Two-year-old children are still in the process of developing their own identity and sense of themselves in the world. They are straddling the need to be more independent with their continuing dependence on adults for assistance in many pursuits. They are learning to separate themselves from their parents and must feel secure and nurtured in order to do so successfully. The classic two-year-old exclamation of wanting to do something for and by themselves is biologically driven and can often lead to frustration when their desire for independent functioning does not match their ability for independent functioning. In order to avoid the other classic two-year-old behavior, temper tantrums, parents and teachers must be sensitive to the balance of independent action, physical safety, and success.

Children at this stage learn through their physical interaction with their environment. School provides an opportunity to practice virtually everything that young children are mastering, from clothing themselves to controlling themselves. Their gross motor control is improving daily. Moving throughout the classroom, climbing stairs and playing outside all contribute to gross motor development. The children’s fine motor control, and specifically their pincer grasp, is enhanced by using knobbed puzzles, small building blocks, and sorting exercises. You will improve your child’s motor control by merely walking to and from school and helping them hold their silverware properly at the table when eating.

Language acquisition at this age is rather like high-speed photography. Two-year-olds have very good receptive language. They understand virtually everything. Throughout the year their expressive language follows and they master larger vocabularies, more sophisticated grammar and improved syntax at a staggering rate. They can express their basic needs, wants and thoughts verbally. They can follow one-step directions, sing songs in a group, and listen to short stories, nursery rhymes, and poems. They are learning how to handle books with care. At home, you should be using an increasingly varied vocabulary, modeling standard grammar and usage and reading books aloud to your children.

The learning traits of two-year-olds are an unceasing ability to observe objects and events with boundless curiosity. Teachers and parents can capitalize on this trait. They have increasing levels of focus and ability to stick with a particular task, accompanied by delight at having completed something such as a puzzle. They are beginning to see cause and effect. They will model what they see in the adults of their world. Clearly, parents and caregivers at home have the advantage of emotional connection and time exposure, but as children spend increasing amounts of time outside the house, the behaviors they see in others will also be modeled.

Two-year-olds have limited symbolic thinking. They are capable of matching exercises. They can recognize and repeat very simple patterns. Concrete and literal thought is the underlying process; abstract thinking will follow later. Teachers and parents can be most helpful by being very specific, ‘be nice’ is too abstract whereas, ‘pat the kitten gently’ is more easily understood.

Their gross motor skills are still quite elementary although most walk heel to toe and can run. They can jump in place and delight in doing so. It is not uncommon for them to walk into objects and fall out of chairs. They should be encouraged to control their movements, not with cautionary terminology about impending danger, but with the delight of mastery over one’s body. Their fine motor skills are just developing from the infant grasp so tenderly experienced when they grabbed your fingers for the first time. They should be learning to turn the pages of a book singly and with care. They can also engage in simple finger play games, string beads, build towers, and tear paper.

Their increasing independence should lead them to put their coats on and off of hooks, put on their own hats, and push their chairs into a table upon getting up. All of which you may support at home.