What Child Care Providers Can Expect in Toddlers' Thinking and Language Development

Child Care September 26, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Children doing music

Toddlers' thinking and language skills change so quickly between 12 and 36 months. Children go from being able to say a few words to using complete sentences. During the toddler years, young children develop clear preferences for certain toys and activities, learn how to assemble and take things apart, use their imagination, and begin solving problems and testing out ideas.

Child care providers play an important role in promoting thinking and language skills in toddlers. By reading aloud, talking with children, choosing materials that challenge their growing understanding of the world, and encouraging active exploration, toddler teachers help children build a more complex understanding of the world. The following lists describe some common thinking and language skills that most toddlers show at certain ages. This list is just a guideline. Every child is an individual and develops on their own schedule.

Between 12 and 18 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • Can say eight to 20 words you can understand
  • Can look at person talking to him or her
  • Can say “Hi” or “Bye” if reminded
  • May use expressions like “Uh-oh”
  • May ask for something by pointing or using one word
  • Can identify objects in a book
  • Are able to play peek-a-boo
  • Can look for objects that are hidden or out of sight
  • May understand and follow simple one-step directions
  • Like to take things apart

Between 18 and 24 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • May have a vocabulary of several hundred words, including names of a few toys
  • May be able to use two to three word sentences
  • Can echo single words that are spoken by someone else
  • May talk to themselves and jabber expressively
  • Have favorite toys
  • May like to choose between two objects
  • Hum or try to sing
  • Will listen to short rhymes or finger plays
  • Are able to point to eyes, ears or nose when asked
  • Can use the words “Please” and “Thank you” if prompted
  • Enjoy singing familiar songs

Between 24 and 36 Months, Most Toddlers...

  • Enjoy repeating words and sounds
  • Enjoy listening to stories and repeating simple rhymes
  • Ask who, what, where and why questions
  • Talk in complete sentences of three to five words
  • Talk so 75 to 80 percent of speech is understandable
  • Enjoy singing and can carry a simple tune
  • Can count two to three objects
  • Identify common colors
  • Are interested in similarities and differences
  • Like familiar stories told without any changes in words
  • Are able to tell simple stories from pictures or books
  • Can put together a six-piece puzzle
  • Begin to draw a circle and a square

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: