Two-year-olds have a zest for life that is unparalleled.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to visit my niece and celebrate her second birthday. Not having any children of my own — and it having been many years since my own siblings were that young — I had forgotten how intensely curious toddlers are about everything.

My niece is just grasping the concept of going places correlating to being put in her carseat. Her favorite stops include swimming lessons, Chik-Fil-A and (because she thinks it is fun to repeat the store's name aloud over and over) Hobby Lobby.

Each time her mother puts the car into park, my niece lets out a long "yaaaaay!" from the backseat. It is not that she dislikes being in the car; she is just that excited to be out in the world. It is still, after all, fairly new to her.

On our visit to the aquarium, she zipped around to each display window, naming as many of the enclosed animals as she could. The only time her interest was held for longer than 30 seconds was when she could touch the water or view "Dory" and "Nemo."

Mealtimes were entertaining (for the adults) as we watched my niece do her best to pick up each bite with a fork. She loves being as independent and as much like the grownups around her as possible. Mimicking her mother, she takes plastic food in and out of the oven in her play kitchen.

Another favorite activity is spending time in the backyard — looking for "Frank," the rabbit who visits on occasion, riding around in her Little Tikes car, drawing with sidewalk chalk or watching the kites flying in the sky over the nearby park.

I have heard it is futile to give a child a toy, as they will inevitably entertain themselves with anything else that is handy (such as a box), but my niece did spend quite a bit of time with the "paint with water" books I gave her. The hit gift, however, came from her grandmother — a pink, flowered flashlight.

What does a 2-year-old do with a flashlight? She uses it to look at everything. All of a sudden, the flashlight was absolutely necessary to play with her dollhouse, look at her books and find any toys that had rolled under the couch.

Later that evening, we turned off all the lights in the house and let her explore each room by flashlight. She thought this was great fun and shrieked with laughter anytime her flashlight illuminated someone previously hidden by darkness.

Of course, all that energy also needed recharging via naps and focusing through the constant, consistent direction of the adults (we also needed naps after the visit to the aquarium). There was the occasional outburst of tears after being told "no." Such is the life of a two-year-old.

I was struck by my niece's fearlessness and the way she seemed to soak up each new experience. I hope that zest for learning is something she never loses, no matter how old she is.

While the world is less new to me than it is to her, I still enjoy learning new things. I know I will never run out of topics to study in my lifetime and I am thankful that there are so many resources (our public libraries, museums, etc.) to gain new perspectives on the world around us.

Maybe when she turns 3, I'll get my niece her own child-size tool set. I'm sure her parents would love that.