Essentials of What Should Toddlers Be Learning: Advice for Parents

what should toddlers be learning

As a parent, you want to give your child the best start in life, and that includes providing opportunities for learning and growth during their early years. But with so many different activities and resources available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. In this article, we will explore the essential skills that toddlers should be learning to support their growth and development. We will also provide tips and advice on how to create a nurturing environment that encourages learning and exploration during the early years of childhood.

Key Takeaways

  • Early childhood education is crucial for a toddler’s overall growth and development.
  • Toddlers should be provided with opportunities to learn and explore in a nurturing environment.
  • There are essential skills in cognitive, social, physical, emotional, and sensory development that toddlers should be learning.
  • Parental involvement and support is crucial to a toddler’s learning and development.
  • Creating a balance between structured learning and free play is important.

Cognitive Development in Toddlers

Cognitive development is the process of how a child learns, understands, and processes information around them. It plays a vital role in a toddler’s overall growth. Parents can aid in their child’s cognitive development by providing educational activities and strategies that encourage problem-solving, critical thinking, and memory.

There are plenty of educational activities that parents can do with their toddlers to enhance cognitive skills. These activities can include:

  • Problem-solving games: Puzzles, shape sorting, and memory exercises are excellent problem-solving games that toddlers can participate in.
  • Interactive reading: Reading interactive books with your toddler can help them improve their vocabulary and communication skills.
  • Building blocks: Playing with building blocks encourages toddlers to use their imagination and develop their spatial reasoning skills.
  • Sensory activities: Sensory activities such as painting, drawing, and playing with playdough can help toddlers develop cognitive skills.

It is important to note that every child develops at their own pace. Encouragement and patience are key when it comes to a toddler’s cognitive development. It is also important to provide a nurturing environment that allows toddlers to explore and learn at their own pace.

Cognitive Developmental Milestones

Here are some cognitive developmental milestones parents can expect to see in their toddlers:

12-18 monthsToddlers can recognize and identify objects and their uses.
18-24 monthsToddlers can recognize and identify body parts and match shapes.
24-36 monthsToddlers can understand simple concepts, follow two-step directions, and use their imagination to create stories.

By providing opportunities for cognitive development, parents can help their toddlers develop essential skills that will aid in their future learning and growth.

Social Skills for Toddlers

Building social skills is crucial for toddlers as they interact with their peers and adults. As a parent, you can encourage social development by providing opportunities for your child to interact with others and engage in cooperative play.

One way to promote social skills is through sharing and taking turns. Encourage your child to share toys with others and take turns playing games. Praise them when they exhibit positive social behaviors such as sharing, cooperating, and helping others.

Engaging in group activities and playdates can also help toddlers build social skills. This provides them with an opportunity to practice socializing in a safe and supervised environment. You can also enroll your child in structured activities like music classes and sports teams, which can help them develop teamwork and socialization skills.

Modeling positive social behavior is another way to promote social development in toddlers. Children often learn by example, so it’s important to model behaviors like empathy, kindness, and respect. Remember to be patient and understanding, as social skills take time to develop.

By incorporating social development into your child’s early childhood education, you are setting them up for success in their future relationships and social interactions.

Physical Development in Toddlers

Physical development is an essential aspect of a toddler’s growth and overall well-being. During the early years of childhood, the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and coordination can pave the way for later physical activities and support your toddler’s confidence and self-esteem.

Encouraging physical activity and providing opportunities for exercise and exploration can help your toddler develop essential physical skills. Activities such as crawling, walking, running, jumping, dancing, and climbing can improve your toddler’s balance and coordination, and help them build strength and endurance.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve the use of large muscle groups and are important for mobility, balance, and coordination. You can encourage the development of gross motor skills in your toddler by providing opportunities for physical activity and play. Simple activities such as playing catch, throwing or kicking a ball, rolling a ball, and running can all help your toddler develop their gross motor skills.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscle groups, such as those in the hands and fingers, and are important for tasks such as writing, holding utensils, and manipulating objects. You can help your toddler develop their fine motor skills by providing opportunities for activities such as coloring, drawing, using blocks or puzzles, and playing with small objects like beads or buttons.


Coordination is essential for physical activity and can be improved through practice and repetition of movements. Activities such as playing with balls, catching or throwing, and dancing can help your toddler improve their coordination and timing.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace, and it’s important to provide a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages physical activity and exploration. By incorporating activities that promote gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and coordination, you can help your toddler develop strong physical abilities and set them up for a healthy and active future.

Language Development in Toddlers

Language development is a crucial aspect of a toddler’s growth and development. It is important for parents to create a language-rich environment to encourage their child’s language development. You can start by talking to your child regularly about their surroundings and experiences, using simple words and sentences that they can understand. You can also read books to your child regularly and encourage them to participate by asking questions and pointing to pictures.

Another way to support language development is by engaging in conversation with your child. Encourage them to express themselves by asking open-ended questions and giving them time to respond. It is also important to model good language skills by using proper grammar and pronunciation in your own speech.

Play is also an excellent way to support language development in toddlers. Play games that involve naming objects, animals, or colors to help your child learn new words. You can also encourage your child to talk about their experiences and feelings through imaginative play.

Early childhood education programs can also provide a supportive environment for language development. These programs often incorporate activities such as finger plays, songs, and rhymes that help children learn new words and improve their communication skills.

Overall, creating a language-rich environment and engaging in regular conversation and playtime with your child can help support their language development during the early years of childhood.

Fine Motor Skills for Toddlers

Developing fine motor skills is an important part of a toddler’s growth and development. These skills involve the use of small muscles in the hands and fingers and are essential for tasks such as grasping objects, drawing, and writing. By incorporating activities that encourage fine motor development, parents can help their toddlers build the skills necessary for future success.

To promote the development of fine motor skills in toddlers, consider engaging them in activities such as:

  • Using crayons and pencils to draw and scribble
  • Manipulating small objects such as blocks, pegs, and puzzles
  • Stringing beads or macaroni on a string
  • Playing with playdough or clay, squeezing and rolling it with their hands

These activities can help toddlers develop hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, and wrist strength, all essential components of fine motor skills. Encourage your child to use both hands equally and try not to rush them. Remember, it’s important to let them learn at their own pace.

Including fine motor skill activities in your toddler’s daily routine can not only help them develop important skills but also provide opportunities for bonding and creative expression. Consider setting aside dedicated time each day for fine motor activities, in addition to unstructured playtime and other learning activities.

By incorporating fine motor skill activities into your toddler’s daily routine, you are helping them build the skills necessary for future success. So don’t forget to have fun and enjoy this important stage of your child’s development!

Problem-Solving Skills in Toddlers

Problem-solving skills are essential for a toddler’s cognitive development. Encouraging problem-solving activities can help toddlers develop critical thinking abilities that will be useful for the rest of their lives. In addition, problem-solving activities can help young children learn how to persevere through challenging tasks and develop a strong sense of self-efficacy.

There are many different activities that you can do with your toddler to help them build problem-solving skills. Sorting objects by shape or color, completing simple puzzles, and engaging in imaginative play are all great options. You can also provide your child with open-ended toys like building blocks or clay, which will encourage them to use their creativity and imagination to solve problems.

As your child grows, you can gradually introduce more complex problem-solving activities. For example, you can engage your toddler in experiments with water or encourage them to come up with their own solutions to small challenges they encounter throughout the day. These activities will help your child develop a growth mindset and the resilience needed to overcome obstacles.

Emotional Development in Toddlers

Emotional development is a crucial aspect of a toddler’s growth and well-being. As a parent, you can help your child develop emotional intelligence by providing a nurturing environment that encourages communication and understanding of emotions. Here are some tips and activities that promote emotional development in toddlers:

Encourage Communication

Encourage your child to express their emotions through words, gestures, or art. Listen actively, acknowledging their feelings, and offer appropriate responses. Use positive reinforcement to show that it’s okay to express emotions in a healthy way.

Model Positive Behavior

Your child learns emotional regulation and expression by observing and imitating your behavior. Model positive emotions and coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, taking breaks, and talking about feelings. Avoid using aggression or violence as a means of expressing anger or frustration.

Play Games

Games can be a fun and engaging way to teach children how to recognize and manage emotions. Board games like Feelings and Emotions Bingo or card games like Emotion-oes help children identify and understand different emotions.

Read Books

Reading books that explore emotions, like The Feelings Book by Todd Parr or When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang, can help children learn how to cope with and express their emotions. Ask questions to encourage discussion and help your child identify different feelings.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Teach your child simple relaxation techniques like taking deep breaths, visualization, or muscle relaxation exercises. These techniques help children regulate their emotions and calm down when upset or overwhelmed.

By supporting your child’s emotional development, you can help them develop empathy, build positive relationships, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for managing their emotions. Remember, every child is unique and develops at their own pace. Be patient, offer plenty of support, and celebrate your child’s progress!

Sensory Play and Exploration

Encouraging sensory play and exploration is a vital aspect of early childhood education. Sensory play involves activities that stimulate a child’s senses and allows them to explore and learn about the world around them. By engaging in sensory play, toddlers develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills.

There are many different activities that promote sensory play and exploration, such as water play, sand play, and exploring different textures and materials. Providing a variety of sensory experiences helps toddlers develop their sensory processing abilities, which are important for future learning and development.

During sensory play, toddlers use their senses to explore different shapes, colors, textures, smells, and tastes. This type of play helps them make connections between what they see, hear, feel, and touch. Sensory play also helps toddlers develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving abilities.

Some examples of sensory play activities that toddlers can enjoy include finger painting, playing with playdough, experimenting with different smells and scents, and exploring outdoors. Sensory play can also be combined with other activities such as music and movement to create a multi-sensory experience.

When engaging in sensory play, it is important to provide a safe and supervised environment. Ensure that the materials used are non-toxic and age-appropriate. Also, monitor your child to prevent them from putting things in their mouth or getting hurt during play.

Music and Movement

Incorporating music and movement into a toddler’s daily routine has numerous benefits for their development. Exposure to music can improve listening skills, rhythm, and coordination, while movement activities promote gross motor skills and physical development. Here are some activities to try:

  • Put on music and encourage your toddler to dance or move along to the beat. You can also hold your toddler’s hands and dance together.
  • Play simple musical instruments like shakers or drums to help your toddler develop hand-eye coordination.
  • Sing songs together and encourage your toddler to participate by clapping, tapping their feet, or singing along.

Remember to choose age-appropriate music and instruments, and always supervise your toddler during these activities to ensure their safety.

Tip: Music and movement activities can also be a great way to redirect your toddler’s attention or energy when they are feeling restless or fussy.

Creative Play and Imagination

Encouraging creative play and harnessing a child’s imagination is an essential aspect of early childhood education. Through imaginative play, children develop their social, cognitive, and emotional skills, gain self-confidence, and learn about the world around them.

There are numerous ways to promote creative play and imagination in toddlers. Providing open-ended materials like blocks, loose parts, and art supplies can inspire children to create their own worlds and stories. Additionally, playing dress-up, engaging in pretend play, and storytelling can help children develop language skills and expand their imaginative capabilities.

Outdoor exploration and nature play can also be a great way to spark creativity and curiosity. Allowing children to explore and discover the natural world can inspire them to create their own narratives and imaginative scenarios.

As a parent, you can support your child’s creative play by providing a safe and nurturing environment that encourages exploration and experimentation. Allow your child to use their imagination and let them take the lead in their play. By doing so, you can help foster a lifelong love of learning and creativity.

Outdoor Exploration and Nature

Getting outside and exploring nature is a fantastic way to support early childhood education. Not only does it provide an opportunity for physical exercise, but it also encourages curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Here are some ideas for outdoor exploration and nature activities:

  • Take a nature walk and observe the plants, animals, and insects around you.
  • Visit a local park or playground and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
  • Build a fort or shelter using sticks, leaves, and other natural materials.
  • Plant a garden and watch the seeds grow into plants.
  • Collect natural materials such as rocks, leaves, and flowers and use them for arts and crafts projects.
  • Explore different textures and materials such as sand, water, and mud.

Encourage your toddler to ask questions, make observations, and share their thoughts and ideas about the natural world. Not only will this help them develop a love for nature, but it will also support their cognitive and emotional growth.

Building Healthy Habits

Establishing healthy habits early on is essential for your toddler’s overall well-being and sets the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. With a little effort and guidance, you can help your child develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Proper nutrition: Encourage a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit processed foods and sugary snacks. Make mealtime enjoyable by involving your child in meal planning and preparation.

Regular exercise: Toddlers need daily physical activity to support their growth and development. Encourage active playtime, such as running, jumping, and playing ball games. Take family walks or bike rides. Join a parent-child exercise class to make it a fun and social experience.

Sufficient sleep: Ensure your child gets enough sleep by establishing a consistent bedtime routine. Preschoolers typically need 10-12 hours of sleep per day, including naps.

Good hygiene: Teach your child the importance of proper hygiene, such as washing hands, brushing teeth, and covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing. Make it a fun and engaging experience by singing a song or playing a game.

By prioritizing your toddler’s health and well-being, you lay the foundation for a happy and healthy life. Consistency and positive reinforcement are key to establishing healthy habits that will benefit your child throughout their lifetime.

Parental Involvement and Support

As a parent, your involvement and support play a crucial role in your child’s early childhood education. By actively engaging with your child and creating a supportive learning environment at home, you can help your toddler thrive during this important stage of life.

Here are some tips for fostering parental involvement and support:

  • Read to your child daily and encourage storytelling and imaginative play.
  • Engage in educational activities with your child, such as puzzles, memory games, and sorting activities.
  • Encourage physical activity and outdoor exploration with your child.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to engage in creative play, such as drawing, painting, and building with blocks.
  • Establish daily routines and healthy habits, such as proper nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep.
  • Communicate regularly with your child’s caregivers and teachers to stay informed about their progress and development.
  • Attend parent-teacher conferences and school events to stay involved in your child’s education.

Remember, your involvement and support make a difference in your child’s learning and development. By working together, you can create a positive and supportive environment that fosters your toddler’s growth and potential.

Balancing Structured Learning and Free Play

One of the challenges of early childhood education is finding the right balance between structured learning activities and free play. While structured learning provides opportunities for skill-building and academic achievement, free play offers essential opportunities for creativity, imagination, and social interaction.

Structured learning activities like puzzles, educational games, and flashcards can help toddlers develop cognitive and language skills. However, it is important to limit the amount of structured learning time and ensure that toddlers have plenty of free playtime to explore their interests, interact with other children, and engage in imaginative play.

Free play offers a variety of benefits for toddlers, including the development of problem-solving skills, socialization, and imagination. It also provides a break from the structure of learning activities, allowing them to recharge and have fun.

When creating a learning schedule for your toddler, it is important to find a healthy balance that includes structured learning activities as well as free playtime. Consider prioritizing skill-building in areas that your toddler may need extra support, but also allow plenty of time for unstructured playtime.

It is important to remember that every child is unique and may have different preferences for structured learning versus free play. Pay attention to your toddler’s interests and adjust your schedule accordingly. By balancing structured learning and free play, you can provide a well-rounded educational experience that supports your toddler’s growth and development.


As a parent, you play an essential role in supporting your toddler’s growth and development. By focusing on activities that encourage cognitive, social, physical, emotional, and sensory development, you can create a learning environment that fosters curiosity, creativity, and a love of learning.

Remember to balance structured learning activities with free play, and to provide opportunities for exploring nature, music and movement, creative play, and problem-solving.

Parental Involvement and Support

Active parental involvement and support are crucial during this stage of your child’s education. By engaging with your child’s learning experiences, creating a supportive home environment, and fostering a love of learning, you can help your toddler thrive.


Q: What should toddlers be learning during their early years?

A: Toddlers should be learning essential skills that support their growth and development in areas such as cognitive, social, physical, language, and emotional development.

Q: How can I enhance cognitive development in my toddler?

A: You can enhance cognitive development in your toddler by engaging them in educational activities such as problem-solving games, puzzles, shape sorting, and memory exercises.

Q: What are some activities that can help toddlers build social skills?

A: Activities that can help toddlers build social skills include sharing, taking turns, and engaging in cooperative play with their peers and adults.

Q: How can I promote physical development in my toddler?

A: You can promote physical development in your toddler through activities that promote gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and coordination, such as crawling, walking, climbing, and manipulating small objects.

Q: What can I do to help my toddler’s language development?

A: To help your toddler’s language development, you can engage them in activities that encourage vocabulary development, improve communication skills, and promote early literacy.

Q: How can I improve my toddler’s fine motor skills?

A: You can improve your toddler’s fine motor skills by encouraging activities that involve precise movements of the small muscles, such as using crayons, playing with blocks, and practicing simple crafts.

Q: What activities can help my toddler develop problem-solving skills?

A: Activities that can help your toddler develop problem-solving skills include sorting objects, solving puzzles, and engaging in imaginative play.

Q: How can I support my toddler’s emotional development?

A: You can support your toddler’s emotional development by helping them recognize and express their emotions, develop empathy, and learn healthy ways to manage their feelings.

Q: Why is sensory play and exploration important for toddlers?

A: Sensory play and exploration are important for a toddler’s sensory development and can be achieved through activities such as water play, sand play, and exploring different textures and materials.

Q: How can music and movement benefit my toddler’s development?

A: Incorporating music and movement activities into your toddler’s daily routine can help develop their coordination, rhythm, and listening skills.

Q: How can I encourage creative play and imagination in my toddler?

A: You can encourage creative play and imagination in your toddler by engaging them in activities that encourage imaginative play, storytelling, drawing, painting, and pretend play.

Q: Why is outdoor exploration and nature important for toddlers?

A: Spending time outdoors and exploring nature has numerous benefits for toddlers, including promoting physical activity, sensory stimulation, and a connection with the natural world.

Q: How can I build healthy habits in my toddler?

A: You can build healthy habits in your toddler by providing them with proper nutrition, encouraging regular exercise, ensuring sufficient sleep, and teaching good hygiene practices.

Q: How can I be actively involved in my toddler’s learning and development?

A: You can be actively involved in your toddler’s learning and development by creating a supportive learning environment at home, engaging in activities together, and staying informed about their early education.

Q: How do I balance structured learning and free play for my toddler?

A: Striking a balance between structured learning activities and free play is important for your toddler’s development. Incorporate both approaches to create a well-rounded learning experience.

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