This is a time of increasing curiosity. She wants to know how things work, what things do in relation to other things, and loves surprise endings. When things don’t go as she expected, she will laugh and try again. Provide her lots of opportunities to explore safely.
What Your Toddler is Learning
She is moving fast, even if you wouldn’t quite call it running. Some are running, but in a jerky way. She can probably kick a ball now.
Climbing is taking on new dimensions. She 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 she realizes she cannot get down. Don’t frighten her by yelling at her or grabbing her and putting her down. It is better to help her learn how to get down, then tell her furniture is not for climbing. Make sure you find a safe play area for her to take her vertical challenge. She needs to learn about height and depth, how to use her arms and legs together, and how to balance.
By 20 months, she is learning as many as 10 words every day.
She may be speaking anywhere from 15-75 words, but she understands as many as 200 words.
Most likely she is making two word sentences that directly relate to her life. Although these may seem like just a pair of words, they are a giant leap in learning language. She will express actions like, “Daddy go” or “Me walk.” She also shows she understands ownership of the things by saying, “Mommy bag” or “Me ball.”
She has discovered the magic of words. She is learning to name everything around her. She has learned that if she says a word, that thing often is available to her. When she calls, “Mama,” she often appears. When she says, “Cookie,” she often gets one. But at 20 months she is now able to picture in her mind the thing that the word stands for. Even when she cannot have what she says, she is able to picture it in her mind. Many times she will self-soothe by talking to herself about the people and events that recently happened. At nap time, you may hear her talking about Mama, Dada, Sissy, go, work, sleep. A lot of nonsense words will be mixed in, but she is picturing what she cannot see right now. This is a tremendous step in language learning.
Because she is beginning to be able to retain images in her mind, she is beginning to be able to learn from your words. When you tell her “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 her sister’s hair to hear her say, “No, pull. Pretty!”
While she loves to mimic you and wants to help with chores, use this as an opportunity to teach new words. Find simple tasks she can do. Then tell her one step at a time. She is enjoying time and attention from you, and she is learning to listen and follow directions—a very important skill!
Pretend play is a wonderful way for your toddler to practice social interactions. She will enjoy playing the role of parent. She may like to put her feet in your shoes or wear your hat or coat. She may try to feed her stuffed dog or put her bear down for a nap. She is beginning to learn to empathize with others.
She may begin showing favorites. She will let you know which toys she considers “hers” and doesn’t want you to touch. She may begin asserting herself too. She may resolutely refuse to hold your hand.
Her still growing language skills, her desire for independence, and her poor impulse control are a recipe for trouble when playing with others. As she learns more vocabulary, she’ll be able to express her frustrations in words instead of violent behaviors. Keep a close eye on her, remove her from the frustrating situation as soon as possible, and firmly tell her hitting is not OK. Give her a minute to calm down before rejoining her 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
Her favorite doll or stuffed animal
You can teach her a lot of verbs and prepositions by having her act out different commands with her doll or stuffed animal. Help her learn to have her 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 her blocks together in a pile, she sees a pattern. Then she scatters them all over the floor. They look really different. If the different sides of the blocks are different colors or patterns, she 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. She is not putting any language to what she is seeing and feeling and doing, but she is adding to the reservoir of knowledge she 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 her the blocks make a round circle. Do the same thing with a square plastic container. When you pick up the container show her the square. She may not be steady enough to do this herself, but she will enjoy seeing what you are doing.
Hand-eye Co-ordination —Using square blocks, see how many she 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 she sees and what her hands feel. Distance and perspective are visual abilities strengthened in this kind of play.
Give her a big spoon and show her how to use it to pick up one block at a time and put it into a container. This really works her arms and wrists as well as her hands and eyes.
Sand and Water
If you are thinking about the mess she 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 she is putting more in. When she pours some out, there is less in the container. A container with lots of sand is heavy. She won’t learn these words yet, but she is experiencing the concepts.
Floating and Sinking —She will be able to experience what floats and what sinks with sponges and spoons and containers of all different sizes and shapes. She 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 her to read. It is not even to teach her 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 her, 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 she is the wiggly type, do what you know she likes best in the way of touching. She may prefer sitting next to you on the sofa while you show her pictures in a book. She will like your undivided attention and the security she feels in your presence. Match the length of the session to her 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.” She 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 she 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 she says the words before you do, she has it memorized! When she knows it very well, she may want to skip some pages to get to the parts she likes best or she may not let you skip a word because she loves it so much. Either way, do it the way she likes best for as long as she 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 her 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