Parents and educators can provide 2-year-olds with fun activities that help them reach cognitive milestones. These activities are fantastic for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, and even 3-year-olds. I’m sharing fifteen favorite brain development activities you can do with your toddler at home or in the classroom.
A 2-year-old is developing the following cognitive skills, according to the HSELOF:
- Exploration and discovery
- Reasoning and problem-solving
- Emergent mathematical thinking
- Imitation and symbolic representation
Brain Activities for 2-Year-Olds
Puzzles help 2-year-olds develop problem-solving, reasoning, exploration, and spatial awareness skills.
Jigsaw puzzles are too advanced for most toddlers. Instead, look for chunky puzzles, puzzles with easy-to-hold knobs, and frame puzzles. Toddlers can advance to big floor puzzles or inset puzzles (similar to jigsaw puzzles, but the pieces don’t interlock).
Design an at-home obstacle course to challenge and entertain your two-year-old. Remember, the brain connects to the rest of the body through the nervous system. So encourage your 2-year-old to test their agility, balance, and coordination!
Here are some toddler-approved obstacle course ideas:
- A line of pillows or cushions
- Table or chair to crawl under
- Low stepstool to jump off
- Pop-up tunnel to crawl through
- Small slide
- Ball pit
- Yarn “laser maze”
- Hula hoop hop
- Low balance beam
- Tape line “balance beams”
- Balance stepping stones
Shape sorters are the perfect activity for toddlers learning about different shapes. Shape-sorting activities help toddler brain development by improving emergent math, problem-solving, and exploration skills.
Show your 2-year-old how the toy works (if needed), then let them try to match the shapes themselves. Shape sorters are hard work, so praise your toddler’s effort. Even without successfully sorting, toddlers can build problem-solving skills and learn shape names.
Magnet toys are an incredible way to introduce science and engineering to 2-year-olds. Toddlers develop exploration and discovery skills while experimenting with how magnets attract and repel. Magnet toys promote skills in emergent math, reasoning, problem-solving, and symbolic representation.
Using magnet blocks to sort, stack, and build structures. Here are some of my favorite magnet play materials:
- Magnetic wooden blocks
- Ball & rod magnet toys
- Magnet boards
- Refrigerator magnets
Always inspect magnet toys and supervise your 2-year-old around magnets.
Block play provides toddlers with hands-on experience in problem-solving, spatial awareness, and symbolic representation. If possible, toddlers should have opportunities to play with regular blocks (wooden unit blocks) and interlocking blocks (Duplos, Mega-Bloks, etc.).
Blocks are also an opportunity for toddlers to explore stacking, dumping, falling, lining up, and more. Some 2-year-olds may be ready to construct buildings or use blocks in imaginary play.
Parents and caregivers can foster their creativity and promote their cognitive development by introducing 2-year-olds to musical play.
Exploring musical instruments to build toddler imitation and discovery skills. Playing musical instruments is a lifelong practice; toddlers can develop musical memory and problem-solving skills early.
If you don’t have access to toy musical instruments, you can create your rattles from bottles, drums from buckets, or a whole band from kitchen pots and utensils.
Search & Find
When toddlers search for objects, they use problem-solving, spatial awareness, reasoning, and memory skills. Search-and-find activities also encourage 2-year-olds to explore and learn about their environment.
Try some of these fun and easy search-and-find activities:
- Find the toy
- Hide and seek
- Scavenger hunts
- Find the picture in books
I have already reviewed the benefits of playing with play dough. But play dough activities are fantastic for supporting 2-year-olds’ brain development.
Younger toddlers will develop cognitive skills in exploration, discovery, and imitation. Older toddlers can use play dough for creative play, which develops problem-solving and symbolic representation skills.
Check out some of our favorite play dough ideas for toddlers.
Toddlers improve emergent mathematical thinking skills by matching objects and understanding similarities and differences. While playing, your 2-year-olds will also develop memory and attention skills while focusing on the details.
Matching activities for 2-year-olds can be super easy. While playing together, point out when toys match in shape, color, texture, or pattern. Talk about matching during meals, while getting dressed, or at storytime.
You can purchase toddler sorting toys or collect household items to match and sort. Get more ideas on the loose parts material list.
Toddlers are still learning colors, so color-mixing activities are perfect for hands-on learning. During color mixing activities, 2-year-olds build the cognitive skills of exploration, discovery, matching, and reasoning.
Try these fun color-mixing activities:
- Melting different colored ice cubes
- Mixing fingerpaint colors (on paper or in a ziploc bag)
- Combining play dough colors
- Securing colored cellophane paper over a flashlight
- Mixing dyed water (using food dye or liquid watercolor) in a water table
Along with many other benefits, time outside helps children develop spatial awareness, memory, discovery, and exploration skills.
While on a nature walk, you and your 2-year-old can complete a nature scavenger hunt, collect loose parts, or talk about what you see, smell, hear, and feel.
Contact Paper Collage
All open-ended art activities are great for toddler brain development. A sticky contact paper collage adds a sensory-rich experience.
Tape a sheet of contact paper to the table, sticky side up. Then offer your 2-year-old pieces of ribbon, yarn, and scrap paper to stick and peel. Then you can seal the collage by placing another sheet of contact paper on top.
This activity helps toddlers develop problem-solving and spatial awareness skills while exploring new materials.
Stacking & Nesting Cups
A set of stacking/nesting cups is a pretty simple toy, but it creates many opportunities for brain-boosting play. These toys target cognitive skills such as exploration and discovery, problem-solving, and emergent mathematical thinking.
While playing with stacking/nesting cups, 2-year-olds explore graduating sizes and different ways to stack or combine cups. Use the cups for a pretend meal to build imitation and symbolic representation skills!
Tip: Measuring cups are low-cost substitutes for stacking/nesting cups!
Reading to your 2-year-old daily will support their brain development. Storytime together promotes your toddler’s literacy, memory, and symbolic representation skills.
Sink & Float
Your toddler can do a sink and float activity during bathtime, in a kiddie pool, or in a water table (or water-filled plastic tote!).
Start by collecting about a dozen objects, some that sink and some that float. Encourage your 2-year-old to drop these items into the water one at a time. Discuss how each item sinks to the bottom or floats on the water’s surface.
This activity targets the brain development skills of reasoning, problem-solving, exploration, and discovery. Your toddler gets to actively explore the properties of each object alongside splashing in the water.