The Benefits of Toddler Play 

One of the biggest myths about childhood is that play is just frivolous entertainment . . . a 'waste of time.' Actually, play is much more important than academics during the toddler years. Play is a top toddler nutrient. Happy, healthy toddlers have their days filled with chasing, pretending, rolling, and tinkering. 

When you give your child a big daily dose of 'Vitamin P,' you:

  • thrill their senses

  • help them master movement

  • sharpen their thinking

  • encourage their language use

  • boost their people skills

  • teach them about the world

  • stimulate their immune system

  • build their self-confidence

  • improve their sleep

  • feed their meter to encourage good behaviour 

There are three types of play that you should try to give your child every day: outside play, creative activity, and reading. 

Outside Toddler Play: Kids 'Go Ape' When They Are Cooped Up

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of playing outside: rolling down grassy hills, kicking heaps of fallen leaves, making snowmen. (Many of us still revel in these activities.) But while adults enjoy the fresh air, toddlers do not merely like it—they need it. A 2-year-old cooped up in a flat all day may feel as trapped as Tarzan stuffed into a tight tuxedo.

And do not be afraid to go out in 'bad weather.' Rain, wind, and snow add to the fun. Just get the proper clothes and shoes for yourself and your toddler and run out and have a ball! 

Creative Toddler Play: Your Child’s Favourite Toy—His Brain 

Imagination is the key to mankind’s greatest advances, from the arts to the sciences. Science and math are important, but, as the complete quote from Einstein reads, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines what we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.' (I know this quote well because it is printed on my computer mouse pad!) 

Feed your toddler’s creativity with:

  • Art materials: Go for variety: crayons, Play-Doh, collage materials, watercolours, finger paint.

  • Real—or replica—household items: Toddlers love 'monkey see, monkey do.' As the months pass, they want to imitate you more and more. Use household goodies like pots/pans/wooden spoons, a toy phone, or a small broom and dustpan.

  • Props for pretend play: Dolls and dollhouses, action figures, toy dinosaurs, and lots of costumes and dress-up clothes. By age three, a child’s interest expands from imitating Mum and Dad to trying on new identities—such as princess, ballerina, firefighter, and cowboy.

  • Sensory materials: Molding clay, a sandbox or sand table, a splash pool, a watering can, pouring toys for the bathtub, swatches of different materials (satin, velvet, corduroy, sandpaper)

Book Play for Toddlers: Reading Is Feeding

Want your child to have a healthy brain? Feed it… by reading! The key to reading with toddlers is to do it with them. Reading makes kids smarter, and it is a sweet opportunity to snuggle close and join your hearts.

Here is how to adjust your reading routine for your child’s age:

  • Early toddlers (12 to 24 months): These toddlers are active! So pick a reading time when your child is tired. Use books with cloth or cardboard pages. Talk a lot about what you see: 'Look, a doggie! What does a doggie say? What do doggies eat?' Turn the book into a game: 'Hey, you be the doggie. Can you bark? Wow! What other animals can we find?'

  • Middle toddlers (24 to 36 months): Two-year-olds like things 'just so.' Your child may howl if you skip part of a story he has learned by heart. 'Do it right!' he’ll protest. As you turn each page, offer your child a chance to be smart by asking, 'What’s going on now?'

  • Older toddlers (36 to 48 months): Older toddlers love stories about animals and people (and trucks!). And they love to compare what is happening in the story to situations they have experienced. 'Oh, honey, Bigelow the rabbit dropped his ice cream…That is like when you spilled your beans at lunch.' Older toddlers repeat lines from books to their stuffed animals and even make up their own stories. Now they are at the stage when they love it if you 'accidentally' make a silly mix-up of the words. They giggle with joy when they catch you making a 'mistake.'

[Related: 11 Interactive Books More Engaging Than an iPad]

Do you see why play is so brilliant? So, for as much time as you spend teaching your toddler her A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s, do not forget about the equally important P-L-A-Y!

View more posts tagged, behaviour & development

Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.