Tuesday, July 10, 2018

6 Skills Toddlers Need to Learn

What do toddlers need to learn?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Toddlers are ALWAYS learning! When they are playing they are learning! When they are interacting with friends or even watching adults, they are learning!

Often new parents (and even more experienced parents) want to know what they are supposed to be teaching their kids and how they can help them better. As parents we want to help our kids be successful! It is hard to know when to start guiding kids and expecting more of them too. I share a lot of simple activities for toddlers and toddler parenting tips, but today we're going to dive in a bit deeper.

Today I'm going to give you my opinion about what toddlers need to learn and how parents can support them. I'm a mom of four kids (ages 2-10) and was a teacher for many years, so have a lot of experience with kids and guiding them successfully through the toddler, preschool, and elementary years.

First off, most importantly, toddlers need to learn how to navigate life successfully with their families and friends! We want them to be happy and have great relationships. Those take work!

Communicating, making friends, and being able to get around and use their bodies are all really important skills that don't happen overnight. In some cases, kids seem to pick up these skills by osmosis and other kids REALLY need more structured help from parents or even specialists. Each kid is different!

Here are SIX skills that toddlers start to develop between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old and onward! 

Each toddler will develop at a different rate, but the most important thing to notice is that they are developing new skills and learning. If your child isn't moving forward or seems to be struggling, it is totally ok to talk with your pediatrician or a specialist you know. I always feel like it is better to be cautious than kicking yourself years down the road for not asking for help soon enough.


1. HOW TO COMMUNICATE! (Language skills)

Toddlers need to learn how to communicate using their body language and their words! They will start out with a word or two and eventually can use full sentences! Some toddlers will also use sign language to help them as their words develop. I love these 5 simple ways to help toddlers develop language and also think reading together daily is critical! Kids learn so many new words and ideas from books! As toddlers communicate better, they are able to express their wants and needs better which often helps them feel less frustration and more success. The ability to communicate also helps them create positive relationships with their friends and family!

You can read all about 10 of our favorite ways to build toddler language skills here.

Here are some activities to build language skills and learn new vocabulary...

These red-flags for language development are also ones that I look at carefully.


Toddlers need to learn how to use their bodies to move! Developing their big muscles (gross motor skills) can help with balancing, walking, running, jumping, bouncing balls, climbing, etc. Developing their small muscles (fine motor skills) can help with more complex tasks like zipping, buttoning, scribbling, drawing, opening things, and eventually writing! Toddlers can develop their motor skills through a variety of play-based activities as well as getting out in nature and playing at playgrounds and parks often. Some parents also like to get their kids involved in Parent & Child gym classes, dance classes, or sports. I put together a weekly park group with some friends so that we get out and get kids moving a lot!

Here are some activities to build motor skills while having fun...

3. HOW TO MAKE NICE WITH OTHERS! (Social skills)

Toddlers can learn things like taking turns, listening, and using manners (like greeting people and saying please and thank you).

Learning to take turns and wait as well as learning how to play with friends takes awhile. Sometimes A LONG WHILE for some kids!

Most toddlers play alongside of one another (using parallel play) or they play independently and interact when they both want the same toy. During early years, parents can model appropriate social behaviors and teach toddlers how to take turns and be gentle with their friends. Some toddlers will pick up on these skills quickly, while other children might continue to need support to be gentle with friends as they move into preschool and early elementary school years.

Here are some activities to build social skills...

4. HOW TO GET THEIR BRAINS THINKING! (Early Learning Skills)

Toddlers can begin to learn simple songs and nursery rhymes. These teach them how to play with words, recognize patterns, and develop rhyming and rhythm skills. As toddlers are exposed to books, they will begin to recognize letters and pictures and start identifying concepts of print while they read with adults or look at books independently. Older toddlers also begin recognizing alphabet letters, words, numbers, colors, and shapes in their environment. There are many PLAY BASED activities that parents and caregivers can use to expose children to these concepts in open-ended and creative ways. Kids are naturally curious and learn so much through play!

Here are some ideas to help develop early learning skills...

5. HOW TO USE THEIR IMAGINATIONS! (Imagination skills)

As toddlers grow, they begin to be interested in "pretend play" and start to develop their imaginations. They might pretend to be a fireman or the garbage man. They might enjoy using costumes to act things out or using small figures like toys or stuff animals to pretend. By providing play materials that foster imaginative play and playing along with your kids, you can help them develop their imaginations even more. Reading books and acting out what you read can also help kids develop their imaginations!

Here are three ways to help your child develop their imagination...

6. HOW TO CONTROL THEIR BODIES & MINDS! (Self- Regulating Skills)

Toddlers start to learn how to change their behavior and sometimes even follow directions or start doing things when you ask them to! Hooray! Self regulation skills include learning to focus attention, control emotions, and manage their thinking, behavior, and feelings. These skills can take a lot of time to learn and some kids are much slower to develop self-regulating skills than others.

Toddlers begin to learn self-regulating skills at young ages, but they are not mastered until they are much older. One of my favorite ways to teach skills like listening and following directions is through playing things like Red Light Green Light and other simple games. Teaching self-regulating skills requires patience. As parents it is very important to focus on the positive behavior that you want to see and encourage that behavior with praise and encouragement. Recognizing what is and isn't developmentally appropriate is also important. Toddlers can't focus their attention for very long, so putting them in situations where they need to be quiet and pay attention for a long time, wouldn't be appropriate. Similarly, toddlers have a hard time holding in their thoughts or thinking first before spouting off their opinions.

Here are three ways to improve self regulation skills...

  • Teach kids strategies for self regulation (deep breaths, counting to 5, taking a break)
  • Help kids learn to make choices (give them opportunities to choose every day!)
  • Play control games with your kids (Simon Says, Freeze Dance, Board games, etc)

These six skills are critical for toddlers and even adults to be working on regularly: 

  • Language Skills
  • Motor Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Early Learning Skills
  • Imagination Skills
  • Self-Regulating Skills

Over the next few weeks I will be diving into these skills areas in more detail and sharing additional strategies to help you guide your toddlers in these areas!

Which of these skills are most important to you? Which one does your toddler need the most help with? Are there any we missed that you think are even more important than these six?

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