By Raising Children Network
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Your toddler is a robust little individual determined to explore and experience the world. With this determination comes the tendency to protest loudly against any restrictions you try to impose – after all, a toddler’s life is all about play!

Toddler concentrating on toy

Your toddler wants time to look at and try everything she sees. She’s in awe of the world, fascinated by everything from cracks in the cement to other people's front yards, leaves on trees and aeroplanes overhead. That’s why a walk to the letter box can sometimes take an hour!

At this stage, the word ‘no’ is bound to be met with opposition – your toddler can’t understand why you won’t let him do exactly what he wants, and he’ll let you know with confidence and volume. He doesn’t understand that you’re often just trying to keep him safe, and he doesn’t want anything to get in the way of his quest to find out how things work. 

Your toddler might be overwhelmed by all her new emotions, including frustration. Your reassurance, love and support are vital. Also, with all the noise, confidence and activity that accompany this age, it can be easy to forget that your toddler is still very much a baby.

Play is most valuable for your toddler when he gets the chance to lead. If you let your toddler take the reins, whenever it’s safe and possible to do so, he’ll benefit by learning to make decisions and draw on his imagination. Even though you’re taking a back seat, you can help him learn about language and concepts by providing a running commentary: ‘Oh, you’re riding your horse to the shops, are you?’

Repetition in play is extremely important for children, and your toddler will repeat things over and over. For example, she might spend ages putting things into containers, tipping them out, putting them back in then tipping them out again. This repetition is how your toddler masters skills and understands what to expect in certain situations.

Ideas for playing with your toddler

  • Your toddler will enjoy singing and reading with you. This expands your toddler’s knowledge of words and helps him learn to talk, as well as giving you both hours of enjoyment. The best picture books are those that can be read over and over, night after night. Pop-up and lift-the-flap books are also fun and full of surprises.
  • Your toddler will enjoy scribbling on paper – and on the walls, floor, fridge, your good books and the dog – with crayons, pencils and paints. You can expect her to put any pens within reach into her mouth, too.
  • Toddlers generally love playing with water, emptying and filling containers, playing with the hose, pouring water from a teapot into a cup or enjoying bath toys. Drowning is a major risk for toddlers, though, so watch him all the time during water play. Read more about keeping kids safe around water.
  • Messy play that lets your toddler explore new textures and sensations will delight her. Pottering in the garden or park will also provide endless play possibilities.
  • By the time your toddler is three, dress-ups, playing house, climbing and running will all be favourite activities.
  • Your toddler wants to see how things work. He’ll open and close drawers, up-end containers to investigate their contents, put toast in the DVD player, and post all sorts of objects into all sorts of holes to see what happens.

Speak to your healthcare professional if, by 18-24 months, your toddler isn’t interested in:

  • different kinds of play
  • exploring different objects and toys
  • sharing toys when playing with you.
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  • Last Updated 11-01-2011
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.