The challenges of 2 year olds? by Kay Mathieson

12th January 2017

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We welcome to the Childcare Expo community the talented and established Kay Mathieson. Kay runs her own successful consultancy and training business and has a keen interest in behavioural development. Here Kay explains the delights of working with 2 year olds and how to effectively gain insight and understanding to a childs thinking…

Working with two year olds is an absolute delight. Given the chance they help us examine closely our world with a freshness and vitality that we generally do not make time for. On the other hand, their exuberance and high energy can leave us exhausted! The key to making the time two year olds spend with us purposeful and meaningful is, I think, deepening our understanding of child development. Once we begin to explore what it might really be like to be a two year old, many of their responses make much more sense. Standing in their shoes to consider our provision and interactions gives us insights into improvements that can transform our practice for all children.

Children around the age of two are experiencing amazingly rapid brain development, their physical, thinking and communicative abilities are evolving and connecting to make sense of their world.

At around two years old children of course, have not had the range or depth of experiences of an adult. Nor have they developed the perceptions and understanding to inform their thinking like an adult.

Kay Mathieson early years blog As we watch a child we constantly make assumptions about their levels of understanding and this informs our interpretation of what we see. There is a danger of both under and over estimating the thinking and abilities of our twos as they explore and interact with their world. So it is important we build a picture of each unique child based on secure evidence and knowledge.

Building a shared understanding

Parents and carers see their children in a range of different contexts with other children and adults. However, this is a very different prospect to a child being in our setting with so many other children but none of their ‘special’ people to support them. The demands on their social understanding is much greater when they are with us and this will give rise to behaviours and responses that are not seen to the same extent when at home. As professionals it is our role to build a shared understanding of how each child’s development is impacting on their responses. In order to do this effectively we need to listen carefully to parent’s descriptions of what they have seen so that together we can gain insights about a child’s thinking and understanding of their world. Using the document ‘What to expect when’ we can explore with parents what the things we see tell us about their child’s growing abilities and understanding. This conversation also leads us to talk about what might be helpful at home and in the setting to support further development.

Things to think about:

  • In what ways do we involve parents in our planning and assessment process?
  • Given our daily conversations with parents can be very short how do we use this time to share useful and relevant child development information?
  • What different sources of information do we use to support our own understanding of child development?

‘What to expect when’  available from

Mathieson, K. (2013). I am two! Working effectively with two year olds and their families. Early Education London.

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