It's tempting to take your two-year-old to all sorts of cultural events, museums, and public places, now that she is able to walk on her own as well as be awake for longer periods of time. You need to remember, though, that children at this age are quite determined to explore places and things on their own terms. While you may want to see the whole museum, realize that your child may only want to play in the toddler play area.
Understand also that your two-year-old is not yet ready to sit quietly or stand still for long periods. An hour at the museum is probably her limit unless she's tired and ready to sit in a stroller (after having had a chance to run around and explore).
Look to cultural institutions in your community for age-appropriate programs. These are often inexpensive and allow adult access as well. Such programs often involve art projects, playing instruments, or listening to storytellers, all of which are ways for your two-year-old to get used to listening, following directions, and working with others.
If you're going on an outing with your two-year-old, be sure you're prepared. Consider keeping a stocked diaper bag in the car in case you end up being somewhere longer than you expected. Also be sure you have snacks and drinks on hand for your child, since not all museums and libraries can accommodate the food choices of young children. Always bring some toys to keep your child occupied (if you're lucky) while you're out in the world.
Even if you've been bringing your child to the same park or beach (or backyard) every day for two years, she will find something new and exciting to explore now that she's able to run, hop, and touch things she was previously unable to reach.
During this year your child will become more able to interact with you on shopping trips. So if you're at the grocery store, for example, you can ask her to get items for you or to hold things while you shop. If you offer her responsibility and engage her, she is less likely to have to look for ways to entertain herself.
Just as it is unnecessary to buy expensive educational toys for your child, it is also unnecessary to pay for expensive experiences. Parks, some museums, libraries, bookstores, a friend's house and backyard, the beach, a hiking trail, a nearby nature preserve, or any local attraction are good places to bring your child without spending a lot of money.
Life is fun for a child this age because she understands more of what she's seeing and doing. She'll want to share more with you and, even if you can't understand exactly what she's saying, she'll be conveying what she's seen and what she's been doing. It's very important that you listen and make eye contact when she's talking so that she understands that her opinions and experiences are valuable and meaningful.
Toddlers love water. In fact, on rainy days you should be well prepared to go outside with rain boots, umbrellas, rain coats, and hats. Don't let bad weather stop you from exploring the world. In the first place, a toddler stuck inside on a rainy day may get antsy without a lot of space to run around in. Second, the experience of seeing the world when it's wet will thrill your two-year-old. She will jump in puddles, splash, and pick up slippery rocks and sticks.
If your toddler is cranky, try putting her in the bath. It's not so much that water will magically transform her mood, but being able to play in water just might do the trick. Give her pots, pans, and spoons and let her play with them in there. She'll be happy as a clam.
Another great way to play with water is to get out the hose, if it's warm enough outside, and let your two-year-old help you water the garden or wash the car. Two-year-olds are always happy to have a grown-up responsibility and even though your child's participation may slow down your work, you will delight her with the opportunity to help you.
Other water-based play ideas: Bring cups and plastic pitchers outside for your child to fill with the hose. Or let her stand in the kitchen and use the sprayer at the sink (she'll make a mess, but she'll love it). Get some water paints and let her play with them outside. Whatever the water play, always be conscious of water safety.
Although your child has her own toys, no doubt she walks into your bedroom and wants to play with your shoes, take the clothes out of your dresser, or find out what's in your closet. If you work on a computer, she will want to try it. If you have a workbench, she will want to try your tools; if you cook, she will want to make something with you.
If it's not dangerous, find a time when you can use your tools and equipment as toys. This isn't always possible, of course, but keep in mind that your child is paying you a high compliment. He isn't trying to ruin your things. It's just that he doesn't quite yet understand (although you can start teaching him) that some things are toys while others must be treated more carefully. He is simply trying to play the way he sees you playing.
Pots and pans, along with boxes, are perhaps the most creative and fun toys a child this age can have. Add a wooden spoon and she'll bang, stir, pretend to make dinner and serve you, and build with these objects. Give her a set of her own pots and pans, some Tupperware bowls and wooden spoons, as well as other cooking utensils (as long as they aren't sharp), and she will be endlessly engaged.
If you've gotten a package recently, hand the box to your child. It can be a bed for her doll, a hiding place for his stuffed animal, or a special place for her to keep her collection of princess jewelry. Boxes can be blocks, houses, furniture, hiding places, theaters, and obstacle courses.
To use boxes even more imaginatively, you might want to have lots of masking tape on hand as well as scissors (which only you can use), magic markers, crayons, glue, and art supplies. Boxes make wonderful canvases.
Being able to cut well, trace, paint, and transform a box into a car or a house will turn you into your child's hero. Young children are amazed by the talents their parents display, so take every opportunity you can to make things for your child. This will inspire and impress her.
Two-year-olds often need help with inspiration for projects, unlike older children who can immediately find ways to turn a box into a rocket ship or a boat. Be aware that your two-year-old will need your help with these projects, which they will very much enjoy making with you.