What to Teach an 18 Month Old: 14 Skills to Develop

by | Apr 1, 2022

As your baby develops into a toddler, you want to make sure you focus on all the best things to teach an 18 month old. From working on simple words to language skills, your 18-month-old-toddler is entering a busy developmental stage.

Parents of toddlers need to hang on tight for the next few months as their child’s physical, emotional, and language skills are growing after their first birthday.

This is a great time to introduce your child to new situations. Head to the local playground with friends, roll or throw a plastic ball outside, spend time reading new and favorite books, and pretend play all the time.

If you’re wondering what you should teach an 18 month old, here are some simple ideas!

Related: Outdoor Activities for One-Year-Olds

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14 Things to Teach an 18 Month Old

1. Body Parts

This is a great time to work on learning the names of all their body parts. An 18 month old is capable of pointing to the “main” body parts like their nose, mouth, head, ears, hair, feet, hands, etc. Once they identify their own body parts, ask them to point to your body parts.

Start with pointing and later work on saying the names. You also can scale this by pointing to more specific body parts like a wrist and elbow.

Related: 8 Ideas for Teaching Body Parts to Toddlers

2. Teach Colors

Not only should you work on understanding the names of body parts, but it’s also a great time to introduce and work on saying the names of colors.

Colors are all around you, so use everyday activities to talk about colors. “Look at your purple shirt.” “Grab your red shoes for me.” “Uh-oh, you dropped your green cup.”

Learning the names of colors doesn’t have to be complicated!

Related: 9 Simple Ways to Get Your Toddler to Learn Colors

3. Learn New Shapes

Learning the basic shapes – triangle, circle, and square – are something you can teach an 18 month old toddler. Later, once your child understands these three, expand and include ones like rectangles, ovals, and stars.

I suggest getting a shape sorter; it’s one of the best ways to introduce different shapes. I also always have a shape puzzle on my toy shelves for my toddlers.

Talk about the shapes and use your finger to trace the sides, and have your toddler copy what you do.

Related: Teaching Shapes to Toddlers: 13 Fun Ideas to Get Started

4. How to Match

As your child learns shapes and colors, they can start learning how to match. This opens up plenty of fun activities and games for your 18 month old to enjoy.

You can do this with flash cards as well; I like this large set of flash cards for toddlers with letters, colors, shapes, numbers, and more.

5. New Vocabulary

Undoubtedly you noticed that your toddler loves to talk or making made up words. They see us talking all the time and want to copy what we do.

When you’re wondering what to teach an 18 month old, one of the key things to focus on is new vocabulary. An average 18 month old learns one to two new words per week; some learn a word per day.

Note that your child might not yet say the word, but they could associate the word with the meaning.

For example, your child may not be able to say “goat” yet, but when you visit a local farm, he may be able to point at a goat if you ask. That shows there is a lot of cognitive skills working at this age.

Here are some suggestions for new words to learn.

  • Household Objects: Teach your child the name of things around the house like chairs, lamps, tables, piano, rugs, etc.
  • New Animals: Chances are your toddler understands simple animals like dogs, cats, cows, and pigs, but you can teach your 18 month old different animal names. Explore different animals they may find at a farm or the zoo. Don’t forget all those animal sounds!
  • Names of Relatives: Create a family book and teach your child common relatives like siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.
  • Vehicles: Another thing you can teach an 18 month old to expand their vocabulary is the names of different vehicles. Now is the time to teach your child words like fire truck, school bus, ambulance, truck, motorcycle, semi-truck, etc.
  • Foods: Always make sure you are naming the foods your child has on their plate, and talk about the foods you eat!

6. Read Books Together

Reading books with your 18 month old is one of the best learning activities to develop early literacy skills. Books teach your toddler so many things like new objects, words, colors, and shapes. They teach your child about people around the world and different situations.

There is no better learning than a good book.

At this age, you don’t have to read the book word for word, but paraphrase and point out the pictures and describe them. As your child questions when you read the book to help improve language and critical thinking skills.

Related: 21 Best Books for 1-Year-Olds You Need on Your Bookshelf

7. Memory Work

At 18 month old, a toddler has a clearer memory, especially when it comes to objects out of their sight. This is a big change since infants don’t have object permanence.

You can work on their memory skills by playing hide and seek with their toys, hiding them as he watches you. Then, ask your toddler to find the toy.

8. Social Skills with Other Kids

Toddlers need the opportunity to play with others to develop the opportunities to learn crucial social skills. Going to the park, joining a mom group for play dates, visiting the library time for little kids, or taking a class with your child are all great ways to encourage the development of your little’s social skills.

9. Identifying Their Emotions

An 18 month old has PLENTY of emotions – any toddler parents can tell you that. Around the sage, your toddler may experience more emotions like frustration, guilt, shame, or jealousy. These are quite big emotions and lead to temper tantrums and meltdowns.

It’s a lot of emotions for a little person!

This is a good time to start identifying the emotions your child is feeling and giving them names. Narrating their emotions at first will feel strange, but later, your child will be able to tell you what they feel.

For example, if your child is struggling to get a shape into the shape sorter and throws the toy, you may say “you feel frustrated because the triangle didn’t fit into the hole like you wanted.”

10. Making Art & Coloring

While gross motor skills develop faster at this age than fine motor skills, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer them. Dexterity improves at this age, and coloring is one of those activities that tend to hold an toddler’s interest.

Finger painting is always a hit!

This is a great way to also talk about the names of colors and introduce new vocabulary terms. Try to have an art time at least one time per week. You’ll gradually watch your child’s art and dexterity skills increasing.

11. Feeding Themselves

Toddlers are all about – I’ll do it myself – so it’s natural for your 18 month to want to feed themselves. This is a great age to work on using a spoon and a cup, the two hardest utensils for kids to use. Many kids master a fork first than a spoon, but your child may be reversed.

Expect a lot of messes, but that’s okay – a lot of learning is happening!

12. Getting Dressed and Undressed

Another thing to teach your 18 month old is how to get dressed and undressed. It’s important to note that your toddler won’t yet have these skills mastered at this age, but it’s a great time to give them opportunities to try.

Ask your child to take of their socks and shoes when they get home from the park. Have your child pull up their pants.

Start the process of learning how to get undressed and dressed. Eventually, your toddler will get dressed independently.

13. Toilet Training May Begin Now – or Not

Now, realize that many toddlers at 18 months have no desire to toile train. However, it’s a great time to start discussing the topic and watching for signs that your baby is ready.

There is no rhyme or reason for when a child is reason to potty train.

Some show interest even earlier than 18 month olds, but others will have no desire to start until three years old or later!

14. New Large Gross Motor Skills

A majority of toddlers are walking by 18 months old, and some are starting to run. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the gross motor skills development stage.

Quite the contrary, really.

You will be teaching your 18 month old all sorts of things over the next year.

Here are some suggestions, and remember, introducing the skill doesn’t mean they have to master it yet.

  • Walking up and down stairs
  • Throwing and kicking a ball
  • Sitting down in a chair
  • Carrying larger objects around a room
  • Jumping

Related: 9 Large Motor Activities for Infants

What is the Normal Vocabulary for an 18 Month Old?

Parents often wonder if their toddlers talk enough. The reality is that there is a wide range of norm; the age when children say their first word to saying sentences varies for most children.

On average, an 18 month old will say anywhere from 5 to 20 words or more. Some toddlers say the “milestone” of 50 words by two years old.

If your 18 month old isn’t talking too much yet, don’t stress. Most pediatricians won’t refer you to a speech therapist yet. Two years old seems to be the age when most kids start to “take off” in terms of their vocabulary.

What Activities Should I Be Doing with My 18 Month Old?

It’s fun teaching your 18 month old all these different new skills. Coming up with activities to support their development doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some of my favorite activities for an 18 to 24 month old toddler.

1. Going to the Playground

It’s hard to find a toddler who doesn’t love going to the playground. Climbing playground structures develops so many skills, such as balance, motor planning, body awareness, bilateral coordination, and more.

Your toddler has no idea they’re learning!

Going to the playground is a fun adventure. They get to explore all of the features while learning new skills.

In the spring and summer, I love packing lunches and heading to different parks in our area to find ones we love.

2. Playing with Play-Doh

Play-Doh has been a beloved activity for toddlers for decades; it’s one of the earliest sensory activities that everyone knows.

You might think all play dough is good for is smashing in your carpet, but it has other benefits like fine motor skill development, hand strengthening, finger isolation, and more.

Show your toddler how to roll, squash, and flatten the play dough. You can use it for sensory play or simply just a way to occupy your toddler.

3. Coloring & Painting

We always have containers with crayons, watercolor paints, and finger paints available for my toddlers. This is a great way to work on fine motor skills.

18 month old toddlers love art.

4. Stack Blocks

One of the classic activities to do with an 18 month old is stack blocks together. As their hand eye coordination and fine motor skills develop, your toddler will be able to stack the blocks higher.

This is a classic activity for a reason! It’s always fun and works their brains in ways we don’t see.

5. Write in Shaving Cream

Here is a simple activity for toddlers – write in shaving cream.

This is a great way to work on prewriting skills, and they can look at flash cards and try to copy the letters or shapes they see. Plus, it’s great sensory play time.

Related: Shaving Cream Writing: A Fun Learning Activity

6. A Basket of Items

This might seem like an activity that is too simple, but trust me, it works.

Get a basket or a small box of simple household items and give it to your toddler. You might be surprised what they do with them.

For several weeks, my daughter stacked the same eight cans of food – yes, just aluminum cans from my kitchen – for hours. Eventually, this phase wore off, but she thought it was hilarious.

She found cans that were different sizes, stacked them in multiple ways, and forced her older siblings to join in the “fun.”

Sometimes, those simple items around your house are the gateway to a new activity.

7. All the Sensory Activities

Sensory play is essential for little toddlers; it encourages the development of their five senses, cognitive development, early language skills, and more.

Here are some of my favorite sensory activities.

8. Make Music

Little toddlers love to make music, and it’s a great activity to keep them entertained. Let your child make different rhythms and create fun songs with you singing and rhyming.

It’s never too early to teach an 18 month old toddler a basic intro to music. All you ned is a basic set of musical instruments!

Related: 10 Inexpensive Sensory Shakers and Noise Makers

It’s so fun figuring out what to teach an 18 month old and discovering new activities to enjoy with your toddler. Try these simple activities and keep in mind what your child is developing around this time.