How's that for a segue?
Neurological and Physical Development
Between two and three years of age, a child's brain is two to three times its birth size. Sensorimotor integration--the coordination of sensory information and motor response--is rapid and refined. The child is drawn to activitys of maximum physical effort and will try to carry or pull the heaviest object available.
Proprioception (awareness of the whereabouts of her movable parts) and kinesthesia (awareness of the direction, speed, and force of her movements) are highly developed and the two-year-old is eager to explore them. She loves to tumble, spin and dance. She practices balancing and hopping on one foot. With all this awareness and control comes control of the muscles of elimination, and thus readiness for toilet training. What also comes is a sense of empowerment. More on that in a minute.
Awareness of directions of movement makes pushing, pulling and twisting motions very interesting to the TYO, and you will find her using her wrists to open and close jars, turn water faucets on and off (ad nauseam), and open and close doors (ad infinitum!).
Here we notice a rapid refinement of verbal skills, a continued and deepening interest in the naming of everything, and much more sophisticated sentence structure, and all at once, too. We call this sudden burst of linguistic complexity the "explosion into language". It occurs when the passive vocabulary and communicative experience converge in the child's intellect, so that language just falls into place. Of course, the prior experience with lots of passive language is key--to talk, talk, talk to that preverbal child!
At this stage, the child begins to refine her ability to place objects in categories. She can differentiate categories and subdivisions of a category. For instance, she might recognize dogs, cats, and flowers as three different categories, but also be able to divide the same set of objects into two categories, animals and plants. At our house this refinement is evident in the trusty Audubon birds (can I go on enough about those?). Until recently, they were all just "bird, bird, bird". Now, suddenly they're "cardinal, tufted titmouse, and pileated woodpecker". Go figure.
One-to-one correspondence is well established now, and table setting is a great activity to support this understanding. If your table's too high, as ours is, you might do what we do and lay out a tea party for Mommy, Nuvy, Peter Cottontail, and the Squid.
She can understand increasingly complex verbal instructions, like "Please bring a little diaper for Van and a big one for yourself, too." She also understands that she has the power to refuse. She weighs consequences and begins to learn to negotiate her position (and she thinks it's funny when I get annoyed with her. Just the response I was looking for--and HEY! No snarky comments from past and present cohabitors in the peanut gallery. I am well aware that my anger really is funny, jackass.)
Emotional and Social Development
A two-to-three year old shows a keen interest in family affairs. She imitates parents' activities, enjoys chores and wants to help. She is able to content herself with playing alone, but will usually choose to play where she has an audience.
With other children, parallel play gives way to interactive play as verbal communication improves, and children are increasingly capable of cooperating in play.
Emotionally, she begins to recognize "shades" of emotion. she knows happy and happier, sad and sadder, angry and angrier, and is able to modulate a response that feels appropriate to her perception. It does not, of course, follow that her modulated response feels appropriate to my perception! Her verbal skills provider her with a range of expressions to match her more subtle emotions and desires. She will make fantastic experimental use of these expressive and emotive nuances.
The Supportive Environment
An appropriate environment contains numerous practical lifeactivites. PRactice in dressing is provided through dress-up costumes with everyday closures, and putting on and taking off shoes independently. Child-size versions of household implements are delightful for children at this age, because they allow imitation of adult activities while circumventing the frustration the child may encounter when trying to use a too-big tool.
Table setting, water pouring, and hand/furniture washing are delightful activities, and you might find your child enjoying them whether or not you put them out. (Ever had her pour her milk over her dinner? You know, just for fun?) Early language materials may be incorporated, including picture cares and, later, three part cards.
Sensorial materials can be more sophisticated, incorporating shades between sensory extremes, and more subtle differences in sorting and matching. Silverware sorting is a great at-home sensorial activity for two-to three year olds.
From here, we move into the realm of the Primary classroom, to which children are usually admitted at two-and-a-half or (more usually, but less appropriately in my opinion) three years of age. This means that I'm shopping for Montessori schools in the Philadelphia area. Any local reviews are appreciated. :-)