Life Lessons from Two-Year-Olds

I spend a lot of time listening to two year olds since my office at SEEC is across the hall from the two year old classrooms. Two year olds are incredibly cool human beings. They are honest, yet loving; assertive, yet shy; funny, yet serious. I have always said that the year between two and three is one of my favorite years of child development because you have a rare and fleeting view into the mind of your child– they can tell you what they are thinking but they have not yet started to censor what they are saying. I think that there are a lot of life lessons we adults can learn from two year olds. Here are some of those lessons…

  • Use all your energy to engage in things that you are interested in doing. Two year olds go and go and go, seemingly nonstop, but it’s all about doing what they are interested in. We all say that we wish we had the kind of energy two year olds have…maybe we would all have this kind of energy if we spent more time doing things we like.
  • When you are done, be done. While two year olds go and go, when they are done they are done. When they are done with the Playdoh there is no convincing them otherwise. When they are done playing cars they move on. Have you ever watched a tired two year old fall asleep? One minute they are wide awake and the next…sound asleep. No tossing and turning and worrying there. Be done with it and move on.
  • Eat a little bit all day long. Nutritionists tell us that this idea of grazing is the right way to eat but do we do it? No! We sit and eat three (often huge) meals every day. Two year olds, when left alone, prefer to graze on small meals all day long. It is so much healthier.
  • Hold someone’s hand and get their attention when you want to tell or show them something really important. I love how two year olds come take my hand or put their tiny hands on my face to be sure I am looking right at them when they have something important to tell or show me. Too often we talk at people rather than with them.  Get people’s attention when you want to talk to them and give them your attention when they talk to you.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a great facial expression. Two year olds are experts at funny faces. They break the tension, communicate their feelings and make people laugh. If only more of us did that the world would be a better place.
  • Make sure people clap for you when you do something cool. I love how two year olds do something and then look to you to clap for them as soon as they stop. Everyone needs to be acknowledged for doing something cool. We should do it for each other more often.
  • Ask “What’s this?” and “Why?” a lot. It makes things more clear and helps everyone know what is really going on. You should also ask “Why not?” a lot as you get older. It opens new doors and new ways of thinking.
  • Feel proud of yourself in pictures. As adults we often resist getting our pictures taken and worry about how we look when they are taken. Two year olds delight in getting their pictures taken and insist on seeing them over and over regardless of how they look. They just love to see themselves. No image problems here.
  • Move around often rather than sitting still for hours. It makes you healthier and keeps you slim. Two year olds have it right. It also makes you tired so you sleep better. Not a bad deal.
  • Let people know when you are not happy. It is so much healthier than keeping your feelings all bottled up inside. Two year olds are masters at letting you know when they are not happy, but they don’t hold a grudge either. We could learn from both of these behaviors.
  • Try something new often. Two year olds often don’t think twice about trying something new, especially if you don’t make a big deal about it being new. Two year olds know how to “live juicy”…not a bad way to live your life.
  • Give hugs and kisses. Lots of them. Every day. To lots of people. Say “I love you” often.

If you have not spent any time with a two year old lately I strongly suggest you find one (the adorable one below is my granddaughter!). It will put your life in perspective and make you appreciate the small things that truly make up a life. It is definitely making my life better.


It’s a bittersweet time of year…..

By Kim Kiehl, Executive Director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

All across the country it is a bittersweet time of year…back to school time. This time of year inevitably brings transition. It doesn’t matter if you are bringing your child to a new classroom here at SEEC, sending your child off to Kindergarten, or sending him off to college, the rituals and the feelings are the same. Transitions are tough. Transitions mean change. Transitions bring emotions. As I watch the start of the new school year here at SEEC I often wonder who the transition is more difficult for…the parents or the children. Sure, the children are crying and calling for mommy and daddy as they move to a new room with new friends. But I promise you that the crying stops soon after you leave as they become involved in the wonder of learning and the excitement of first friends. But for us parents that feeling often lingers over our morning coffee, into that first meeting of the day and through that long team meeting after lunch. While my own children are adults, now 30 and 26, as I watch parents as they drop off here at SEEC I can still feel that pull of leaving your child and not being sure it will be OK.  Whether we are bringing our child to a new early childhood classroom or dropping them off at college it’s all the same. At both ends we have to give up our children in some way. we have to let them go the become who they are going to be…often without us.

Still, I love this time of year. I love the planning and the school supply shopping. I love the promise of the days being more organized and ordered. Don’t get me wrong…I totally love summer, but autumn is like the first day of the new year to me. It is a new start and a new beginning. I make resolutions in the the fall. I start new calendars and develop new ways of keeping things organized. I resolve to follow a schedule this year. I resolve to be slower and not to rush from thing to thing this year. These resolutions often last about five days and then reality sets in (although I am determined this year to make them stick!). So for me this is a magical time of year. To me there is nothing more exciting than the promise of learning new things, nothing more exciting than the opportunity to discover a new idea, test a new skill, and make a new friend.


At the same time, this time of transition can bring sadness. Where did the years go? How can they be this old? Where did the summer go, along with all my grand plans for how to spend it? What will they do without me all day…or maybe what will I do without them all day? But there is joy too…the crying stops (for both adults and children), the stories of the wonder of learning start to pile up, and we all become comfortable with the transition. We made it.

It’s a new year and a time of new beginnings. Savor every moment of learning with your child just like we do here at SEEC. Drown yourself in their questions and their wonder and start looking at the world through curious eyes again. It’s true that transitions can be tough, but they can also be filled with growth, wonder and joy. Savor every moment—the rough and the joyful— it is through transition that we grow.

Moments of Joy

When I looked out the window of my apartment this morning and saw that there was a torrential downpour occurring just as I was about to walk to the Metro I decided there were two ways I could approach the situation. Approach 1–I could leave feeling annoyed that I would have to walk in the rain and wishing that I could just stay home curled up on my couch.  Approach 2–I could leave with the excitement of a child in a rain storm. I chose approach 2 and decided to spend the walk being excited about the fact that I was getting to carry a “brella” (as the toddlers at my school call them) and to walk right through every big puddle in my rain boots rather than carefully walking around them. While this might sound crazy to you it actually made my walk much more fun. I found myself looking for puddles and I noticed the drips coming off the edge of the umbrella. I felt that same thrill of discovery that I remembered from being a kid when I turned the corner to walk down the small hill and saw a mini rushing river running along the curb and then I splashed my way right through it. I listened to the sound of the rain pounding on the top of the umbrella and noticed that the birds were all still singing right through the rain. Walking to the Metro became an adventure rather than a chore. Walking to the Metro became an experience rather than something to simply get over with.


The rain today has reminded me that as adults we too often get bogged down in the negativity of real life. This being an adult thing that looked so good to us as kids can, in reality, be draining and overwhelming. It is so easy to just slog through life and to see things like pouring rain as negatives rather than as experiences. It reminded me that the reason children delight in things like walking in the rain is that they see them as an experience and have no preconceived notions of what that experience will be like–it is just another of life’s adventures. It reminded me that attitude is everything–the experience becomes what you think it will be in so many cases.

Here at SEEC I get to watch teachers curate experiences that create life adventures for children every day. I see the joy at the little things all day long. I hear the exclamations of “It’s a parade!” from the twos class when they look at the window and see what in reality is just a huge group of middle school students coming to the museum. I have conversations like the one with three-year-old Charlie when he tells me “I REALLY love school.” I see the joy in watching the classroom caterpillars suddenly become butterflies and in seeing stalagmites at the gem hall and watching them grow on a video on the tablet. I see the kindness as four-year-olds identify and take photos of how their friends are really superheroes because of their kind acts toward others. I see the excitement as a classroom heads to a museum, yelling “GOODBYE!!” at the top of their lungs to me as they walk by my office. I live in moments of joy every day but that joy can be too easily forgotten in my own life.

At our school this year we are making a conscious effort to appreciate these little moments of joy. Every classroom and every admin office has a jar labeled “Moments of Joy” where we collect stories of those moments that make up a day for a child. I believe it helps keep us focused on the wonder. And I discover that when I am feeling stressed actively watching for a story to add to my jar gives my day a whole new focus. Life can be hard and overwhelming some days and it isn’t possible to always see the joy—some days just really stink. But if we all truly tried harder to say nice things to each other, to approach as many experiences as possible with a positive outlook, and to look for the joy and wonder in our days the world just might be less hard and overwhelming for all of us. Go walk in the rain and look for that mini river flowing along the curb to splash in.