This is a time of increasing curiosity. He wants to know how things work, what things do in relation to other things, and loves surprise endings. When things don’t go as he expected, he will laugh and try again. Provide him lots of opportunities to explore safely.
What Your Toddler is Learning
He is moving fast, even if you wouldn’t quite call it running. Some are running, but in a jerky way. He can probably kick a ball now.
Climbing is taking on new dimensions. He is able to climb onto chairs, tables, counters, and maybe even your bookshelf or chest of drawers. Climbing up is learned before climbing down, so you can expect indignant cries as he realizes he cannot get down. Don’t frighten him by yelling at him or grabbing him and putting him down. It is better to help him learn how to get down, then tell him furniture is not for climbing. Make sure you find a safe play area for him to take his vertical challenge.
He needs to learn about height and depth, how to use his arms and legs together, and how to balance.
By 20 months, he is learning as many as 10 words every day.
He may be speaking anywhere from 15-75 words, but he understands as many as 200 words.
Most likely he is making two word sentences that directly relate to his life. Although these may seem like just a pair of words, they are a giant leap in learning language. He will express actions like, “Daddy go” or “Me walk.” He also shows he understands ownership of the things by saying, “Mommy bag” or “Me ball.”
He has discovered the magic of words. He is learning to name everything around him. He has learned that if he says a word, that thing often is available to him. When he calls, “Mama,” she often appears. When he says, “Cookie,” he often gets one. But at 20 months he is now able to picture in his mind the thing that the word stands for. Even when he cannot have what he says, he is able to picture it in his mind. Many times he will self-soothe by talking to himself about the people and events that recently happened. At nap time, you may hear him talking about Mama, Dada, Sissy, go, work, sleep. A lot of nonsense words will be mixed in, but he is picturing what he cannot see right now. This is a tremendous step in language learning.
Because he is beginning to be able to retain images in his mind, he is beginning to be able to learn from your words. When you tell him “no” about something, explain in simple words why. Say, “No pulling hair. See Sissy’s pretty hair!” You may be surprised the next time there is an opportunity to pull his sister’s hair to hear him say, “No, pull. Pretty!”
While he loves to mimic you and wants to help with chores, use this as an opportunity to teach new words. Find simple tasks he can do. Then tell him one step at a time. He is enjoying time and attention from you, and he is learning to listen and follow directions—a very important skill!
Pretend play is a wonderful way for your toddler to practice social interactions. He will enjoy playing the role of parent. He may like to put his feet in your shoes or wear your hat or coat. He may try to feed his stuffed dog or put his bear down for a nap. He is beginning to learn to empathize with others.
He may begin showing favorites. He will let you know which toys he considers “his” and doesn’t want you to touch.
He may begin asserting himself too. He may resolutely refuse to hold your hand.
His still growing language skills, his desire for independence, and his poor impulse control are a recipe for trouble when playing with others. As he learns more vocabulary, he’ll be able to express his frustrations in words instead of violent behaviors. Keep a close eye on him, remove him from the frustrating situation as soon as possible, and firmly tell him hitting is not OK. Give him a minute to calm down before rejoining his playmates. Don’t keep your child from social situations, just keep your eyes and ears open and intervene when necessary.
Ways You Can Help
Toys and Lessons Learned
His favorite doll or stuffed animal
You can teach him a lot of verbs and prepositions by having him act out different commands with his doll or stuffed animal. Help him learn to have his toy “Stand Up,” “Sit down,” “Turn around,” or “Wave bye-bye.”
Blocks have always been a favorite toy for toddlers. We measure their hand-eye coordination by their ability to build block towers. Today we not only have the wooden blocks that children in the past enjoyed, but plastic snap-together blocks are in most kids’ toy boxes. So what good are they?
Dimitri Christakis, writing in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, said unstructured play with blocks stimulates thinking, memory, and physical mastery of objects at a time when a child’s brain is growing rapidly.
The development of memory and the roots of impulse control and language can be acquired through imaginative play.
Now that you know the reasons behind playing with blocks, here are ways you can help your little one learn with blocks.
Totally Unstructured Play —As your toddler crowds all his blocks together in a pile, he sees a pattern. Then he scatters them all over the floor. They look really different. If the different sides of the blocks are different colors or patterns, he sees even a wider range of patterns. Stacking them on top of each other makes these little blocks seem so much bigger. Putting them in a small container makes the blocks look big. Putting the same blocks in a big container makes the blocks look small. He is not putting any language to what he is seeing and feeling and doing, but he is adding to the reservoir of knowledge he will need for later.
Teach Direction —When building a tower say, “Put it up here.” When they fall over say, “The blocks fall down.”
Teach Shapes —Place some blocks around the sides of a round plastic container. Then lift the container. Show him the blocks make a round circle. Do the same thing with a square plastic container. When you pick up the container show him the square. He may not be steady enough to do this himself, but he will enjoy seeing what you are doing.
Hand-eye Co-ordination —Using square blocks, see how many he can stack in a tower. Average 20 months olds can build towers 6 blocks high. Stacking blocks takes a lot of co-ordination between what he sees and what his hands feel. Distance and perspective are visual abilities strengthened in this kind of play.
Give him a big spoon and show him how to use it to pick up one block at a time and put it into a container. This really works his arms and wrists as well as his hands and eyes.
Sand and Water
If you are thinking about the mess he will make, consider whether you are thinking more about yourself or your child. So much can be learned in play with sand and water. In warm weather, these make good outdoor activities. In cold weather, the bathtub is the ideal place to play water games.
Experiencing Quantities —Using a spoon and a shovel you can teach a little and a lot of sand. Putting sand in a container he is putting more in. When he pours some out, there is less in the container. A container with lots of sand is heavy. He won’t learn these words yet, but he is experiencing the concepts.
Floating and Sinking —He will be able to experience what floats and what sinks with sponges and spoons and containers of all different sizes and shapes. He can learn words like: big, little, empty, and full.
What to Expect Next
- Draws a straight line
- Names several body parts
- Can walk upstairs
Raising a Reader
It is never too early to help your child love books. Your goal is not to teach him to read. It is not even to teach him the alphabet. It is to instill a love of books and a love of learning. Reading books should be fun. If you are trying to teach him, your effort to teach may communicate tension and not joy. So keep it light and fun.
Use books as an opportunity to snuggle with your little one. If he is the wiggly type, do what you know he likes best in the way of touching. He may prefer sitting next to you on the sofa while you show him pictures in a book. He will like your undivided attention and the security he feels in your presence. Match the length of the session to his desire to sit still.
Make it a habit
Whenever in the day, a quiet break would be enjoyable or helpful, take time to read a book. Some children have a hard time waking in the morning, instead of hurrying them to get changed, fed, and out the door, plan a few minutes to cuddle and read a book first. Maybe your little one gets a little cranky after breakfast, consider making it a habit to read a book before play. When your older children are off to school, cuddle with your toddler for a nice read together. Of course, the old favorite of a book before bed is always a good habit.
Ham it up
Don’t be content to just read the words in the book. Don’t be compulsive about reading every page or even reading the pages in the same order every time. Use different voices for different characters and make sounds instead of just saying sound words like “whir.” He may even want to act out a part or make certain sounds at appropriate moments in the story.
Read it again, Sam!
Let your child choose the book he wants you to read. Yes, that means you will read the same book hundreds of times. Repetition is the key to toddlerhood. One day you will notice that he says the words before you do, he has it memorized! When he knows it very well, he may want to skip some pages to get to the parts he likes best or he may not let you skip a word because he loves it so much. Either way, do it the way he likes best for as long as he wants it.
Go to the library
It can get expensive buying children’s books. The librarian can help you find age appropriate books your child will love. Library story hours will give you lots of ideas for books to read too.
Board books, bathtub books, and pop-up books, bright colors, realistic pictures, and rhymes are always favorites. Keep it simple at this stage. Later there will be plenty of time for him to read about what makes engines work or biographies of famous people.
Heavenly Father, our little one learns so much each day with simple toys and ordinary things around our home. Help me to learn about You in my simple and ordinary life. Help me to always have joy in new discoveries, just as my toddler does. In Jesus’ name, Amen