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The Intellectual Development of Toddlers

by Stacey Chaloux, studioD

As an infant, your baby learned about the world through his senses -- touching, listening to, and exploring the things around him. Now, as a toddler, he will become more thoughtful and purposeful in his actions to help him learn and develop intellectually. The toddler years are an exciting time of growth as physical development slows down and new thinking skills begin to emerge all the time.

Mental Images

As a toddler's language skills increase, she is more capable of forming mental images for things and actions she is familiar with. Because of this, you will notice your toddler is able to recall more events from memory. For example, when you return from the park, she may still talk about the slide or the swings there. She may also remember the location of her shoes when you ask her to go get them. The ability to form mental images also helps her to solve problems in her head, rather than simply with trial and error, as she may have done as an infant. Her play will seem more purposeful, instead of exploratory, as she is now able to remember how her toys have worked in the past.

Sorting and Categorizing

As your toddler approaches 2 years old, he will begin to understand the relationships between objects. For example, he will know that some toys can go inside a larger container, but other toys are too big to fit. If you give him nesting cups, he can eventually get them to fit together with some trial and error. After he turns 2, you will see him begin to notice more similarities and differences between objects and be able to sort them into categories. He may put all of the blocks of the same color together or he may sort his toys into piles, such as all of his cars and all of his stuffed animals. This is a time that simple inset puzzles are fun for him, as he is able to match similar shapes.

Make-Believe Play

In the early toddler months, your little one will begin to imitate some actions she has seen you do, like holding a phone to her ear and talking or pretend to cook using play dishes. By the time she is 2 years old, she will be putting together more actions to create a logical sequence. For example, she may feed her baby a bottle, put it in bed and then cover it with a blanket. As she approaches her third birthday, her make-believe will become more elaborate, but it will still reflect routines she is familiar with, such as pretending to go grocery shopping or getting ready for work.

Cause and Effect

Your toddler began exploring cause and effect as an infant as he waved a rattle and heard the sound it made or reached for a stack of blocks and sent it tumbling down. Now that he is in his second year of life, your tot has a better understanding of how he can make things happen. He will be interested in pushing buttons that cause his toy to make noise or winding up a toy to watch it move. He will also use this knowledge to help himself solve problems. If he can't reach something, he will be able to pull over a chair or a stool because he understands that standing on something causes him to reach higher. At 2 years old, he will also understand the cause-and-effect relationship of his behaviors, so using a reward for good behavior or a time-out when he misbehaves will make more sense to him.

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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