Family

Playing with your toddler

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Playing with your toddler

Playing and learning
Your toddler's physical skills progress by leaps and bounds as he learns to walk, run, kick, jump, climb, and ride. Physical games like hand-slapping high fives and low fives are lively and develop hand coordination. His hands become much more adept as he learns how to use objects as tools for particular purposes. But your toddler will still be proud to be lifted up to ride high on daddy's shoulders.

Outdoor play in a yard, park, or playground gives him an opportunity to enjoy and practise walking, running, climbing, and jumping freely. Small slides, swings, and seesaws are challenges that he'll want to try: watch carefully and hold on to him when needed.

Most children find it fascinating to feed ducks in a pond or birds in a birdhouse and watch insects at work -- these activities give them a sense of the natural world. A paddling pool or lawn sprinkler and hose are great ways to play with water on a warm summer day. Your toddler can also start to play with sand, but teach him not to throw or eat it. Let him pour water on sand, so he can see the change that takes place and feel the difference between dry sand and the wet sand that can be moulded into shapes.

Moving furniture around and building hideouts with sofa cushions is another physical activity that your toddler may really enjoy. And don't forget other popular games, such as Duck, Duck, Goose; Ringaround-the-Rosy; and Pop Goes the Weasel. Your toddler might also try throwing or kicking a ball, and you can show her how to get better at doing it.

Push-along and ride-on toys, like cars or animals on wheels, are very popular with toddlers. These help improve her balance, build confidence, and offer a thrilling new experience. Between two and two-and-a-half years of age, a toddler may be ready for a tricycle.

Artist at work! Minimal mess!
Your toddler will love these creative activities and they don't require major cleanup time.

• Give him a pail of water and a large exterior paintbrush. Let him "paint" the walls or the sidewalk outside.

• Make up a finger-paint palette with small amounts of a few edible "paints" -- chocolate pudding, strawberry yogurt. Let him paint his plate or other flat surface.

Playing and thinking
In her second year, a toddler has the mobility, dexterity, language skills, and curiosity to explore just about everything in her world. Expand her world by taking her to new places -- a different park, your neighbour's rec room -- where she can see and touch and experiment with new objects. At this age, she experiments in order to figure out how the world works. She drops things and watches them fall down. She pushes a ball and it rolls; she pushes a block and it doesn't -- and she learns. She learns the different properties of various objects, shapes, and materials. She learns how to group similar objects together, like blocks of different sizes and shapes, or similar animate beings, like pets -- which behave quite differently from toys.

As her hand control improves, she enjoys playing and learning with toys that she can build, stack, fill, fit together, or sort. She'll enjoy stacking blocks on top of one another and then knocking them down. You can show her how to build a rail tower or a wall, and she may begin to build simple structures in which she might put a toy.

Stacking cups of different sizes can be fun, and she'll soon learn how to stack them in the right order. She will become more aware of differences in size and shape, and learn how to coordinate her hand movements. Toddlers love learning how different objects fit together. They are fascinated by putting pegs in holes or keys in locks, by opening and shutting boxes, and by unscrewing jar tops. As your toddler handles and stacks objects, you might teach her concepts of size, colour, and shape by describing objects as large, small, round, or square; red, blue or white.

Sorting games help her learn how to group together objects that are alike. You can put a bunch of different toy animals together in a pile and then show her how to sort cows, pigs, and sheep into different groups. With even simple jigsaw puzzles, you may have to help her learn how to try out and fit the pieces together.

Quiet play is just as important as active, physical play. By looking at books while you read to him, your toddler learns to associate pictures in books with familiar objects, animals, people, and scenes. Books with bold, clear illustrations are great and, as he gets a little older, illustrations with more detail will interest him.

Creative ventures
Reading to him helps to increase his vocabulary and understanding. Once he decides he likes a story, expect that he'll want to hear it over and over. Books of nursery rhymes and songs are entertaining and develop your child's memory and sense of sequence as he learns the right moment to chime in on the chorus or repetitive parts. Books that have pop-up art or fold-up pages let your child become directly involved with a book, even when he can't yet read.

Your toddler may like it when you draw pictures for her and make up stories about your drawings. If you give her the crayons, she'll begin scribbling, which marks the first step toward writing and drawing. Finger paints are also great for this age; she will enjoy seeing what happens when she mixes different colours together. Soon you'll be able to display a gallery of her artwork on the refrigerator door, which will give her a great sense of pride in her accomplishment.

Social and emotional development
Your toddler wants you to be near him when he plays, and sometimes he wants you to help him, but he also wants to do things in his own way. He's both exploring and experimenting. Make suggestions, give him good ideas, show him things, but don't dominate. Let him be the leader. You can help him to play and concentrate for longer periods of time by stepping in when he gets stuck, giving him encouragement, and helping him to complete challenging tasks.

At this age, your toddler is much more aware of what you say and do. He'll want to help you and imitate what he has seen you do. Imitative toys like a tea set, a play house, or a toy telephone give your child a chance to play games where she imitates you in real life. This is great for encouraging speech as she invents conversations on the phone or with a doll.

Playing with others
Your toddler may become attached to a transition object, like a toy animal or blanket, as a comforting presence to take everywhere she goes. Although toddlers enjoy being with other children, they tend at first to play alongside rather than to interact with the other toddlers. Nonetheless, as they become more aware of each other, social interaction will begin and you may need to supervise -- or intervene if and when they get into conflict with one other. Over time, you can help your toddler learn how to play cooperative games with siblings and other toddlers. Make it easy for toddlers to share. When they're playing with others, offer toys with lots of pieces or material to go around, such as modelling clay or interlocking blocks or crayons.

Imagination
As your toddler gets closer to age two, he'll begin to use his imagination to animate objects, toy animals, dolls, and other toy people. He may use these "animated" creatures to act out scenes from everyday life and show his feelings. This adds an exciting new dimension to his play. Make-believe play increases his language skills in social interaction, provides a wonderful way to express and release feelings and individual or imitative creativity.

Puppets are wonderful toys to encourage this kind of imaginative play. You might help make puppets from old socks or mittens by sewing on buttons or beads for eyes and nose and using string for the hair. Paper-bag puppets offer children the fun of painting faces.

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Playing with your toddler

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