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1.2: Toddler Development

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    Learning Outcome

    explain and recognize stages and milestones in physical, social, emotional, sensory, linguistic, and cognitive development for younger toddlers from 12 to 24 months and for older toddlers from 22 to 36 months. The outcome supports the NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators:


    7 Toddler Development Facts you Probably Didn’t know by Jeff Hayward (2016).

    DAP in a Toddler Room

    • How to use developmentally appropriate practices in a Toddler Room

      Offer choices to encourage independence and autonomy.

      Initiate conversations to build vocabulary and communication skills. In conversations with toddlers, always attempt to convey meaning clearly (with short, direct sentences), and include appropriately challenging words to support the explosion of a toddler’s vocabulary.

      Use positive guidance techniques such as careful supervision, anticipating likely behaviors, positive encouragement and feedback, and redirecting a toddler’s attention to acceptable activities.

      Prepare the environment by providing duplicate equipment, checking to ensure safety, and providing props that encourage toddlers to explore primary emotions. Create indoor and outdoor spaces for flexibility, safe sensory exploration, and physical development.

      Work with families. Establish open and honest communication with toddlers’ families. Cooperation and coordination with families will provide toddlers with an added level of security and consistency as they dance between autonomy and independence.

    Texas Child Care Quarterly, 37, (3). Available at:

    How can I learn more about developmental milestones?

    Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers you will notice that the learning guidelines are presented in table format. For each Guideline the indicators are divided into two sections: a) young toddler and b) older toddler. The indicators describe expected observable behaviors or skills of children which are developmental milestones.

    • What are the developmental considerations for toddler care?

      • Mobile younger toddlers (12 to 18 months) are eager to explore.
      • Toddlers (16 to 36 months) are working on their identity; they want to know who they are and who’s in charge.
    • Lally, Torres, and Phelps (2010) list six key components of early group experience essential to toddler development: group size; quality of the physical environment; primary caregiving assignments; continuity of care; cultural and familial continuity; and meeting the needs of the individual within the group context.

    Group Size

    Age Range for Toddlers Group size = 6 Group size= 8 Group size = 10 Group size = 12
    12 to 28 months 1:3 1:4 1:4 1:4
    21 to 36 months 1:4 1:5 1:6

    MA licensing regulations have requirements for programs for group size and ratio. The regulations state:

    1. All group assignments must be developmentally appropriate for the individual child.
    2. The group size must be appropriate for the activities planned and for the characteristics of children assigned to the group.
    3. Each child must be assigned to a consistent group with consistent staffing.
    4. Children may be assigned to fixed age groups outside their chronologically defined age group based on a review of the child’s most recent progress report or a narrative from the child’s parent addressing the child’s abilities in the areas of mobility, fine and gross motor control, communication, social interactions, and cognition.

    Fixed Age Groups.

    Regulation Number Age Group / Full or Half Day Program Maximum Group Size Educator / Child Ratio Educator Qualifications
    7.10(9)(b)1 Infants (up to 15 months old)
    (Full or Half Day)
    7 1: 3, 1 additional educator for 4 – 7 infants At least 1 Infant/Toddler Teacher, per 7.09(18)(c)2
    7.10(9)(b)2 Toddlers (15 to 33 months) (Full or Half Day) 9 1:4, 1 additional educator for 5 – 9 toddlers At least 1 Infant/Toddler Teacher, per 7.09(18)(c)2
    Regulation Number Age Group Maximum Group Size Educator / Child Ratio Educator Qualifications
    7.10(9)(c)1 Infant / Toddler Group 9; no more than 3 infants 1:3; 1 additional educator for 4 – 9 children At least 1 Infant/Toddler Teacher, per 7.09(18)(c)2
    7.10(9)(c)2 Toddler / Preschool Group 9 1:5; 1 additional educator for 6 – 9 children At least 1 Infant/Toddler and Preschool Teacher, per 7.09(18)(c)2

    The Environment

    Safety — Are all the electrical outlets covered? Is there adequate padding under climbing equipment in case of a child falling? Are the walkways clear and unobstructed? Is the play area fenced in? Are there first aid supplies available?

    Health — Is the diapering area kept separate from the food preparation and feeding areas? Are the food preparation, feeding, and toileting areas cleaned and sanitized daily and after each use. Do the children get fresh air every day?

    Comfort — Is there soft furniture accessible to the children? Are there safe, comfortable, adequate sleeping arrangements? Is there furniture that is both child-sized and adult-sized in the rooms? Can toddlers sit and stand as they choose?

    Convenience — Is there easy access to sinks for adults and children? Are the materials and supplies stored near routines and activities?

    Encourages Movement — Do toddlers have enough space to crawl, roll, pull up, walk, climb, run, jump and explore when both indoors and outdoors?

    Allows for Choice — Are the toddlers offered choices at mealtimes and during activities?

    Ensures accessibility — Are the toys out at the children’s level? Can toddlers reach toys and materials independently? Are there spaces for both quiet and active play? Are there toys to represent imaginative play, constructive play, sensory play and literacy? Are toddlers allowed to play with sand, water, dress up clothes, etc.?

    Educator Scheduling

    Each child must be assigned to a consistent group with consistent staffing. The assignment of a primary educator means the child’s family, the administrator, and educator know who is principally responsible for that child. Primary caregiving does not mean that one person cares for an infant or toddler exclusively, all of the time as there will be team teaching. Primary caregiving ensures that the toddler can build an intimate relationship with at least one educator.

    The way it should be

    Two weeks later: After his mother kissed him, Tim waved good-bye and then he said, “Hi” again to Mindy, who ruffled his hair. Tim made a beeline for the block area, but when he got there Wong Chen had corralled all of the red blocks Tim wanted. Tim squatted down and watched Wong Chen. In a minute, Mindy came over and squatted down too, and they both watched him. Then Mindy said, “Tim likes those blocks too, Wong Chen; would you let him play?” Wong Chen looked at the floor, and then he looked up and frowned at Mindy and then at Tim. Mindy said, “OK, Wong Chen, then Tim can use them later.” And then to Tim, while pointing to some bristle blocks, “Maybe you’d like these? I don’t think anyone has those.” As Tim started to walk away, Wong Chen handed him one red block and Mindy said, “Thank you, Wong Chen, we’ll use that.”

    Continuity of Care

    Looping and Attachment in Early Childhood Education: How the Applications of Epigenetics Demand a Change. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 17, (2), 85-100. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v17i2.20840

    What do you think about the practice of looping? How might it work in a childcare program you observed or worked in?

    5. Cultural and Familial Continuity

    What are your experiences with culturally representative educators in the programs you observed in or worked in?

    6. Meeting the Needs of the Individual in a Group

    Development in the Domains

    Social-Emotional Development

    Massachusetts early learning guidelines for infants and toddlers (2010), define social development as the child’s ability to relate to and interact with people. Toddlers are scientists, experimenting with interactions that occur between themselves and the people around them. Be mindful that you are a role model of behavior and culture for the toddler.

    • relate to, trust, and develop an attachment to caregivers.
    • interact with peers.
    • experience and express a range of emotions.
    • self-regulation
    • the positive sense of self
    • initiative


    • Social and emotional development impacts all other areas of development and is the foundation for all future development.
    • Toddlers will carry inside the impact of the relationships with caregivers at this stage of life; setting the foundation for school readiness and lifelong success. When caregivers are loving, responsive and consistent, toddlers learn they are valued and the world is primarily satisfying and predictable.
    • Research shows that children who have healthy social and emotional skills tend to learn better, are more likely to stay in school, and will be better able to make and keep lifelong friends.


    • How will you promote secure relationships with toddlers?
    • How will you encourage toddlers to experience, regulate, and express emotions?

    For further information

    Your Child’s Cues from Birth to Age 2 available at

    Language and Communication Development


    • An understanding of spoken (or signed) language (receptive language)
    • Use of expressive language
    • Participation in social communication
    • Asking questions and telling stories (narratives)
    • Increased ability to produce sounds accurately and put words together to make meaning (phonology and syntax)
    • An interest in books and listening to stories
    • Beginning to use writing tools.

    For further information

    Read Fuligni, A. S., Hoff, E., Zepeda, M., & Mangione, P. (March 2014). Development of infants and toddlers who are dual language learners. Working paper #2. Center for Early Care and Education Research-Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

    • Key Takeaway – Toddler’s Cognitive Development

    • toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from older children and adults. Toddlers’ brains are partially developed. As a result, toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from adults. Interpreting toddler behavior according to adult logic is pointless – and it sometimes leads us to draw conclusions that aren’t always helpful. Toddlers make much more sense if you step inside their heads and try and see the world from their level of development.

      Anita Cleare, a Parenting specialist, provides an insight into how toddlers’ brains work so that we can interpret toddler behavior accurately. Here are some scenarios to further explain toddler thinking.

      • Educator: “The purpose of this walk is to get to the park.”
      • Educator thinks: Why can’t she walk from A to B without being distracted by a leaf?
      • Toddler: “Wow, look at that shiny wrapper blowing along the ground!”
      • Educator: “Stop being so obsessive, the blue cup is in the dishwasher.”
      • Educator thinks: Why isn’t the green cup as good as the blue cup?
      • Toddler: “No green!.”
      • Educator: “No thank you, you can’t take toys from the other children.”
      • Educator thinks: Why can’t toddlers share?
      • Toddler: “It’s mine.”
      • Educator: “You got hurt, there is no blood so no Band-Aid, I’ll kiss your boo-boo.”
      • Educator thinks: What a drama queen!
      • Toddler: “Need a Band-Aid!!”
      • The toddler thinks: Help! I’m broken! Fix me!
      • Educator: “It’s time to get your jacket on so we can go outdoors.”
      • Educator thinks: We only have 20 minutes left of outdoor time, by the time she finishes outdoor time is over
      • Toddler: “Me do it!
      • The toddler thinks: I know I can do it!

      To learn more:

      Texas Child Care Quarterly, 37, ( 4) available at:

      ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 3, 2017 from

    Physical Health and Well Being

      • Motor development (large and small muscles or gross and fine motor)
      • Use of the senses to guide and integrate interactions
      • Skills for healthy life practices
        • Eating
        • Sleeping
        • Toileting
        • Hygiene practices


      Young toddlers may begin to:

      • Want to feed themselves.
      • Eagerly participate in snacks and mealtimes.
      • Bite, chew and swallow soft food smoothly.
      • Show interest in many types of food and no interest in other foods.
      • Eat inconsistently (eat a lot at one meal and little at the next, be too busy playing to eat).
      • Ask for food when hungry or accept food when offered.
      • Be willing to try new foods.

      Older toddlers may begin to:

      • Enjoy helping with meal and snack routines (set table, wash hands, throw away trash).
      • Bite and chew solid food more easily.
      • Accept or refuse food depending on their appetite and interest.
      • Notice and talk about food textures, temperatures, and tastes (crunchy crackers, warm soup, sweet apples).
      • Understand that some foods are good for them (fresh fruits, vegetables, milk) and some are not very healthy (potato chips, soda).


      Young toddlers may begin to:

      • Show they know when it is time to sleep (points at the bed, get blanket).
      • Cooperate with sleep routines (choose a book, get preferred sleep toy).
      • Use simple sounds, gestures, or words to show they are tired.

      Older toddlers may begin to:

      • Use words for being tired.
      • Initiate and participate in sleep routines (wash hands after lunch, get blanket, lie down on bed or mat).
      • Fall asleep on their own.

      Physical Activity

      Young toddlers may begin to:

      • Anticipate and ask for outdoor play (points at door and say “Out!”; resist coming indoors).
      • Engage in regular and sustained movement (rides toy all around the play yard, go up and down the slide over and over).
      • Develop strength and stamina as they use large muscles and participate in physical activity for longer periods of time.
      • Enjoy active play and seek to be physically active (choose to play often on the climber, laugh and squeal while running).

      Older toddlers may begin to:

      • Engage in lively movements by choice for long periods of time indoors and outdoors.
      • Enjoy more complex movement activities (running, jumping, and skipping).
      • Match body movements to rhythm (move slowly to slow music, dance in time with the music).
      • Show pride in new skills and strengths (ask others to watch them, say “I’m big and strong!”).

      Self Care

      • Use simple sign language, facial expressions, sounds or words to tell you what they need.
      • Cooperate and help with care routines (mouth-care, hand-washing, diapering, dressing, bathing).
      • Drink from a cup and feed themselves with their fingers or a spoon.
      • Protect personal objects and space from others.
      • Help with clean-up routines.
      • Show excitement at completing self- care tasks (show teeth after brushing, hold up hands after washing).
      • Cooperate with medical care, positioning, and use of adaptive equipment.
      • Identify and use objects and follow routines that are comforting (get their blanket and lie down where they usually sleep, pick out a favorite books to be read before lunch).

      Older toddlers may begin to:

      • Use words or sign language to ask for the things they need (food when hungry, drink when thirsty, go outdoors when they need to be physically active).
      • Soothe themselves when needed (find a quiet area for alone time, look at a book before nap).
      • Increase independence with basic self-help skills (pull up pants, put on socks, shoes, and hat).
      • Remember and imitate details of self- care routines (talk through steps while washing hands; tell doll how to brush teeth during pretend play).
      • Start self-care routines and complete some steps independently (undressing, hand washing, brushing teeth).
      • Understand the role of people who help children stay healthy (doctors, nurses, dentists).
      • Show appreciation for possessions (put toys away, handle materials carefully).
      • Use adaptive equipment, ask for help with positioning and movement, or participate in medical care routines as needed.

      Safety Awareness

      Young toddlers may begin to:

      • Experience cause and effect (going downhill fast cause falls; turning the TV up too loud hurts ears).
      • Show some caution on uneven ground and heights.
      • Notice and imitate adult reactions to dangerous people and situations.
      • Respond to warnings and directions from others.
      • Understand the difference between what should be eaten and what should not.

      Older toddlers may begin to:

      • Remember cause and effect experiences and apply their experiences to future situations (avoid touching cold railing, walk slowly downhill where fall happened).
      • Increase self-control over their impulses.
      • Recognize and avoid situations that might be unsafe.
      • Understand what their bodies can do and understand their limits.
      • Watch for adult reactions to unfamiliar things or situations that might be dangerous.
      • Understand and follow basic health and safety rules. They still require close supervision from caregivers to follow these health and safety rules consistently.
      • Feel proud when they follow safety rules and ashamed when they do not (say, “Look, I waited!” at a corner; hang head after trying to reach forbidden item).


      poisoning, not smoking around children, using sunscreen, and gun safety.

      Sleep problems and behavioral challenges are very common at this age and can be frustrating for caregivers. I invite you to look at the MedlinePlus web site to explore resources related to the health of toddlers.

    Key Takeaway

    It took me many years to see caring as the core of curriculum excellence. The deep assumption about caring is that it is something anyone can do, but we do not take care of human beings the same way we take care of a house or a lawn. In childhood, the sensations of the body are the pathways to the child’s intellect and emotions. Caring routines involve engagement around bodily functions (elimination, cleaning, eating, sleeping) and therefore they hold the most intimate importance. The way we touch children increases or diminishes their self-worth. Our care of children’s bodies is directly connected to the care of their minds.

    Exchange magazine
    Phases Of Early Childhood Development
    Infographic to illustrate early childhood development


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    • A 28-month-old can reliably remember events, even up to 3 months after they happen (Fivush & Hamond, 1989). The components of memory require different abilities: the ability to hold objects and people in mind even when they cannot be seen (object permanence), to keep recent information in mind in order to perform a task (working memory), and to remember events from the past (long-term memory).
    • Persistence is the ability to work toward a specific goal despite challenges or feelings of frustration.
    • Problem-solving is how we figure things out. Remember that toddlers usually create their own “problems” to solve with the goals they have in mind.


    • Remember a time when you learned something new. How did memory, persistence, and problem-solving help you learn?
    • Persistence and problem-solving skills can vary widely from child to child depending on temperament. How do you support children who have different natural abilities in these areas? How might temperament affect “persistence through frustration?”


    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 47(2), 259-273

    Read and Participate

    1. Read Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers Section III: Toddlers (12 months to 33 months) pages 85-159.
    2. Complete the reading reflection using information from this chapter and the Early Learning Guidelines. Use your responses from the reading reflection to participate in the Blackboard or face-to-face class discussion.


    Supporting Infant and Toddler Development; Screening, and Assessment. To get an overview of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, watch a 9-minute YouTube Video by Eagle Media produced in 2015. The video is titled You & Your Young Child: Ages and Stages Questionnaire

    To complete the assignment:

    Toddler ASQ Requirements

    1. Locate a toddler from 15 to 33 months.
    2. Complete the appropriate age group for ASQ 3 and ASQ 2SE available on Blackboard.
    3. Use the correct questionnaire and scoring sheets for a toddler at 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30 OR 33 months.
    4. After completing the questionnaire, write a paper where you will answer the following questions:
      1. Describe a typical child of the age you observed and how the child you assessed is typical, developing above age level, or if there are concerns about development.
      2. What are the factors that affect this toddler’s development?
      3. What is the child’s learning and interaction style?
      4. What learning experiences might support this child’s unique strengths and characteristics?
      5. Insert photos of the ASQ forms.

    ASQ Grading Rubric and Sample Paper available on Blackboard.

    This page titled 1.2: Toddler Development is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Susan Eliason via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.