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How a 2-year-old learns and how we can help


“All child-care arrangements, including family, friend, neighbor, and family- and center-based child care, have the potential to provide high-quality, individualized, responsive and stimulating experiences that occur within the context of strong relationships and which are imbedded in everyday routines.“

                                               — Zero to Three: The National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families


The 2-year-old is intent on doing these things, among others:

   • Copying people (good or bad)

   • Getting excited about other children (not necessarily cooperating with them)

   • Testing boundaries, defying authority, finding his own self

   • Saying short sentences and telling stories

   • Following instructions (or understanding, but choosing not to follow them)

   • Sorting shapes and colors

   • Building towers of blocks

   • Moving his body in more and more ways


Who can best help him?

Cheryl DiNovi, Birth to Three director at the Denise Louie Education Center in Seattle, says “all learning up through age 3 is through relationships.” The parent-child relationship is paramount because parents are “the forever teachers” and the best providers of “social emotional skills that are the foundation for all other learning.”

Through the education center’s Early Head Start program, low-income and immigrant families receive weekly 90-minute home visits to help them be their children’s “best first teachers.” All parents, at all income levels, can benefit from having parenting “mentors,” DiNovi believes.

The reality for many single parents or families where both parents work, is that their child will be with friends or family or in a child-care setting for much of the day. It’s good to keep the child’s temperament in mind, DiNovi says. While some children might thrive with lots of activity and stimulation, “for some it’s not healthy to be in a group setting all day long.”

The key is finding “high quality” daycare where caregivers involve the parents intimately in their child’s care. DiNovi advises asking the caregiver about her qualifications, including whether she has early childhood developmental training. “Parents and child-care providers should have realistic goals for what their child should be learning at age 2,” she adds. “Exposure to a variety of opportunities is different from the expectation that they’re going to have skills they’re not ready for.”

In some cases, a developmentally appropriate preschool may be the best answer, even though preschool for 2-year-olds is not universally recommended. “It’s better than being in a daycare where the child isn’t doing anything but sitting in front of a TV,” she says.


For tips on finding the best child-care or family/friend/neighbor care and for more ideas on nurturing your child’s learning through everyday activities visit zerotothree.org. The Washington State Department of Early Learning has a section on “Child Care and Preschool Options” at del.wa.gov.

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