Toddlers are naturally curious. They want to explore—and play offers a vehicle for them to do so. It provides little ones with multiple opportunities for problem-solving, skill-building, and mastering physical challenges.
Three ways to help your toddler get the most from play:
1. Aim for lively.
Research indicates a stimulating play environment, plus the availability of creative playthings, fosters cognitive development.
Inspire your toddler with toys that invite investigation and exploration. Skip those that simply stimulate kids with flashing lights and noisy whistles—they don’t foster creative engagement. Look for nesting toys to stack, bubbles to chase, and wood or cardboard blocks for building. Studies show toddlers who play with blocks score higher on language tests and that block-based activities boost math achievement.
2. Make it social.
You are your baby’s first playmate, so take an active role in his explorations. Investigate with him. Give your toddler a chance to play with same-age children. That’s how little ones learn to take turns, gain self-control, and work collaboratively, all of which promote empathy and cooperation. Arrange time for your child to visit a playground with a friend, or enjoy an impromptu visit (and a chance to interact) with neighborhood children. Those moments help set the foundation for future social relationships.
3. Keep it active.
Encourage your toddler’s natural desire to keep moving. Toddlers who engage in physical play typically grow up to be active teenagers and adults. Sensorimotor play, which involves both senses and muscles (think water play and sandboxes), allows a toddler to learn about her body and its abilities. And mastery of the physical body promotes self-esteem and a feeling of accomplishment. So provide lots of opportunities for safe physical exploration and trying out developing skills—let her reach, grasp, crawl, tumble, roll, climb, run, and balance.