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Tune into two year olds

When children are between 22 and 36 months they start to make their own decisions, develop their own identity and begin to work out how their body and the world around them works. That's a lot to get your head around when you're just two years old and they often don’t know how to deal with all these new experiences. Which can lead them to behave in ways that you might find really difficult to handle, especially when you're outnumbered by them in a childcare setting.

Happy one minute, sad the next and still having time to fit angry in between, they may appear to be behaving like little monsters. But by understanding why they behave as they do and what you can do to support them, should make everything a lot easier. Our useful tips, ideas and suggestions are designed to help you to do this but before you read any further, watch our how one school prepared to take two year olds short film and repeat after me two year olds are incredible not terrible!

Settling in

Starting at an early years setting can be hugely beneficial for two year olds and their families, yet it can also be an anxious time. When the settling in period is positive for the child, not only does it impact on their happiness throughout their time at the early years setting but also with future transitions.

How to make the process of settling in positive

Take steps to make sure the transition into the early years setting goes as smoothly as possible. A good starting point is to understand two year olds' developmental patterns, starting with their need to be in range of adults with whom they have strong relationships.

The settling-in period is intended to bridge the gap for the child between home and the early years setting. The main aim is to help them develop a strong bond with their key person. The start should be a gradual one, beginning with a short introduction and followed by longer periods at the setting as the child becomes more familiar with the environment, their key person and the other children.

Children who have a positive start to their new environment are more likely to feel comfortable, relaxed and valued, feel good about themselves as learners and have a sense of belonging to the pre-school community. Most children settle in without too many concerns but there are some children who need more time to develop trust.

Settling in policy

Make sure your settling in policy (PDF) is written with the child’s emotional well-being at the heart of it. It should set out the procedures for introducing children to the setting, and include the following points:

  • The length of the settling-in period. It could last from two to six weeks depending on the individual needs of the child and family.
  • What the process of settling the child involves. Does it include a home visit followed by the child and parent making a series of visits to the setting?
  • Do you make the parent welcome to spend as much time as necessary in the setting with the child to settle them?
  • Do you describe how the key person will work with parents to make sure the child is happy in the setting?

The environment

To welcome the child it is important to create the right environment which is:

  • Child-friendly, homely and cosy, and familiar to them.
  • Offers a place for children's belongings, such as boxes, cubby holes or pegs.
  • Allows for the child's comforter to be accessible at all times.
  • Displays family pictures at child level and/or in an individual book.
  • Reflects diversity.

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Before starting

  • Send the child a personalised invite to visit the setting before attending for the first day, along with a small group of new starters.
  • Give parents an information booklet containing photos of the setting routines and types of activities. Also include staff members to encourage them to talk about them, especially their key person.
  • Loan toys from the setting for them to play with together.

At the home visit or first setting visit

  • Plan how the child will start in the setting. Complete an all about me (PDF) information booklet together to find out as much as you can about the child.
  • Discuss the setting routines and how you can accommodate the child’s individual needs.
  • Observe special times between parent and child, at the home visit and/or during settling in sessions.
  • Talk about how the parents' attitudes to leaving the child will affect the child's feelings. Encourage and support the parents to plan their goodbye routine such as letting the child know when they are leaving, not just slipping away.
  • Allow flexibility at the start to allow for the child to stay for only part of a session if they are struggling with separating from parents. Equally, allow parents to stay for the length of the session, shortening the time each visit.

Key person

Take a look at our key person policy (PDF), a reference document to help you write a key person policy for your setting.

  • Spend 1:1 time playing with the child during the settling-in period.
  • Talk about what activities the child likes to do best. Use their all about me (PDF) information booklet to make sure there are resources and toys that will be familiar to them.
  • Look at and talk about pictures of the child's family.
  • Show them around the setting, including where they will keep their belongings and where the bathroom is.
  • Introduce the child to the other children and adults.

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Schemas for two year olds

Schemas are patterns of repeated behaviours in children and an important part of young children’s growth and development. They are natural, uncontrollable and totally necessary urges all children have.

Children learn to do an action, which they are interested in and repeat it again and again. Through repetition, children gain the ability to gather and recall information, to organise and process their behaviour and thoughts and gain knowledge and understanding of many basic concepts and the world around them.

By knowing about schemas we can recognise and support a child’s urges and development and plan appropriate experiences to support and challenge their thinking.

There are over 30 identified schemas and here we look at the most common ones, you can find more examples on our Pinterest page.


A child may be fascinated with creating lines, exploring lines, movement in lines. These movements can be diagonal, vertical or horizontal. You may notice that a child:

  • likes to ‘crash’ into walls on a trike or scooter
  • is fascinated with sand falling in lines, pouring water, dripping gloop
  • has a fascination with aeroplanes in the sky and the lines they make
  • likes to drop or throw objects from a height
  • lines up objects during play, such as rows of cars, or stacking cups.

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A child may be deeply fascinated with carrying items from one place to another, being carried by an adult, being transported/or transporting others in buggies. You may notice a child

  • needs to take an object home with them
  • wants to be carried everywhere
  • covets bikes or scooters
  • is completely fascinated by all types of transport and vehicles
  • always carries something, often a bag.


A child may be fascinated with things that move in circular motions, moving or spinning themselves around in circles, round items or symbols. You may notice a child:

  • often chooses toys with turning wheels and knobs
  • is fascinated by water disappearing down the plug hole
  • is mesmerised watching machines with circular motions, such a fans or washing machines or dryers
  • spins themselves until they become dizzy
  • mark makes in predominantly circular motions.


A child may be deeply fascinated with how objects connect and disconnect together, and what happens as a result of a connection. You may notice a child:

  • joins objects and toys together using tape, string, ribbon
  • continually chooses to play with connecting toys
  • takes lids on or off everything
  • enjoys turning switches off and on such as lights
  • needs to have physical contact to an adult or object, particularly when upset or unsettled.


A child may be seen surrounding themselves with objects to create a boundary, being fascinated with the insides of containers and exploring enclosed spaces. You may notice a child:

  • will settle in an enclosed space such as a cosy corner or a cardboard box
  • likes to put borders around paintings and pictures
  • likes making the edges of a jigsaw puzzle first
  • puts all the trains inside the train track rather than on it
  • has the urge to fill up cups with water.

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A child may be deeply fascinated with ordering and arranging objects or themselves. You may notice a child:

  • appears obsessive about arranging items in the exact place, on top, next to, in front of
  • lines up objects in order of size, colour or shape
  • wants to walk around the edges of things or along walls
  • may not wish their food to be mixed together on the same plate.


A child may be fascinated with covering objects or themselves with different materials. You may notice a child:

  • covers themselves, hiding and concealing themselves or objects
  • wraps objects or toys in pieces of paper or materials
  • makes dens under blankets or sheets and using furniture to construct a cave
  • fills up bags with all sorts of bits and pieces from around the nursery
  • paints or glues over their hands and then peel it off or paint over a picture with a single colour.

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