Skip to main content
Family Files

Toddlers Exploring the World

Today's blog entry is taken from the award winning Extension series, Your Young Child.

When your child is between 1 and 3 years old, she will probably be interested in everything and everyone, especially if it's new or different.  She will want to be part of whatever you do.  She will try to imitate you.  She will also insist on trying to do many things by herself.  Sometimes she will strongly resist your help.  Here are some common ways that young children explore their world:

  • They climb on furniture and crawl into small places.
  • They play with water, wherever they find it - in sinks, toilets, tubs, fish bowls, and puddles.
  • They open cabinets and drawers, pulling out everything inside.
  • They get into purses, make-up cases, and other containers.
  • They scoot away in stores to touch things on shelves.
  • They approach dogs, cats, and other children to play.

Though it can be hard to keep up with an exploring toddler, exploring is good!  It helps children grow in important ways.  A toddler's interest in learning about the world encourages him to use his senses - tasting, touching, seeing, and smelling.  His senses help him understand how things are different from each other and how they work.  By trying new ways to handle objects and by asking questions, a toddler begins to learn how to solve problems.

When a toddler knows that she can explore her environment and yet return to a parent when she needs help, she becomes secure and confident.  Exploring is also vital for physical growth.  Toddlers must move around to learn about their world.  They develop eye-hand coordination.  They also develop coordination in the large muscles used to walk, run, climb, and jump.


Help Your Children Explore Safely

Keeping a toddler safe requires constant attention, and sometimes it seems you can't relax for a minute.  It is surprising how many dangerous places and objects toddlers can discover.  But the extra work it takes to encourage your child as he explores and learns is worth it.  Sometimes you may want to stop your child's need to explore, but just remember that exploring is necessary for a growing child.  When a behavior is troubling, focus your energy on providing safe places and activities that meet your child's developmental need (when he wants to climb the furniture, provide pillows or a small slide).

You can never leave a child of this age unsupervised.  However, your job will be easier if you take the following steps:

  • Put away anything that your child can easily damage or that can hurt him.
  • Use safety gates on stairways and porches.
  • Block the way to open, unguarded windows.  Fasten screens.
  • Cover electric plugs.
  • Keep all medicines and poisons (like cleaning products) in a locked cabinet.
  • Teach your child how to climb up and go down stairs safely.
  • Make safe play areas and provide safe toys.

Understand that your words won't always stop your child from doing something unsafe.  Be ready to move in quickly when help is needed.


Understanding Play and Learning

Your toddler is very active between the ages of 1 and 3.  She will be using her new physical and verbal skills to explore everything around her.   As your toddler grows, she will spend less time exploring and more time playing.   And play is your child's "work" as she practices and masters new mental, physical, and social skills.  To help your child with her development, plan ways to explore new and interesting things at home and in your neighborhood.

  • Think about new play ideas involving shapes, colors, textures, and sizes.
  • Take trips to new places like stores, parks, or the zoo.  Talk about what you find there.
  • Let your child wash plastic dishes with you, or give her toys to play with in the bath tub.
  • Provide safe places to crawl into, hide in, climb, and explore.  (For example, you could drape a bed sheet over a table to make a pretend cave).
  • Talk about what you see and hear while walking, riding the bus, or driving in the car.
  • Let your child help prepare simple food to explore all the textures shapes, flavors, and colors.

If you are hearing "Why? Why? Why?" from your child, remember how young children learn.  They are exploring by asking questions about everything they see.  They ask questions in bits and pieces because they need time to make sense of the answers they get.  They seem to know what they can manage, and they stop asking when they have had enough.  Try to keep a balance, giving your child enough information but not too much.