Problem solving for toddlers 13–18 months

In their second year, children are starting to problem-solve and control their world.

Curiosity continues to drive a child’s learning, development and behaviour during this period.

Problem solving in the first year

In their first year, babies explore entirely through their senses. How something looks, feels, tastes or sounds is what gets their attention.

Their fine (small muscle) and gross (big muscle) motor control is still maturing, which also limits how they approach problem solving and exploration.

Problem solving in the second year

In their second year, children are developing their thinking and problem-solving skills, and combined with their increasing motor skills, they can have a lot more effect on their environment. They see the world as their personal ‘discovery centre’ and want to touch and investigate anything they can see.

Developing autonomy

Socially, they’re developing autonomy from their parents and wanting to explore on their own.

Although they may only have a few understandable spoken words (expressive language), their understanding of what’s being said around them and to them (receptive language) is much greater.

The combination of their feelings of independence and understanding what’s being said may see them responding to their parents' requests with ‘No!’ — especially requests that mention ‘sleep’ or ‘nappy change’.

Watching, listening, copying and expressing themselves

Their thinking skills, combined with a heightened awareness of themselves and their environment, means toddlers will be watching and listening closely to things going on around them.

They’ll also want to copy much of what they see other whānau members doing, and if it’s not safe or suitable, they won’t care. And they’ll show their definite disapproval if they’re refused or have things taken away from them. They’ll try tantrum-type behaviours to try to be heard or to get their way.

They may also start to recognise themselves in the mirror or notice familiar things in pictures. They might even spot a small symbol or logo that they see often, like their brand of nappies or wipes.

Outdoor activities

During this stage, they’ll enjoy being outdoors where they can practise exploring and problem solving. Natural resources like water and sand can provide perfect fun and learning activities.

They may still want to explore using their mouths, and this can cause whānau some concern. Distracting them with other ways to explore the resources, like pouring the water or hiding something in the sand, may be enough to divert them from putting it into their mouths.

Because they’ll also be copying so much, having big people playing alongside them who can show them ways to explore (that doesn’t involve mouthing) will also help. They could introduce small scoops, containers or funnels into the activity.

Bubble play is fun, and although they probably won’t master the blowing part themselves, they’ll enjoy chasing, catching and popping them.

Pull-along toys

During this period, they’ll also find pull-along toys fun. A small cardboard box with a short string attached can do the trick very simply.

They can transport items around the house, deliver their dirty clothes to the laundry or bring clean washing to bedrooms. They get to feel helpful, they learn to work out what can fit or what’s too heavy to manage and, being the boss of their pull-along box, they will get a great sense of autonomy.