Many new parents with young children often grow anxious over the challenges of young toddlers and in particular the famous tantrums of the 'terrible two' phase. In fact, two year olds are at one of the most fascinating phases of their development, and whilst it can be tricky, it is important to enjoy it too.
Children gain in confidence when they are empowered to do things independently. Here are five activities to help boost the development of language, communication and numeracy skills for two year olds, helping them to grow in confidence and become more independent.
1. Laying the table
Most two year olds love helping adults and copying routine behaviour. Before a snack or meal, see if you can get your child to help lay the table. This is a good 'chatting' activity to help develop language and communication skills, as children are often relaxed when they do something regularly. Encourage them to put out placemats and then to pass you cutlery, which you can name. You can also create placemats that are like templates to show children where the plate, cup and cutlery go.
2. Planting flowers, fruits and vegetables
Planting can be a great way to introduce children to simple gardening and the outdoors. It's best done between spring and early autumn so that children can see the results of their plantings. You will need seeds that children can easily handle, such as beans, peas or courgettes, some compost and a couple of simple seed trays. Fill individual compartments with compost and encourage your child to push one seed down into each compartment. Children will love being able to see the results themselves over the coming days and weeks.
3. Washing salad and preparing food
Simple cooking is a great way to encourage children to develop healthy taste and learn new words, as well as develop new skills. This activity is an especially good one for the summer months. Bring in lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and any other vegetables that could be made into a salad. Let children rinse each of the vegetables and talk about why it's important to do so, naming them as you go along. Use kitchen towels and encourage the children to dry the vegetables. Afterwards, see if they would like to taste any of the food they've helped to prepare.
You can also try other simple recipes as a 'pudding' option - try a homemade banana smoothie with some natural yoghurt and apple juice, getting your two year old to help peel and mash the fruit before stirring together.
4. Sorting shoes, clearing and tidying up
Tidying up not only helps children's physical skills, but is also good for matching and learning to follow simple instructions. Children enjoy sorting and will also enjoy tidying up if it seems fun. One particular favourite is sorting shoes. Encourage children to fetch shoes and arrange them into pairs, counting as you go before putting them away. Don't worry if children choose to take shoes out once they've been put away. It is quite usual to find that two year olds become interested in things when they are about to become unavailable!
5. Blowing your nose
What might seem like the most simple of tasks is actually an important step to building children's ability to look after themselves independently and increase their awareness of how the body works. It's useful to be taught early on and is best to teach your child this skill when they don't have a cold.
Show children that with your mouth shut, you can blow through your nose. Put a strip of tissue paper in front of your nose and, with your mouth shut, blow it and make it move. Make sure that children see that you have your mouth closed, and that you remind them of this. Once this has been mastered, play other games such rolling a small bit of paper into a ball and seeing if children can make it move by blowing through their nose.
Penny Tassoni is president of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY). Her new book - 'Getting it right for two year olds' - is published by Hodder Education on 30 May 2014.