How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘terrible twos’ spoken? When the 2-year-old early education entitlement first arrived and some settings accepted two-year-olds for the first time, things got a little interesting! Two-year-olds are a whirlwind and a different breed from their older playmates!
But they’re certainly not terrible! Two-year-olds are terrific: excited, lively, curious and into everything. They display that ‘can-do’ attitude that we are trying to foster within the early years. Yet we do need to acknowledge that they are different – they may play in the same space as your three-year-olds, use the same resources as your three-year-olds but they will certainly play differently. Two-year-olds tend to flit from activity to activity and have a shorter attention span. They are usually still playing alongside others and need to learn to play cooperatively with adult support. Therefore, in order to understand our two-year-olds, we need to consider:
- The two-ness of two! What are two-year-olds like? Write a list of adjectives about your two-year-olds and then plan activities using this list.
- Typical development and behaviours for this age. Accept their behaviour knowing that it is part of being a toddler and exploring their world. For example, a two-year-old might think, ‘Yesterday when I ran around inside, Mrs B asked me to walk… I wonder what will happen if I do it today? Maybe she won’t notice if I smile at her while I run?’
- Are our expectations realistic? Not based on comparisons with other children in your group but developmentally appropriate. We also need to consider factors such as tiredness, time of day, length of time in the setting…
- Staff ratios and deployment. There is a reason that the ratio is 1:4 for this age group. Think about how you are deploying staff and monitor how much time the adults spend with your two-year-olds. Adults need to keep them engaged with lots of tricks up their sleeves!
- Their interests and fascinations. What do they like playing with and how do they play? Can you identify any schemas (repeated patterns of behaviour)? Whenever possible, incorporate these interests and fascinations into your future planning.
- Adapting our continuous provision. A two-year-old might not engage in role play in the home corner in the same way as an older child. They will need adult support and different resources, for example, lots of baskets and bags to fill up and empty, trolleys and pushchairs to push around the setting filled with all sorts of objects, opportunities for transporting things around, mixing, climbing and opening and shutting cupboard doors.
- Consistency between home and setting. This is tricky but very important. Ensure that your behaviour policy relates to practice: ‘when a child… adults will…’ Ask parents for advice relating to their children and share with them your strategies for supporting behaviour. Also aim for consistency between different rooms in your setting and consistency in responses to behaviour and how situations are managed by individual practitioners.
You know your children really well, so tap into their interests, motivate them and stimulate their senses. When children are engaged and motivated there is less time for poor behaviour. Remember that two-year-olds need more activities planned and more adult support than older children. I knew an amazing practitioner who always had some bubbles, big chalks and a finger puppet in her bum-bag! When she felt it was needed, she could distract her two-year-olds in an instant!
How can you use all this information that you have gained from your observations and knowing the children so well? It will mean that you understand how to respond sensitively to each child according to their needs and individual character. This will not mean treating all children the same, for example, one child may want cuddles when they are upset or angry or worried, yet another may need to go and run or jump around in the outside area to release some of these feelings. You will know which way to respond when you spend time with them, gather information from home and observe them in different situations. I’m sure you can think of one of your key children and recognise how to respond sensitively to them.
Ask yourself these important questions about your key children:
- Do they have a favourite toy or object?
- What makes them really excited?
- Does anything make them anxious or worried?
- Do I know what helps them to calm down?
- What is their favourite story?
- What is the activity they love to do the most?
- Where do you often see them play?
- Who do they play with?
- What are the signs that they are getting tired?
- What are the signals that they are getting upset?
- Am I confident that I know my key children well and can answer these things?
Two-year-olds are my favourite age group. They have mastered walking, running and usually begin to chatter away learning the art of spoken communication during this phase. So let’s ban the ‘terrible twos’ and embrace the ‘terrific twos’, celebrating the two-ness of two in our settings.
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.