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Developing Thinking Skills From 24 to 36 Months

A little girls holds a stuffed toy and looks at mom.

While you often hear this stage called the “terrible two’s”, it is also an amazing time when your toddler’s skills and personality continue to deepen and grow. Find strategies to support the development of your toddler’s thinking skills during this year.


In this third year, you will see a big jump in your child’s thinking skills. He will start to appreciate humor and jokes. She will be able to come up with solutions to more complex problems. Toddlers are also starting to be able to put themselves in another person’s shoes. They know that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from their own. For example, your child may give you a hug when you are sad. It is also an amazing time when your toddler’s skills and personality continue to deepen and grow.

What Can You Do to Support Your Toddler’s Thinking Skills?

Encourage pretend play. Let your child be the “director.” This helps her develop her own ideas. It also strengthens her thinking skills as she uses logic in her play: *The dog has to go back in his house because it’s raining.* You can help her develop her ideas by asking questions: *What is the doggy feeling? Why? What might happen next?*

Offer materials that help your child act out the stories he’s creating—hats, dress-up clothing, toy dishes, child-sized brooms, pads of paper, blocks, play food, and household objects like big cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, etc.

Ask questions during your everyday play and routines. As you go through your day together, ask your child questions about what the two of you are seeing: *Why do you think the leaves fall from the trees? Where do you think the butterfly is going?* This gets your child’s mind working and lets her know that you are interested in her ideas.

Offer lots of chances to explore in creative ways. Take nature walks. Play with sand and water. Give your child objects he can take apart and investigate. By exploring objects during play, children figure out how things work and develop problem-solving skills.

Use everyday routines to notice patterns. Using language to explain these patterns helps your child become a logical thinker and increases her vocabulary *When the buzzer rings, the clothes are dry.* Or, *You wear mittens to keep your hands warm when it’s cold.*

Sort and categorize through the day. Your child can separate laundry into piles of socks, shirts, and pants. He can help set the table and organize the forks, plates, and spoons. At clean-up time, have him put the cars on one shelf and books on another.

Talk about feelings. Help your child develop a feelings vocabulary. Put words to what you think she might be feeling. *You are so mad that we have to leave the park.* This helps your child understand and cope with her emotions. Talk about what others might be feeling: *That little girl is jumping up and down and smiling. How do you think she feels?*

Encourage your child to test out different solutions to problems, rather than doing it for him: You might suggest he try the square block in another hole in his shape-sorter, or add some blocks to the bottom of his tower to keep it from collapsing.

Browse our full suite of resources on early childhood development.

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