colours

Young children playing together

By now your toddler will probably be able to pour their own drink from a small jug, drink from a cup and feed themselves from a spoon. They’ll be trying to put clothes on themselves and wash and dry their own hands. They’ll be able to hold a pen or crayon with enough control to make up and down and round and round shapes.

Encourage them by:

  • Providing lots of opportunities for them to scribble and play with crayons and paints. This will help prepare them for using pencils later on
  • Enjoying messy play together (for example with paint, glue and playdough) so they can experience different textures and sensations
  • Collecting a range of different craft materials such as different papers, glue and children’s scissors into a storage box so they can make choices about what they want to use. Toddlers love sticking empty containers together to make models which they can paint and decorate
  • Using empty plastic bottles as skittles which they can enjoy knocking them down with a ball

Once they reach the age of two, most children will be able to run confidently without bumping into things, will be able to kick a large ball and will be able to walk up and down stairs one at a time holding the handrail. They’ll be self-aware enough to be able to tell an adult when they need a nappy change or to use the potty.

Encourage them by:

  • Getting them to walk holding your hand or the buggy when you go to the shops or the park
  • Taking them to playgrounds or soft play centres where they can run, swing, leap and climb to improve balance and coordination skills as well as build an awareness of what their body can do safely
  • Making time to play outside in the fresh air – why not blow bubbles they can run after and pop or fly a kite together?
  • Playing ball games that involve rolling, catching, throwing and kicking. It’ll help their hand/eye coordination, and enable them to develop good balance and muscle strength
  • Giving them ride-on toys or tricycles to strengthen their leg muscles
  • Taking them to sit on the potty or toilet every couple of hours, for example when you’re changing their nappy. A sticker chart can help them see how well they’re doing with toilet training
  • Suggesting they have a go at taking their clothes off themselves. Getting dressed is harder, so show them where they need to put their arms and legs. They’ll be able to have a go at trying to put loose fitting socks on – yours would be even easier!
  • Showing them how to play with dolls in the bath so they learn how to wash themselves too
  • Cutting up playdough or soft fruit like bananas together so they have an opportunity to use a knife safely. Playing tea parties and feeding teddy/dolly can be a fun way to help them learn.

Toddler walking outside

Toddlers really enjoy pretend play – doing things they’ve experienced as part of their daily routine. They’ll have fun putting teddy to bed or feeding him his dinner. While playing with smaller toys like cars or farm animals, they’ll be able to talk about what’s happening.

Encourage them by:

  • Keeping hold of big empty cardboard boxes, which are great for hiding in or turning into a car or boat for example
  • Make dens from blankets and cushions that they can play in with you or a friend
  • Helping them to play dressing up in adults’ clothes, shoes and hats – they’ll love pretending to be someone else
  • Encouraging them to make up little stories using their toys about going to the supermarket, on holiday or going to nursery.

When it comes to stories and rhymes, two year olds can turn the pages of a book, repeat words and phrases from favourite books and sing along to songs and rhymes with you. They’ll jump, swing their arms or move as you sing together.

Encourage them by:

  • Giving them musical instruments to shake as they join in with songs – you can make a simple shaker from an empty plastic bottle filled with dried lentils or pasta
  • Singing action songs together – if you stop before the end of a line, you may well find they’ll be able to finish it for you. It’s a really good time to introduce counting songs such as ‘Five little men in a flying saucer’ or ‘One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive
  • Enjoying a bedtime story together every night as part of the bedtime routine – make this a special quiet time
  • Modelling how to share a favourite story with one of their toys – looking at the pictures and showing them how to describe what you see using simple sentences
  • Taking them to the library and letting them explore a range of different books. Follow their interests here – cars, animals, dinosaurs…Puppets, toys and books from favourite TV series can all help to get them interested in a story
  • Joining toddler groups at the local library or Family Hub – a great place to start building listening and social skills.

Your toddler will watch what other children are doing, and may want to join in and play with them. They will also let adults join in and take turns with them in their play. Take time to get down on the floor with them and play together. This is a great opportunity to talk about the activity they’re engaged in and help them develop their language skills.

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Page last reviewed: 14-05-2024

Next review due: 14-05-2027