Your toddler is becoming more excited about independence, but is constantly reminded of her own limits. So while she insists on doing something "Myself!" one moment, the next might find her turning to you for help.
The way she learns what she can do is by getting her hands into everything. She fiddles with knobs, opens and shuts doors, flips light switches on and off – it's enough to drive any parent nuts. Toys with interlocking parts – pop-up toys, nesting toys, sorting toys, trucks with doors that open and shut, play kitchens with knobs and doors – create endless opportunities for your child to explore and push her limits while keeping her away from the light switch.
At this age, children learn best from unstructured play. Make the toys available and off she'll go.
Play house toys: Your child will get a kick out of play eating and drinking, so a little tea set with cups and plates is sure to be a hit. And in general, scaled-down toys, from rakes, push brooms, and shopping carts to miniature kitchens, give him a chance to do one of the things he loves best – mimic what he sees the adults around him do and organize his world to his own satisfaction.
Toy Musical instruments: Children generally love music and the chance to create their own sound, no matter how cacophonous. Give him a toy guitar to strum or a keyboard to bang on and he'll treat you to many original compositions.
Puzzles: Puzzles are a good way to give your young child little victories – the simple satisfaction of putting something exactly in place is a marvelous thing. Choose puzzles that have very few pieces and are made of thick, easy-to-manipulate blocks of wood.
Illustrated books and CDs: Recorded stories are no substitute for reading to your child, but many toddlers do enjoy the novelty of hearing a voice come out of a machine and can appreciate that the voice is new and different. The regular patter of nursery rhymes is particularly pleasing to a toddler's ear. When you read to him, ask him if he can name things he sees in the pictures.
Train sets: Your toddler can use his new dexterity to link the cars and run the whole train around the house. He will love seeing how it can take corners and feeling the difference between running it over a carpet and across a bare floor.
Balls: Give your child balls to kick, roll, and throw, and take a few minutes to practice kicking the ball back and forth. When he gets good at that, encourage him to try to run and kick. It's great for developing coordination and is lots of fun, too!
Washable crayons and paper: Your child is becoming more interested in making her own mark – on floors, walls, furniture. Clear a space for her to work, give her a big sheet of paper (tape it to the table) and a couple of crayons. (You don't want to overwhelm her with too many choices.) She'll soon get the idea that art has its place. Hang up whatever she makes for you.