Advice Column, Parenting, Toddler

Toddler Development: The Importance of Play

  • Play Sense
  • Category Advice Column, Parenting, Toddler

Play is the occupation of children – a child’s work. Even if you don’t know much about the science behind how play impacts a child’s development, most parents instinctively know that children need to play. 

In the first three years of a baby’s life, they are learning to master the world through movement, language and other cognitive skills. Developing self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment are also on their to-do list and you will see your little one working very hard to achieve these goals through play. 

As modern parents, when we think play, we think toys or interaction with other little people. These are both great ways to play but it’ll come as no surprise that you are your child’s favourite toy. Just think of the squeals of delight when you are on the floor playing with your little one, in comparison to when they are left to play with a toy alone. Their joy is a cue that your child’s neurons are firing in a way that stimulates huge amounts of brain development and growth. 

So, before you rush out and buy expensive toys bear in mind that you are really all your little one needs. Having said that, you might be scratching your head wondering how to play, let alone what to play. Playing is something most of us have forgotten how to do as adults but often it only takes a little nudge before you too experience the benefits of play with your little one: closeness, connection and pride. 

In short, don’t shy away from play! Here are some ideas of what you toddler needs developmentally and how you can use play to encourage these skills: 

  • Make believe play – In the third year of life, your toddler will start testing their understanding of roles, interactions and life through pretend play. Create a make-believe play box filled with pretend play items such as dolls, feeding bottles, spoons, cars, hats of various sorts, bags, old phones, glasses, dress up clothes, etc. Play with your toddler as he goes into different roles. Try to have two of each object (not necessarily identical) so you can follow their play and be part of their game. For example, when he picks up a toy phone, you do too and talk to him through the phone. 
  • Social play – Your toddler is ready for cooperative social play with a friend. Set up play dates where your little one can engage with another toddler to discover and play games together. Bear in mind your toddler’s sensory profile, they may be slow to warm up on arrival but won’t want to leave. Other little ones might need a few visits to feel at ease. Read your little one’s cues and offer encouragement when you can. 
  • Building forts – Building and construction are a wonderful way to develop spatial awareness and planning. Have a stack of blankets or sheets ready, pile up pillows and stuffed toys, Make a fort or tent with your little one, talking your way through it. 
  • Ball skills – Toddlers love games of catch, kick and throw. These games provide the basis for gross motor and hand-eye skills used in all sorts of games and sports.

In addition to these ideas, you also have finger painting, simple puzzle building, chasing games (and more) to draw from as a way to spend meaningful time with your toddler. Most of all, have fun with your little one! Play, laugh, be silly and be present – whatever the game or kind of play, you will be doing the best for your toddler’s learning and development. 

Play Sense are the leaders in play-based learning with the first accredited playschool curriculum in South Africa. They have collaborated with Keller Education to unpack the secret to lifelong success in their upcoming webinar:  Lifelong Playing on Thursday 4 March at 15:00. Parents are invited to join this insightful and interactive talk where you can get questions about your child’s education answered by our expert speakers. Bookings are essential. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Elisabeth Yolisa Home for Children. Book your place now! 

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