What Child Care Providers Can Expect in Toddlers' Physical Development

Child Care September 16, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Toddler on riding car

Child care providers play an important role in promoting toddlers' physical development Young children grow and develop so quickly between the ages of 12 and 36 months. In two short years, toddlers move from just learning to walk to being able to run, climb and jump with confidence. Toddlers explore their environments by touching, handling and tasting everything around them. They move from very basic fine motor skills to being able to turn pages of a book and draw with a crayon. They begin learning bladder control and may learn how to use the toilet. As the muscles of their mouths and tongues develop, they get better at pronouncing words and using language to communicate.

As a child care provider, you play an important role in supporting toddlers' physical development. The following lists describe some common physical and motor skills that most toddlers learn at different ages. This list is just a guideline. Every child is an individual and develops on her own schedule.

Between 12 and 18 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • Weigh between 17 and 30 pounds and are 27-35 inches tall
  • Can stand alone, sit down and "cruise" while holding on to furniture
  • Begin walking and become more confident walkers with experience
  • Can gesture or point to objects to indicate what they want
  • Like to push and pull objects, including strollers, wagons, push toys and even furniture
  • Enjoy filling and dumping containers
  • Can pull off their hat, socks and mittens
  • Can help turn pages in a sturdy board book
  • May start to stack two blocks
  • Enjoy poking, twisting and squeezing objects
  • May like flushing toilets and closing doors
  • Enjoy carrying small objects while walking, often one in each hand
  • Begin to hold a crayon and scribble but have difficulty controlling the scribbling
  • Wave bye-bye and clap their hands
  • Can pick up small finger foods and eat them
  • Enjoy holding a spoon when eating but may have trouble getting the spoon into their mouths
  • Can roll a ball to an adult when asked

Between 18 and 24 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • Weigh between 20 and 32 pounds and are 30-37 inches tall
  • Can walk well
  • Like to run but can’t always stop or turn well
  • Can drink from a straw and feed themselves with a spoon, although messes are still likely
  • Can help wash their hands
  • Can stack two to fourblocks and may enjoy knocking down block towers
  • Can toss or roll a large ball
  • Can bend over to pick up toys without falling
  • Can walk up steps with help
  • Can take a few steps backward
  • Enjoy moving small-wheeled riding toys with their feet
  • May start to have some control of their bowels and bladder, but complete control may not be achieved until around age 3. Some boys do not complete toilet learning until age 3 1/2.
Toddler crawling through tunnel

Between 24 and 36 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • Weigh between 22 and 38 pounds and are 32-40 inches tall
  • Have almost a full set of teeth
  • Can walk up and down stairs by holding onto the railing
  • Usually climb stairs with both feet on each step
  • Can feed themselves with a spoon or fork easily
  • Still experiment by touching, smelling and tasting objects
  • Like to push, pull, fill and dump
  • Enjoy fitting objects into small spaces
  • Can turn pages of a picture book but may need to be reminded to turn them gently
  • Can stack four to six blocks or other objects
  • May begin to control scribbles made with crayons or markers
  • May begin learning to use the toilet, but not all children complete toilet learning by 36 months
  • May be able to walk backwards, and may begin to jump with both feet
  • Can toss or roll a large ball
  • Try to catch a ball with both arms extended
  • Can stoop or squat down and can stand up from a squatting position without falling

Tips to Nurture Toddlers' Physical Development

Child care providers can help toddlers practice their physical and motor skills. Here are some ways to support physical development in a toddler child care program.

  • Provide places to climb. Toddlers practice their large motor skills by climbing on everything. Having safe, well-padded climbing equipment will give them safe places to practice and reduce the chance that they will climb on tables, chairs, bookshelves and other furniture.
  • Choose toys that stack, fill and dump. Blocks, cardboard boxes, buckets and sand, and shape sorters give toddlers the chance to practice their small motor skills.
  • Make the space safe. Toddlers need a place that is safe to explore and experiment. Get down on your knees so you can see what the toddlers see. Remove everything breakable or dangerous from toddlers' reach. Cover electrical outlets and cords and secure window blind cords up high.
  • Encourage children to try. Celebrate success when children use a fork or spoon, stack blocks into a tower or climb stairs alone. Encourage them to take the next step, but do not push them too hard.
  • Be patient with toileting. Learning to use the toilet requires physical control, thinking skills and emotional readiness. Remember that children are ready for toilet learning at different times. Look for signs of readiness. Help children learn, provide lots of encouragement and handle accidents casually. Talk with families about toileting and work together to help each child learn at his or her own pace.

For More Information 

To learn more about how child care providers can support toddlers' development, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: