By the time they have their first birthday, your baby’s imagination will be thriving. They’ll be better at getting around, and have developed some good hand-eye co-ordination skills. Your toddler will also be able to communicate fairly well, and understand how one object relates to another. All these things open the door to the big, wide world of play.
There are two main types of play, which are active and fantasy. They’re both great for your toddler’s development. Encourage them to get active and use their creativity whenever you can.
Active play: getting out and about
When your toddler is engaging in some kind of physical activity it’s known as active play. Early on it might be as simple as walking towards a toy, but as they grow it can involve playing outdoors, skipping, chasing balls and games with other kids.
So why is active play important for your toddler?
- Building muscles – being physically active helps your toddler to develop their muscles. They’ll also improve their co-ordination and balance and get better control over their bodies.
- Getting into good habits – active play can help set your toddler up with healthy habits early on, and keeping up exercise and being physically active is an important part of every life stage.
- Growing interests – experiencing the outdoors, learning to play and co-operate with others, and discovering games they love. All these things help shape that budding personality.
- New abilities – active play can really encourage mental development like increased spatial awareness, or visual logical, and mathematical skills.
- Self-confidence – by learning what they can do with a bit of trial and error your toddler can start building their self-confidence. If you can join in with some encouragement that’s even better!
- A great stress buster – even toddlers can get stressed or frustrated. Active play is a great way to release any tension and use up any excess energy.
Joining in: supporting your toddler’s active play
- Playing safe – make sure your toddler’s play environment is a safe one. Check for hazards, especially when your little one is outdoors. You should also keep a close eye on them if they’re playing with or around water
- Toys and puzzles – provide your toddler with toys and puzzles that challenge them. The more they need to figure out how to make a toy work, the better. It’ll engage them for longer and stimulate their curiosity.
- Adults play too – when it’s appropriate, jump in and play with your toddler or think about initiating new games they might like.
- Be a cheerleader – give your toddler plenty of opportunities to play. Encouraging them to practice new and existing skills, and cheering them on will build their self-confidence.
Fantasy play: dreaming up loads of fun
Chatting with teddy in a private language, pouring invisible tea or manning a pirate ship that looks suspiciously like your couch. Fantasy play is all about pretend, and it’s a huge part of your toddler’s world. It’s just as important as active play, so encourage a mix of both whenever you can.
What are the benefits of fantasy play?
- Growing their imagination – nothing sparks creativity like make believe. Fantasy play lets your toddler visit a world where anything is possible.
- Verbal and social skills – interacting with their toys and conversing with their stuffed animals gives your toddler a chance to practice their verbal (once they’re talking) and social skills in a familiar environment.
- Problem solving – by devising their own games, characters or storylines, your toddler can begin to develop their logic and problem solving skills.
- Everyday life – role playing as an adult, pretending to cook, go to work, or copy what mum and dad do can help toddlers understand more about the grown up world. It’s also a good way to face some fears about it, eg, playing doctor might make visiting the doctor a little less scary!
- Boredom buster – luckily fantasy play comes naturally to your toddler, but you can always encourage more play if you see the boredom setting in.
Joining in: encouraging fantasy play
- Take a back seat – fantasy worlds don’t always include grown ups, so it’s a good to give your toddler room to play. Avoid hovering or jumping in to correct them unless you’re asked to.
- Accept invites – when your toddler invites you to be part of a game (they will sometimes!) have fun with it. You can never have too much imaginary tea, and a check up at the invisible doctor’s office can give you a magical bill of health.
- Credit where credit’s due – great imaginations deserves praise. If they’ve created a truly fantastic space ship in a cardboard box, be sure to show you’re impressed.
- Initiate – try introducing a few fun games and stories of your own. You can encourage your toddler by asking what should happen next and letting them take the lead.
- Bring along the props – your toddler will need different things to play with. The best props are things adults may use: like dress up gear, tool kits or doctor’s medical kits (toy versions of course!).