Are you ready for an increasingly independent child who can not only talk, but talk back? After your kiddo celebrates his second birthday, expect him to experience major intellectual, physical, social, and emotional changes that will help him to explore and make sense of his world. Parents can help their kids navigate the transitions with activities geared toward helping them better understand their actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
"The stage from 2 to 3 is major because language is really beginning to develop," says Robert Myers, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist, founder of the Child Development Institute and assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. "[Children are] also starting to recognize that they're independent beings and are actively exploring their world. Everything is interesting to them. Everything is new. The proper role of the parent is to provide encouragement, support, and access to activities that enable the child to master key developmental tasks."
"Always layer activities with lots of language, interaction, and imaginative play," adds Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., dean of the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development at Nova Southeastern University, and co-author of Let's Play and Learn Together. "Child development comes through the portal of relationships with parents or caregivers."
With that in mind, try these simple but entertaining development-promoting activities.
1. DRESS-UP TIME
Materials needed: Old clothes, costumes
What to do: Haul out a pile of old clothes and let your child play dress-up. "You can play with them but it is great to encourage group play with two or three other children their age," Dr. Myers suggests.
Skills learned: Creativity, imagination, language skills, and social development
2. DECORATE A CRAYON CARRIER
Materials needed: A resealable Ziploc brand bag, glue stick, pompoms, crayons
What to do: Cover a table with newspaper then set the supplies in front of your little one. Let your child use the glue stick to coat the Ziploc brand bag, then help him stick on the colorful pompoms. When the bag dries, have him fill it with his crayons. Next time you go to a restaurant, whip out the carrier and let him show off his creation. He'll be excited to use his creativity again.
Skills learned: Motor planning, creativity
3. TOY HIDE-AND-SEEK
Materials needed: Toy
What to do: Hide a toy somewhere in the house, and ask your child to find it. Explore with her, using cues like "warmer" and "colder" to guide her.
Variations: Use flashlights for the search, or hide several objects at one time.
Skills learned: Listening, problem-solving, social skills, and memory
4. SIMON SAYS
What to do: Start out with simple directions—"Simon says, touch your toes"—then graduate to silly, more complex routines ("Simon says, tug on your left ear, then your right ear"). And don't forget to drop "Simon says" every now and then!
Variations: You can also encourage your child to jump, skip, catch something, and more.
Skills learned: Gross motor skills, following directions, and receptive language
5. YOU'VE GOT MAIL
Materials needed: Old shoe box, junk mail
What to do: Make a mailbox by decorating an old shoe box or cardboard box and cutting a slit in the top. Fill it with your junk mail for your child to open. "Not only does this develop fine motor skills as she opens the envelopes and takes out what's inside, you can use it to teach your child basic concepts," Dr. Leiderman says. "Talk about the pictures, colors, and letters; help her sort it by size, shape or color; or count the pieces. You can also layer in imaginative play by playing post office, or playing store with the coupons."
Skills learned: Develops an understanding of basic concepts, fine motor skills
6. ALL ABOARD
Materials needed: Towel or blanket
What to do: Have your toddler sit on a towel or blanket and gently pull her around the room. Pretend the blanket is a train or a boat and that you are stopping at different places, like the zoo or wherever your imaginations take you.
Skills learned: Balance, pretending
7. BODY TRACING
Materials needed: Large piece of paper, crayons
What to do: Have your child lie down on a large piece of paper and trace the outline of his body. "Because the child has to lay still to be traced, he learns self-control," Dr. Leiderman says. "You can show him where the two eyes, nose, and mouth go, but if your child just wants to color all over it, that's fine. Don't impose anything on him, just let him have fun with it."
Variation: If your child doesn't want to lie still, don't force him. Start with tracing just his hand or foot, or tracing your hand and foot.
Skills learned: Sense of self, self-control, and identifying body parts/language skills
8. STOP! GO!
What to do: Play games that involve starting and stopping, such as "Red light, green light." Developing self-control will eventually help children negotiate, compromise, and work out conflicts without losing their temper, Dr. Leiderman says.
Skills learned: Self-control
9. EXPRESS YOURSELF
Materials needed: Facial features cut out of magazines, paper, glue stick
What to do: Cut out different noses, eyes, hair, and other features from old magazines, and give them to your child to glue on to a blank paper circle. Encourage her to make funny creatures or silly faces. "Talk to your child about the pieces and how to glue them down, but don't be too directive with it," Dr. Leiderman says. "Ask a lot of 'wonder questions,' like "I wonder what would happen if you put the pieces down without the glue?' and 'I wonder why the glue is getting all over the table?' Childhood is about learning new facts and applying them to theories, so help them make theories."
Variations: Let her rip up the pieces or color on the collage with crayons after the glue has dried.
Skills learned: Creativity, language
10. BALL PASS
Materials needed: Play tunnel, softball
What to do: With you and your child at opposite ends of the tunnel, take turns lifting each end to roll a softball back and forth. "This can take some trial and error for your kiddo to get the hang of, but it's great motor planning practice and takes teamwork," says Rachel Coley, an occupational therapist, author of Simple Play: Easy Fun For Babies, and founder of CanDoKiddo.com.
Skills learned: Motor planning, understanding cause and effect, teamwork
11. DRAW YOUR FAVORITE SONGS
Materials needed: Paper, crayons
What to do: As you sing one of your child's favorite songs, draw a simple picture of what is happening in the lyrics, then hand your child the paper to draw something else mentioned in the song. For example, Coley would sing "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" to her son, first drawing the spider and then having him draw his version of the rain. Go back and forth until the song ends.
Skills learned: Language skills, creativity, storytelling
12. A LITTLE CONVERSATION
Materials needed: Doll or plush toy
What to do: Hand over the doll or toy, and encourage your child to hold, talk, dress, and take care of it. "Talk to the doll the way you would talk a child, and encourage your child to do the same," Dr. Myers says.
Skills learned: Social, language and fine motor skills, creativity, and imagination