The 2-3 years of age are a time of great cognitive, emotional and social development.
Toddler development can be broken into a number of interrelated areas:
- Motor skills: Refers to the control of large muscles, which enable walking, running, jumping and climbing & small muscle for feeding and manipulating objects.
- Vision: Refers to the ability to see near and far and interpret what is seen.
- Hearing and speech: Hear and receive information and listen (interpret). Speech is the ability to understand and learn language and use it to communicate effectively.
- Social: Refers to the ability to interact with the world through playing with others, taking turns and fantasy play.
Although it is useful to chart defined periods of development, it is also necessary to recognise that development exists on a continuum, with considerable individual differences between children. There is a wide range of what may be considered 'normal' development. For more info on toddler development milestones click here
3-5 years: By the time your child reaches his third birthday, he'll be ready for more challenging toys. After all, if he can put on his own T-shirt, take off his own pants, and wash and dry his own hands (read more on self-care), he can certainly manage blocks and even simple memory or counting games. Most 3-year-olds can also draw a vertical line, which means now's the perfect time to open a display gallery on the refrigerator.
At this age your child is a confident walker, runner, and jumper, and may even be able to balance on one foot for a second or more. That means it's time to let him play with scaled-down sports equipment. He may want to include other children in his games, and he'll really begin to relate to and focus on other kids, which allows him to play more structured games.
As he gets older, your toddler will become increasingly imaginative. He's no longer concerned just with his physical effect on the world and will start developing his own story lines, characters, plots, and adventures. Giving him clothes and props for pretend play – something as simple as a cardboard box can be a wagon, a spaceship, a fort, and so on – will help encourage this area of his development.
Puzzles: Toddlers are developing their problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination at this age, and nothing tests their new abilities better than basic jigsaw puzzles. Look for ones with large pieces and a simple, easily recognisable picture. Some simpler ones come with trays that the pieces fit into.
Beginning board or memory games: You may not be able to find a board game very easily for a child younger than 36 months, but buy a simple one if you think he's developmentally ready. Your toddler's brain development will benefit from learning how to play board games such as Chutes and Ladders or a card game like I Spy or Memory. Particularly with memory games, he'll have fun trying to match things that are alike, and is likely to squeal in delight whenever he's successful.
Kid-size dishes, pots, and pans: Children this age love to pretend and play imaginary games, and one of the things they like best is to imitate Mom and Dad. A kitchen set gives them license to mix up all kinds of imaginary concoctions. Throw in a few empty sample-size food containers (tiny mustard jars, mini-jam pots, etc.) and your child could become the next Alton Brown.
Construction sets: Most toddlers this age are masters at stacking several blocks, but that doesn't mean the game loses its appeal. They especially enjoy blocks that lock together, because they can use their budding imagination – and hand-eye coordination – to build higher, more complex towers.
Art supplies: Your child will be ready and willing to experiment with art supplies, and it's your job to make sure he has the necessary tools of the trade. Kids this age like crayons, watercolors, clay, collage basics like magazines and newspapers, construction paper, and tempera and finger paints. Just make sure everything is washable and nontoxic.
Outdoor equipment: As your child really starts to grow into his physical skills, he'll love toys that let him test his newfound abilities. Swings and sports equipment such as plastic balls and bats, miniature basketballs and hoops, soft soccer balls, and play golf sets are perfect toys for this age group.