By the age of one your child is developing a lot of new skills. He’s starting to say his first words and by the age of two will be forming short sentences. He’s taking his first steps and is more mobile. He can now reach for things on his own, jump and run. Naturally these changes also reflect on your child’s play and interests.
Children at this age start using their play to make sense of their world and how things work. They’re on the first step to imaginative play and enjoy playing with real life objects like pots & pans, brooms, gardening tools etc. He’s also beginning to be good at things and with repetition your child eventually masters that skill and moves on to making it more complex. Toddlers start developing new cognitive concepts at this stage; they start differentiating sizes and noticing if objects are the same or different.
Make sure your child has a variety of toys and experiences. You don’t have to use fancy toys or many toys either.
- Give your child a safe environment so he can explore and practice his new skills freely. If you see your child doing something incorrectly, don’t be quick to interfere and show him the “right” way. Give him a chance to figure out how to do things or develop his own technique. The thinking process is just as important as the end result. At the same time make sure you are near in case your child asks for assistance.
- Blocks: are a great way to build simple math and counting skills. Children also develop their fine and gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination as they make their towers taller. They are also using their imagination to make a house, a zoo or table with the blocks.
- Buckets and boxes: children at this age love filling containers and dumping them. Make sure there is a designated space where this is acceptable. It’s fun for kids and helps build their motor skills.
- Colors and paints: you can make your own homemade paint with water/flour/food coloring so it’s baby-safe. Give your child different textures like cotton balls, glitter, tissue paper and pieces of cloth. Place a big paper for your young child on the floor or place it against the wall. Give him thick and thin brushes, rollers or sponges and watch him explore the textures and create their own art. It’s OK if it turns into an all-black painting in the end. Remember it’s all about the process! Your child is expressing himself which adds to his self-confidence and self-awareness. He’s exploring different textures and as a result learning about their similarities, differences and attributes. Some may be easier to stick than others for example or watching how red and yellow make orange! He’s also developing his motor and language skills as you ask him which color he wants, point to and label the different colors and materials. If you don’t want to make a mess indoors try doing it outside in your balcony or garden or place a bigger plastic tablecloth under our child indoors.
- Pretend play: provide your child with items that are similar to real life like hats, scarves, old clothes. He might enjoy dressing the dolls in some of his own old cloths not doll cloths. More ideas are wands, cowboy boots, fisherman’s hat or doctor’s kit. These help your child learn about the world by repeating real life situations in play and imagining different scenarios and outcomes.
- Books: are always useful in multiple ways! You can read with your child or let her read on her own. Toddlers are old enough to learn how to hold a book the right side up and put them back when they’re done. Your child can use stories (with your help) to make sense of new situations like having a new baby or going to preschool. It’s also a great way to look again and again and again at items that aren’t in our direct environment like animals, forests, or the sea.
A word about playing with others and sharing
Around 14 months children start playing side by side this is called parallel play. Although they may seem like they are playing together they are not. Their play may be influenced by each other and they may verbally or non-verbally swap items but they have not yet begun to play together. Real sharing and group play starts around the age of three. If your toddler isn’t sharing don’t be alarmed or embarrassed. You can try to give him another toy for a few minutes and tell him his turn is next. Make sure you give him his turn within a few minutes!
What about television?
The strong recommendation of renowned pediatric association and child experts is to give no TV time before the age of two because it takes away from real life experiences and in reality may delay children in cognitive and language skills. You can read more about TV here.
How much play is enough?
Children play almost all the time and in general besides sleep probably only stay inactive for about an hour a day. The American National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends at least 30 minutes of “structured” physical play which means it’s initiated and let by an adult such as when you dance or try an obstacle course with your child. And at least 60 minutes of free play where your child gets to do whatever he chooses on his own. It’s important to try to maintain a balance of dictating your child’s play and letting your child take the lead. You might still get to be the princess or prince in his imaginative play.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici