Are you ready for an increasingly independent child who can not only talk, but talk back? After your kiddo celebrates his second birthday, expect him to experience major changes that will help him to explore and make sense of his world. Parents and nannies can help kids navigate the transitions with activities geared toward helping them better understand their actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

“The stage from 2 to 3 is major because language is really beginning to develop,” says Robert Myers, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist. “[Children are] also starting to recognize that they’re independent beings and are actively exploring their world. Everything is interesting to them. The proper role of the parent [and nanny] is to provide encouragement, support, and access to activities that enable the child to master key developmental tasks.”

“Always layer activities with lots of language, interaction, and imaginative play,” adds Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., dean of the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development at Nova Southeastern University. “Child development comes through the portal of relationships with parents or caregivers.”

With that in mind, try these simple but entertaining development-promoting activities.


A Little Conversation

Materials needed: Doll or plush toy

What to do: Hand over the doll or toy, and encourage your child to hold, talk, dress, and take care of it. “Talk to the doll the way you would talk a child, and encourage your child to do the same,” Dr. Myers says.

Skills learned: Social, language and fine motor skills, creativity and imagination


Toy Hide-And-Seek

Materials needed: Toy

What to do: Hide a toy somewhere in the house, and ask your child to find it. Explore with her, using cues like “warmer” and “colder” to guide her.

Variations: Use flashlights for the search, or hide several objects at one time.

Skills learned: Listening, problem-solving, social skills, and memory


Simon Says

What to do: Start out with simple directions—”Simon says, touch your toes”—then graduate to silly, more complex routines (“Simon says, tug on your left ear, then your right ear”). And don’t forget to drop “Simon says” every now and then!

Variations: You can also encourage your child to jump, skip, catch something, and more.

Skills learned: Gross motor skills, following directions and receptive language


Body Tracing

Materials needed: Large piece of paper, crayons

What to do: Have your child lie down on a large piece of paper and trace the outline of his body. “Because the child has to lay still to be traced, he learns self-control,” Dr. Leiderman says. “You can show him where the two eyes, nose, and mouth go, but if your child just wants to color all over it, that’s fine. Don’t impose anything on him, just let him have fun with it.”

Variation: If your child doesn’t want to lie still, don’t force him. Start with tracing just his hand or foot, or tracing your hand and foot.

Skills learned: Sense of self, self-control, and identifying body parts/language skills


Express Yourself

Materials needed: Facial features cut out of magazines, paper, glue stick

What to do: Cut out different noses, eyes, hair, and other features from old magazines, and give them to your child to glue onto a blank paper circle. Encourage her to make funny creatures or silly faces. “Talk to your child about the pieces and how to glue them down, but don’t be too directive with it,” Dr. Leiderman says. “Ask a lot of ‘wonder questions,’ like “I wonder what would happen if you put the pieces down without the glue?’ and ‘I wonder why the glue is getting all over the table?’ Childhood is about learning new facts and applying them to theories, so help them make theories.”

Variations: Let her rip up the pieces or color on the collage with crayons after the glue has dried.

Skills learned: Creativity, language

Draw Your Favorite Songs

Materials needed: Paper, crayons

What to do: As you sing one of your child’s favorite songs, draw a simple picture of what is happening in the lyrics, then hand your child the paper to draw something else mentioned in the song. For example, Coley would sing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to her son, first drawing the spider and then having him draw his version of the rain. Go back and forth until the song ends.

Skills learned: Language skills, creativity, storytelling

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