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Play, fun, and learning are all the same thing to your toddler. She loves learning new skills and making new discoveries and you will notice fast and significant changes in her levels of understanding, reasoning, and speed of response during the months ahead.

“Millie really loves action rhymes and songs. I find making up verses is a great way to get her washed and dressed each morning.”

—“Millie really loves action rhymes and songs. I find making up verses is a great way to get her washed and dressed each morning.”

You will need immense patience and humor at this stage of development. Your toddler will often approach tasks in an unconventional way that may challenge your view of how things should be done. She will want to repeat what she does more times than you would have believed possible. Spend lots of time with her and show her how things work and what to do; your involvement and encouragement are vital to developing her future potential. You will also need the tolerance to allow her to make her own discoveries, without too much direction and correction.

Your busy toddler

Play is essential for your toddler’s physical, mental, and emotional development. Giving her a wide range of activities will stimulate her and help her develop a broad skills base.

Child-centered play

Playtime, at this age, is all about the development of your toddler’s senses, and exploration, which is why she will love playing with sand and water, finger paints, play dough, and other messy substances. The texture, shape, sound, feel, and movement of the objects she is playing with are completely absorbing. Your toddler’s agenda is different from yours. She may not be interested in making things look perfect, or learning how to do things “properly” as you would see it, but is more fascinated by repetition, cause and effect, and discovering what she can make happen. You shouldn’t fear that her progress is slow. She will figure things out and learn more complex reasoning skills as the brain develops.

Remember, it is not all about control:

Favorite activities

Your toddler will begin to lead his own play and show clear preferences—for example, he may run straight to the slide at the playground. This ability to decide for himself is positive and should be encouraged.

  • Let your toddler choose the activity or toy.

  • Let your toddler start the talking or activity.

  • Let your toddler lead the play most of the time.

  • Resist the temptation to correct what she is doing.

  • Don’t worry about mess and resist the temptation to keep tidying up.

See life through your toddler’s eyes:
  • Play on the floor at your toddler’s level, where you can make eye contact.

  • Let your toddler finish her turn before you start.

  • Allow time for taking turns in play and talking.

  • Make the object of your toddler’s focus your focus, too—so that you are talking about or sharing the same experience, not just playing side by side.

  • Accept her way of doing things.

  • Being “right” is not the main priority at this age.

Give your toddler your full attention:
  • Show you are listening and attending to what she is doing by watching, and echoing speech and action.

  • Create a commentary of what your toddler is doing, and accept the way she is doing it. Avoid asking lots of questions or correcting her behavior.

  • Praise what your toddler is doing as often as possible.

Adapt your style of language:
  • Use short, simple words, to encourage development and understanding.

  • Don’t contradict what she is telling you, but echo back to her what she is saying, to show you are listening.

  • Be very positive, affirmative, and enthusiastic in your responses.

Learning to take turns

At this age, your toddler is still very self-centered and is too young to understand that another child is a potential playmate. She may, however, be happy to play next to another child and they may watch each other intently, or copy each other. This stage is known as parallel play and will soon lead to cooperative play and sharing. In the meantime, any interaction at this stage is likely to involve some minor scrapping. Toddlers of this age have a strong sense of ownership—everything is “mine!”

You can help your toddler to begin to learn about “taking turns” by joining her in play and making it into a game. This is a far more effective technique than intervening when there is an upset. Remember that your toddler is still developing her social skills. She finds it hard to manage her feelings, and can feel frustrated at being unable to express herself. It is an explosive combination that can often get physical. Hitting and biting is not unusual between toddlers. You will need to be watchful and intervene fast when things turn angry, before anyone gets too hurt or upset. Do not try to reason with a disruptive child. A simple “No!” before removing her from the situation is most effective at this age.

Taking turns can be introduced as a part of almost every game and activity, from putting plastic blocks into separate pots, to sharing food, to catching a ball, to turning the pages of a book. Your toddler is too young at the moment to be able to deal with taking turns with another child of her own age, but may well enjoy playing with an older child or brother or sister who can show patience and negotiate turns in a calm way.

The value of repetition

Your toddler may repeat a simple action again and again, watching how something falls, moves, or lights up. The repetition may be challenging for you, but it is about your child consolidating her learning skills, and is also a sign of her increasing attention span. She is developing the ability to lead her own play, and if the signs are there, encourage it as much as possible.

Toddlers become more aware of change and transitions at this age. Action songs that describe a sequence of events such as, “This is the way we brush our teeth/comb our hair… early in the morning” help them rehearse and practice a series of actions in a safe and fun way, and help them to adjust more readily to the range of skills and instructions that their developing brain is having to take in.

Playtime ideas and games

Movement activities

Most childhood games, involving walking, running, jumping, and climbing, are useful for the development of the large movements of the body. All your toddler needs is a safe place to play and explore without too much restricted movement, and the knowledge that her caregiver is not too far away. Children are “all-weather” creatures and will really benefit from fresh air and a change of scene.

Different textures and challenges are intriguing at this age:

  • Walking on grass or sand, stepping on and off the sidewalk, walking, running (and later rolling) up and down hills, and crawling through tunnels, help children strengthen their muscles and their reflexes.

  • Swings, slides, and balancing are all fantastic for encouraging brain development. Your toddler may be ready to try some climbing, too. Make sure you balance your anxieties about your toddler’s safety against a need for her to explore and learn from her environment.

The smaller and more controlled movements continue to improve as your toddler gradually learns to grip things and to control small-scale movement. Her drawing skills will begin now (although she has a very immature pencil grip), she will try to fit shapes together, and can hold a spoon and fork. Try:

  • Toys to encourage holding, scooping, squeezing, and pouring.

  • Games and activities that encourage repetition of movement.

  • Sand and water play, finger paints, jigsaws, and wooden blocks.

  • Running, jumping, and climbing.

  • Kicking and throwing a ball.

  • Blowing bubbles.

  • Chasing and tickling games.

  • Dancing to encourage a sense of rhythm and coordination.

Language and senses
  • Things to read and look at: board books with large pictures and pages, illustrated food packages, and glossy magazines that include pictures of babies and toddlers will all appeal.

  • Things to write with: fat crayons and pencils, and plenty of paper (if you don’t want scribble on the walls).

  • Things that make noise: beans in sealed containers, wooden spoons, saucepans, flower pots, bells—the list is endless. Also, try making noises in unusual ways—for example, by shouting into a tube to create an echo. Make animal noises that your child can copy.

  • Toys that are bright colors and made of contrasting textures.

  • Nursery rhymes and action songs help develop language.

Make-believe and comfort
  • Toys to cuddle: so many to choose from, but there is often a favorite.

  • Make-believe toys: puppets and action rhymes, or funny, made-up rhymes and stories.

  • Toys that imitate you and your actions, such as brooms, tools, and telephones.

Cause and effect toys
  • Toys that light up or make a noise, for example, when a button is pushed—these help your toddler understand how her actions impact things.

Interactive games
  • Peekaboo will still be a favorite.

  • Hiding an object under a cup and finding it together.

  • Copying your actions and exaggerated facial expressions.

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