Who knew playtime was such an important job for your toddler? Here's how toddlers benefit from play and how you can help maximize the learning (and fun!).
It may look like just fun and games to you, but for toddlers, the play he engages in is hard work. Why? As your tot zooms around the playground, whips up a meal in his toy kitchen or pours water into a cup while he bathes, he’s solving problems, boosting his language skills, learning about people, discovering scientific and math principles, and sharpening his creativity and imagination. Phew!
Allowing your toddler as much access to playtime as possible means he’s both learning and growing in critical ways. Here’s more about the stages of play that toddlers experience, the best activities at this age and tips for starting your own toddler play group.
What are the stages of play for toddlers?
During babyhood your child was rather content to play alone. But as your tot enters the toddler years, each stage is marked by new developments:
12 to 18 months: At 1 year, your toddler is probably cruising a bit — and walking is not far behind. He likely has a couple of words he knows and enjoys finger games, push and pull toys, and hand clapping rhymes. As he approaches 18 months, he'll likely express more interest in blocks and dolls that encourage pretend play.
24 months: He’s off and running, which means your tot is ready to try kicking a ball, and pull and push toy play continues. He can also stack blocks and scribble with crayons. Parallel play, or sitting next to his pal while playing but not interacting, is the norm now.
36 months: The final stage of toddlerhood is marked by the start of associative play, a time when your toddler may pass his toys to a pal — almost sharing them. At this age, toddlers are able to play pretend, throw a ball and engage in simple games.
What are some of the best ways to play with your toddler?
Stash those flash cards — for learning, nothing beats the developmental benefits of playing. And as your toddler’s number-one playmate, you can boost the learning in a variety of ways. How? Increase his verbal skills by asking questions about his artwork (“What a cool blue shape! Is that a truck?”).
Or challenge his imagination by asking him for details as he pretends to be a swashbuckling pirate (“Where did your ship land?”). Above all, give him freedom: Supply the dress-up clothes and art supplies, but let him control the action and give him free rein to make a mess. Here are some great ways to inspire fun and creative playtime for toddlers:
Shape sorters: These genius toys allow your little guy to figure out sizes, shapes, colors and how to fit something into a container (“Nope, too big. Let me try the circle!”).
Tea parties: Any kind of pretend play is perfect at this stage, but the tea party is a classic. When he’s having one with his stuffed animals, he’s engaging in imaginative play and practicing his turn-taking and sharing skills (“Have a cookie, Teddy!”).
Playground fun: By going up and down the slide, he’s discovering how his body works (“Look at me climb!), the principle of gravity (“Watch how I slide down fast!”), and building his coordination (it takes a lot of muscle power to get up that ladder!).
Push and pull toys: These items truly offer more value for your buck as they can pull double duty in the learning department. For example, they boost your toddler’s coordination while stimulating his imagination (“Are you pushing Teddy to the store?”)
Puzzles: Try puzzles to encourage problem solving as well as motor skills and language development (“Where does the square piece fit?”). Just make sure it's age appropriate and that the pieces are too big to be swallowed.
Art supplies: Crayons, toddler markers, finger paints, modeling clay — all are easy to keep on hand and can inspire hours of creativity, especially when you’re cooped up on a rainy day.
How much playtime do toddlers need? Each child is different, of course, which means some toddlers may be willing to sit and scribble for a good stretch, while others dabble with their toys and then ask for a story. But for kids who are 12 to 36 months of age, getting enough activity, especially the physical kind, is important. A good goal: Aim for at least 30 minutes every day of planned physical fun that’s led by you or another adult. This could mean kicking a ball, riding a kiddie trike or climbing on the jungle gym. This age group also needs at least one hour daily of free or unstructured time. Your child might build block castles, play pretend games in the yard or zoom his race cars around. As for the rest of the day, unless your child is napping or sleeping, toddlers shouldn’t be inactive for more than an hour. These busy bees are on the go most of the time, so allow your tot the space and opportunity to burn off energy and explore his world with toys at playtime. Starting a playgroup for toddlers A playgroup isn't just a chance for toddlers to practice their social skills and have fun with other kids. It's also an outlet for the parents to swap war stories, share insights and have adult conversations (at last!).
If there aren't already established playgroups in your area, here’s how to start one:
Set the parameters. Decide how often to meet (weekly, twice a month), where (alternating houses, the playground) and when (choose a time when kids are rested and fed to avoid toddler tantrums).
Pick the players. Limiting the playgroup number avoids overcrowding and over stimulation, but too few kids could cause the group to fizzle out if there are absences. Four to six children is ideal.
Have an open mind. Expect a variety of personalities in your group even as you strive for compatibility at the start.
Establish the ground rules. Will you share blocks, cars, dolls, balls and dress-up accessories or stick to the playground equipment? Will snacks be served — or are there allergies? What's the policy on cancellations (do you have to text in advance?) and illness (what symptoms warrant keeping kids at home?). Lay out these issues ahead of time so everyone’s on the same page.
Test the waters. Hold a few short trial meet-ups at first to see how it goes (an hour or so max) so that everyone can get acclimated to the group gradually. Once you've decided that the chemistry is right, plan to meet regularly, and perhaps extend the playdate to two hours (a good outer limit for toddlers).
Tips for parents when playing with toddlers Does the idea of an hours-long building blocks session bore you to tears? You are absolutely not a bad parent if you're not fascinated by blocks or tea parties.
Here’s how to have a little fun playing with your toddler.
Get in touch with your inner child. Imagine playtime from your toddler’s perspective. Literally get down to his level and you’ll see the world is pretty amazing, full of stuff to discover and explore.
Play hard but not long. Aim for short spurts rather than feign interest for hours at a time. Truth: Your tot can probably pick up on your lack of enthusiasm as you fake your way through princess play. Be in the moment for a round or two of "shoe store," and then let your tot know it's time to close up shop.
Pick and choose the activity. If your child doesn't seem dead-set on a specific game or activity, suggest something you actually enjoy doing, like coloring or reading. Odds are, you'll get an enthusiastic yes from your toddler — and you'll be less likely to get antsy.
Be a part-time player. Yup, harken back to parallel play — most toddlers still enjoy it. Your physical presence is enough, so tell your child you're doing your thing (read, meal plan, organize papers) while he does his. That way, you'll be on call to admire his block tower or sample his play "soup."
Turn the tables. Toddlers love to mimic, so when you have chores to do, invite your toddler to "play" with you. If you're cleaning up, give him a dustpan and broom; if you're gardening, give him a toy rake and spade; if it's time to make dinner, give him a pot and a spoon. Your tot will love helping!
What not to worry about with toddler play While toddler playtime can indeed be joyful, it’s normal for things to take a turn and for tears to fall. Try not to worry about a tantrum (or two — or three!) when it’s time to leave the playground or pick up the toys to head home for lunch and a nap.
A word on the concept of toddler sharing: it has yet to leave the beta phase of development. As a result, don’t be surprised if the playgroup you so carefully set up dissolves into a fight between toddlers who are usually quite compatible (think yelling, shoving and even biting). While it’s tough to witness, these dust-ups and even aggressive behaviors at this age are pretty normal. To help, keep your cool but be firm and direct. You could say “Hitting hurts, we don’t hit,” or “No biting!” Try to distract your little one with a favorite toy or activity, but if the playdate has gone off the rails, it’s fine to call it a day and end the date. The other parent will understand (they’ve been there).
Toys and playtime for toddlers are an exciting opportunity for learning and growth. Keep your little one engaged by adding his peers in a group and joining the fun when you can. The result: a happy tot who loves his “work!”
Article courtesy of WhatToExpect.com https://tinyurl.com/6ezhnc52
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