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Learning, Play, and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old

Kids transition from babies to toddlers during the second year of life. Shaky first steps give way to confident walking and climbing. Your toddler will be on the move, so be sure to childproof your home to prevent household accidents.

What Is My Toddler Learning?

Language Skills

Kids this age make big gains in understanding language and figuring out how to communicate. By 15 months, most say their first words and point to ask for something or to get help. They can follow directions when given with both words and a gesture. By 18 months, they follow 1-step directions without gestures.

During year two, vocabulary increases slowly over the first 6 months and then expands quickly during the second 6 months. Vocabulary grows from 1 or 2 words to about 50 words. Toddlers will use more gestures, like blowing kisses and shaking the head “yes.”

Toddlers understand much more than they can express. This can be frustrating for your child and may lead to tantrums.

Fine Motor Skills

Hand–eye coordination and fine motor skills continue to improve. With better control over fingers and hands, toddlers learn to scribble and try to use switches, buttons, and knobs. Choose busy boxes and other age-appropriate toys for them to explore.

Play

As a baby, your child "played" with toys by shaking, banging, or throwing them. Your toddler now tries to use things the right way, so is more likely to stack blocks, listen or talk into a toy phone, or push a toy car.

Toddlers enjoy having other kids around. They often copy other children while playing. But don't expect them to "play" cooperatively with each other or to be thrilled about sharing toys. Have plenty of toys for everyone and be prepared to step in when they don't want to share. Older siblings can be role models when it comes to teaching, sharing, and taking turns.

How Can I Help My Toddler Play and Learn?

Once toddlers learn to walk, there's no turning back. Yours will want to keep moving and build on this newfound skill. Provide lots of chances to be active and practice running, jumping, and climbing in safe surroundings.

Toddlers love to copy you doing chores. Provide age-appropriate toys that will encourage this, such as a toy vacuum to use while you're cleaning or pots, pans, and spoons to play with while you're cooking. Other toys that toddlers enjoy include:

  • brightly colored balls
  • blocks, stacking, and nesting toys
  • fat crayons or markers
  • age-appropriate animal or people figures and dolls
  • toy cars and trains
  • shape sorters, peg boards
  • simple puzzles
  • push, pull, and riding toys

Reading continues to be important. Your toddler can follow along with a story and point to objects in the pictures as you name them. Encourage toddlers to name things they recognize.

Chat about the books you read together and the things you did that day. Ask questions and encourage your toddler to reply by waiting for a response, then expand on those replies.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Toddlers develop at different rates, and there is a wide range of normal development.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your toddler's development.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2022