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How an 18 Month Old Learns

by Stacey Chaloux, studioD

Now that your baby is halfway between 1 and 2 years old, you are probably seeing so many developing skills. Parents are often ready to start teaching their toddlers new things as they become more able to walk and talk. HealthyChildren.org, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics, advises that the best way for an 18-month-old to learn is through play. She will be much more engaged in what she is learning when it is her choice and she is directing the activity. Parents are needed to guide toddlers to these learning opportunities, but having fun with your baby is the most important thing you can do for her.

Staying Active

It probably seems like your 18 month old never stops moving, and that is probably pretty close to the truth. Toddlers are learning many important physical skills and they need lots of practice to build their balance, coordination and muscle control. Play games that encourage him to use these developing skills, like chasing each other or kicking a ball back and forth. Toddlers can be a determined bunch, so he will want to keep trying a new skill until he gets it. Incorporate other learning activities into your physical activity as well. For example, if he is throwing bean bags into a basket, talk about what color they are as he holds each one. Don't worry if he won't sit still for a story anymore -- just read it anyway and let him listen as he moves around the room.

Exploring Sensory Materials

An 18 month old is still extremely curious and driven to explore new things. She wants to learn about the world around her, so encourage this exploration by providing her with interesting objects. Playing in a sandbox or a water table can allow her to experience new sensory materials, but also give her a chance to develop some fine motor skills like scooping and dumping or filling a container. When you need to be inside, give her a large container full of rice or uncooked pasta to dig in. Hide some of her favorite toys in it, and have her search for them. Name the colors or shapes of the items as she finds them. Also give her crayons, markers or finger paints and paper to explore coloring and being creative. Just be sure to supervise her play, because toddlers are still inclined to put many things in their mouths.


Your 18 month old watches you closely because he wants to do the things you are doing. You may begin to see him imitate your actions while he plays. Encourage this pretending by asking him questions about what he is doing. For example, if he holds his play phone to his ear, say, "Are you calling Grandma?" or when he stirs a spoon in his play pots and pans, ask him, "What are you making? Is that some soup for Mommy?" Make sure he has access to his toys so that he can be the one to initiate the play time. If he has toys like pretend dishes, a toy tool bench or a child-size broom, he will be able to engage in some simple imitations of activities he has seen you doing.

Playing With Others

Toddlers gradually become aware of others and more interested in playing with other children. At 18 months, the play is often not cooperative, but children will enjoy playing in the company of others. Give her opportunities to play and interact with other children in a play group, at the park or at your local library's story time. At this age you can model behaviors you want her to show as she gets older, like sharing and taking turns. For example, say, "You had a turn banging on the drum. Now Mommy will take a turn." Praise her for the times she lets another child play with her toy, but don't expect her to be able to share willingly at this age.

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

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