Child Development Domain and Skills: Toddlers

We are continuing to talk about child development and exploring the domain and skills for each stages. This week we will be exploring everything Toddlers (14 months to 3 years)! Crawling to walking, babbling to talking, attachment to exploring, toddlers are amazing creatures. Use this blog post to see how your child is developing and the activities you can do as a child care provider to enhance the skill. All of our information is  “Foundational knowledge from the 2007 publication of Early Learning for Every Child TodayA Framework for Ontario Early Childhood Settings”.

Domain: Social

Toddlers are expanding in all aspects of development, especially in social. They are starting to understand relationships better by playing with other children instead of playing with the toys in their immediate surroundings.

The first skill is social interest which means observing and imitating peers, beginning to play “follow the leader” game and engaging in short group activities. You’ll notice that toddlers will play with other toddlers in a short period of time, but may turn into struggle for possessions. As a child care provider, take the time to engage one-on-one with the child to understand how they operate and what they need in order to focus on the task at hand.

The second skill is perspective taking and taking turns! Anyone who knows a toddler knows that this can be a challenge. Use simple situations to help develop this skill. For example, you can say to the toddler “you can have your cup of water once I’ve put the cereal away.” That way they can see the cereal boxes physically being put away and understands that they have to wait.

The third skill is parallel play. This means playing in proximity of peers with similar toys without an exchange of ideas or things. By sitting next to the toddler and engaging in an activity that is different from what they’re doing teaches socializing in proximity of another and with similar materials.

Domain: Emotional

With the development of socializing comes the development of emotions and expression of emotions.

The first skill is expressional of feelings. This is seem in expressing aggressive feeling and behaviour in language and pretend play, and showing self-conscious emotions such as shame, embarrassment, guilt and pride. As a child care provider, it is your responsibility to engage with that child to affirm their emotional experience, “You’re a really happy boy when you play in the bubbles!” Having an adult emotionally available to them reinforces the child’s emotions and motivation.

The second skill is self-regulation. Self-regulation can be split into 3 different sections. Emotional regulation is using language to help express emotions, recovering from emotion in the presence of familiar adults, being overwhelmed and recovering, and seeking out adults as secure base. The best thing you can do is acknowledge the toddler’s feelings to teach empathy and absorb some of the child’s emotional energy. Behaviour regulation is the toddler responding to cues to stop actions. For example, if they notice that what they’re doing is making another child sad they may not continue the action. Being physically close to the child gives them a secure base that helps in regulating their behaviour. Attention regulation is the toddler becoming distracted, making a choice and then returning back to their activity by avoiding distractions.

The third skill is empathy, showing awareness of feelings of self and others. As a child care provider, you can start pointing out the facial expressions the child is making to help them recognize when they are feeling something and help label the emotion. For example, “Joey, you have a big smile on your face! Are you happy to see mommy?”

The fourth skill is sense of self. This includes saying “no” to an adults request, seeing self as someone capable of doing something, saying “good” and “bad”, using names (of self and others), recognizing self in mirror and pointing to parts of own body. Play in front of a mirror to show that the toddler can see themselves actually doing something and then describe the action. For example, if the child is getting dressed in front of a mirror, the child care provider can say “We are putting your shirt on over your head. Both arms have to go through the hole. Then we put our socks on our feet!”

The fifth skill is autonomy, including initiating activities, setting goals and persisting in achieving them, rejecting the intrusion of redirection, saying “no” and “I do”. Also, seeking to control others, saying “mine”, making choices and avoiding distractions increases and distinguishing own intended actions from unintended ones. As a child care provider, you can give the child different activities so they can dictate which games they want to play. Have a variety of items to choose from and describe the play to the child.

The sixth skill is identity formation, identifying self and in relation to others. Take a family photo and point out each person in the picture. Explain who each person is and then ask questions about the photo. For example, “What did you play in the pool? Did you splash with your cousin?” This will help the child to find their place in relation to the other people in their family and show that they are an important member of their family.

Domain: Communication, language and literacy

The building blocks of writing and communication are being built in this stage of development. Use everyday as a learning opportunity for the toddler but talking to them and communicating with others in front of the child so they can pick up on more and more words!

The first skill is receptive language. This includes listening to stories, responding to names of body parts, commands and personal pronouns and responding to longer sentences and commands. Pair the toddler’s actions with language so they can learn the words that correspond with the context of their play.

The second skill is expressive language. This includes words, sentences, vocabulary, questions an conversation. Speak as much as possible around the toddler to help them to grow this skill set. Ask simple questions (“Do you want your water in the green cup or the red cup?”), correct the child when the child misspeaks, ask questions to expand on ideas (“Where did the cat go?”), after asking questions, pause for a response from the child to develop conversation skills. There are so many ways to help develop this skill set but the most important way is to keep language in the house and constantly have conversations.

Domain: Cognition

A toddler’s brain is very elastic at this stage in their life and it’s important to help stretch and expand their knowledge! Here are the skills to look out for.

The first skill is self-regulation or attention regulation. This includes maintaining attention for increasing periods of time and ignoring distracting variables. A way that you can challenge this as a child care provider is offering the toddler material with contrasting properties. For example, when matching the shaped block with the shaped hole, add in other toys that wouldn’t fit. They’ll have to figure out which ones fit and which don’t.

The second skill is problem solving. This means setting goals and acting to achieve them, solving problems in actions by trial and error, seeking out adults to help meet goals and figuring our who is missing from a group by looking at those in attendance. For example, asking “Where’s Auntie?” is a way of problem solving. Ask these questions and get the toddler to look for the person. Does this sound familiar? Yes! Hide-and-seek is a great game to play with toddlers to teach them about problem solving.

The third skill is cause-and-effect exploration which looks responding with joy to the predictable outcomes of exploration and exploring the functions of objects such as opening and shutting doors. Help guide the toddler through exploration with questions. For example, “What happens when you drop the ball?” They will drop the ball and see that it bounces.

The fourth skill is spatial exploration through exploring containment by putting objects in containers and dumping them or putting things together and taking them apart. This looks like building blocks or playing in sandboxes. Take a scoop of sand and ask if it will fit in a cup. Play alongside a toddler helps to engage a child best.

The fifth skill is spatial problem solving such as pushing obstacles out of the way and using tools to overcome barriers. As a childcare provider, you can move the tools and toys in close proximity to the toddler so they can see what is available to them. This will expand their exploration to have more options to use for problem solving.

The sixth skill is temporal, using terms such as “tomorrow”, “yesterday”, “now”, “later”. The simplest way that a toddler can learn this is by you using these terms. For example, “Tomorrow you have swimming lessons” or “Yesterday, we saw Grandma and Grandpa” or “Later we will be going to the library”.

The seventh skill is symbolic thought, representation and root skills of literacy. This includes pretend play and representation. Pretend play can look like playing kitchen and making soup out of lego pieces. Representation is looking at books and pointing out objects such as animals, people and items.

The eight skill is memory, including increasing memory capacity, following routines and establishing rituals. Children thrive in routine, so you can challenge them by asking “what do we do next?” Usually bedtime is very routined so asking “What do we do after we have a bath?”, the toddler can respond with “Get dressed!”

The ninth, and last, skill for cognition is sorting. This includes sorting and labelling objects by characteristics, such as hard and soft or big and small, and matching items by function (such as a spoon with bowl). Ask questions that challenge the toddler’s sorting skills but also engage them in conversation. For example, “What should we add to Grandma’s present?”

Domain: Physical

You’re toddler will be toddling around the house non-stop, and you’ll be wondering “where did they get all of this energy from?!” Keep them moving so they can grow into strong, healthy children!

The first skill is gross motor skills. This has anything to do with the larger muscles in the toddler’s body, such as balancing, jumping, walking/running, climbing and riding toys. Take the toddler to a safe play area like a park and encourage them to explore the jungle gym. Guide them up the stairs, encourage them to jump up the steps (at a safe distance) and challenge them to balance by standing on one foot and then the next. Go for daily walks with the toddler or encourage them to run around outside. Using balance bikes helps toddlers, obviously, balance but also provides them the building bricks to graduate to a two-wheeler.

The second skill is fine motor skills which includes the smaller muscles in the toddlers body such as fingers, hands and feet. Dressing and eating help the toddler grow these muscles through doing up buttons and zippers, and picking up utensils and cups during mealtime. Another indicator of fine motor skills is pincer grasp. During story time, encourage the toddler to turn the page.

The third skill is senses. This includes sensory exploration, discrimination and motor integration. Provide the child with an array of different materials to explore the feel of them, such as cardboard vs. construction paper. As questions along the way such as “does that feel hard or soft?” Water tables are another tool childcare providers can use to help the toddler explore the senses. They can feel the water moving and distribute the water from one cup into the other to help distribute the water.

Toddlers are parallel players, meaning that they will engage with the activities around them but aren’t quite engaging on one-on-one play. The best thing that a childcare provider can do to help the toddler grow is to get down to their level and support the child in their play. Let the child lead the play and be there to guide the play by asking questions or providing tools to make it a growing opportunity.

Next week we will be discussing the development for Preschool Kindergarten (2.5 years to 6 years). To learn more about Au Pairs and how they can help with your child’s development, contact us today!

Phone: 647-332-2477


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About the Author:

Sarah Kelly is the owner of Adanac Au Pair. She was an Au Pair in France for a year living with an incredible family. Between stuffing her face with cheese, over exaggerating her French accent to blend in and visiting the beach, she cared for 3 awesome children. When she returned to Canada she became an Aunt! Sarah saw the child care crisis in Canada and thought it was time to bring the Au Pair Program to Canada. She decided to start her own Au Pair agency to share her experience with Canadian families and young adults who want to work & travel.


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