How can I play with my toddler at home? It’s a question I’ve often found myself wondering. The way a toddler plays is completely different to how say, a 5 year old plays. They don’t sit down for long. They lose interest and move from one thing in a matter of minutes!
So what do we do?
We spend ages searching and try new activity ideas we’ve seen on Pinterest. Only to find out they either don’t work or don’t keep them busy!
But I’m here to tell you that playing with your toddler doesn’t have to be like this! In fact, sitting alongside them works better. As does understanding their interests, developmental milestones and repeating activities.
So quit wasting your time on loads of different activities. And start using these simple tips and tricks. They’ll help you use natural play opportunities to your advantage. Make play much more meaningful to them. And learn more as a result.
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Before we move on, it’s important to talk about what play is and the benefits of learning through play.
What is Play?
Play is anything your child finds fun and meaningful. From playing with a toy on their own. To playful activities, you do with them.
Play helps your child to make sense of the world.
Giving a child lots of opportunities to play will help them develop a love of learning and have a passion for life.
Your child will learn more when they have a mixture of play opportunities. These include playing by themselves and playful activities you choose to do with them. So you should try to strike a balance between giving your child enough time, space and freedom to play alone. And giving them fun experiences and set activities to do.
What Are the Benefits Of Learning Through Play?
There are so many benefits of learning through play. Both independent and structured play helps your little one to:
- Develop skills they can use in their environment
- Test ideas
- Make mistakes and build resilience.
- Practise gross and fine motor skills
- Learn social skills
- Improve communication skills
- Understand and make sense of the world
- Develop their imagination
And so much more!
How Can I Play With My Toddler At Home?
There are a few ways you can play with your toddler at home. They include:
- Joining in with their play without taking over
- Working out their interests and setting up play experiences based on these
- Playing games and activities suited to their stage of development
- Repeating activities they love
How Can I Play With My Toddler At Home? Join In With Their Play
Joining in with your child’s play is the first and most important way to play with them.
But you have to be careful not to take over.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking over our children’s play. We often do it without realising it!
It’s not intentional.
We want to teach them things. Help their learning and ask them questions. But supporting their play by being present and engaged, is a much better way to help them explore and learn.
So the next time you play with your little one, try watching first to see what they’re doing. Then join in with that, rather than getting them to do something different.
Here’s What Joining In With Your Child’s Play Looks Like
Your toddler is playing with their dolly. You notice that they’re pretending to feed it with a spoon. You wait until they hand you the spoon. When they do, you do what they were doing. Copying your child like this, shows them they’re in charge of their play. And that you value their ideas.
Here’s What Leading Your Child’s Play Looks Like
Your little one is playing with their dolly. They’re pretending to feed it with a spoon. You encourage your child to wipe dolly’s mouth. And then put her to bed for a nap.
You didn’t mean to take over their play. You wanted to teach them other ways to look after their dolly.
But you’ve ended up telling them what to do and how they should do it.
So next time your child is playing, take the time to watch them first. Work out what they’re doing, then try copying them instead of directing them.
How Can I Play With My Toddler At Home? Go By Your Child’s Interests
Going by your toddler’s interests is a powerful way to play with them at home. You’ll find that they learn and remember much more because they’re more interested.
It can be hard to tell what your toddler’s interests are. Try asking yourself the following questions if this is the case.
- What toys do they play with the most?
- Why do they always choose these toys?
- How do they play with these toys?
- What other ways can they play with this toy?
- What other things can we add to their play? Or use to bring the same results?
Here’s an example of what going by your little ones interests looks like. Your toddler loves putting cars down their click-clack track (US | UK | CA). And you’ve noticed that this is a toy they always go to.
You’ve realised they choose this toy because they like watching the cars start at the top. And finish at the bottom. So following on with this interest, you create a cardboard ramp for their cards to speed down.
They still get to watch the car start at the top of the ramp. And finish at the bottom. But you now have another activity idea.
You can then build on this again and add different cars in. So they can test which ones work best or go faster etc.
In this instance, you are structuring their play. Because you’re encouraging them to do something. But this is ok – kids learn more when they have a balance structured and independent play activities.
Here’s what going by my toddler’s interests looks like for us.
He loves using his learning tower (US | UK | CA) to stand next to me at the kitchen counter when I’m cooking. I give him different vegetables and foods to play with. And I’ve noticed he likes playing with dried pasta.
So I took this interest into account and added more things into this play. I gave him pots and pans one day. Then added spoons the next. And gave him a muffin on another day. This not only kept him interested but stretched out the simple activity too.
How Can I Play With My Toddler At Home? Create Activities Suited to Their Stage Of Development
Put your hand up if you’ve ever tried activities from Pinterest that have failed?! You know, the ones that look great in the photos. You spend a good 30 minutes setting it up. Then your toddler comes along and plays with it for about 20 seconds!
The problem isn’t the activities themselves. It’s that your child either isn’t interested (as we talked about above). Or they haven’t met certain milestones so they won’t enjoy it yet.
For example, an 18 month old will be a lot more interested in pretending to feed their teddies compared to a 2 year old. This is because it’s a milestone most children achieve at this age.
Whereas, a 2 year old has moved on. They want to be playing all sorts of make-believe games. Like dressing up for example.
Typical Milestones For Toddlers
Knowing your child’s milestones will make a big difference to the way you play with your toddler at home.
So let’s look at a few typical milestones for each age.
1 Year Old
You’ll notice your 1 year old starts to:
- Hand you a book when they want to hear a story
- Put things into a container and take them out again
- Bang two things together
- Find hidden things
So suitable activities for your 1 year old include reading them books when they want to.
Giving them see-through containers and different things to put in them.
Letting them bang on pots and pans with different utensils. Or giving them a stone to bang on railings outside.
And playing hide and seek with their favourite toys.
18 Months Old
At 18 months old, your toddler will enjoy:
- Handing you things as they play
- Playing pretend
- Pointing to one body part
- Scribbling on their own
- Pulling toys while walking
Singing head, shoulders, knees and toes. Tickling games using the names of different body parts.
Pulling their toys along using string or ribbon you’ve attached to them.
2 Years Old
Your 2 year old toddler will start to:
- Point to things or pictures when they’re named
- Play make-believe games
- Kick a ball and throw overhand
- Draw straight lines and circles
- Build towers of 4 or more blocks
So some great activities for this age are:
Using colour flashcards and objects will help them sort and match.
Dressing up and other role-play games like cooking in the kitchen.
Ball games where they have to kick or throw the ball at a target. They might not be able to do it but they’ll have fun trying!
Letting them play with quality building blocks of different shapes and sizes. Build towers and knock them down.
3 Years Old
At 3 years old, your toddler will be working on:
- Screwing and unscrewing lids from jars
- Building towers or more than 6 blocks
- Playing make-believe with dolls, animals and people
- Completing 3 or 4 piece puzzles
- Copying a circle with a pencil or crayon
Once again, let them play with quality building blocks and build towers with them.
Help their problem-solving skills by giving them different jars and lids.
Provide them with different props. Then encourage them to make up their own stories for their dolls, animals and people.
Give them a variety of simple puzzles.
Use colouring pages and outlines. And draw lines and shapes alongside your little one.
Remember this is only a guide. Every child is different. You may find they achieve some milestones earlier or later than others. Check out more milestones here.
How Can I Play With My Toddler At Home? Repeat Games and Activities They Like
Don’t forget to repeat games and activities your little one loves. It’s repetitive for you. But it’s worthwhile for them because they’ll improve their skills each time they play.
Keeping a track of activities your toddler loves, will give you quick and easy ideas too.
Joining in and copying what they’re doing is an easy way to play with your toddler at home. Going by their interests and playing games suited to their development help too. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel either. Because they’ll also love repeating games and activities they’ve done before.
I hope that’s helped answer the question – how can I play with my toddler at home?
If you struggle to play with your toddler, set a timer for 20 minutes. And play with them for this length of time without any distractions. This will do two things. First, it will keep you sane because there’s an end goal in mind. Second, it will give your child the attention and connection they crave.
And remember, it’s okay to let your toddler play on their own. In fact, you should encourage it. Playing with them and giving them your full attention all day is exhausting for you! And it stops them from learning and exploring by themselves.