By Raising Children Network
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For toddlers, play is an essential part of learning. It’s how your child develops physical skills, self-esteem and confidence.

Toddler playing with a colander
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Your toddler is on a quest to find out how everything works. Curiosity drives her play and learning. If you say ‘no’ to her every time, it’s like pouring cold water on her natural curiosity.

Play is also one of the best ways for young children to find out about and express their feelings. There are some great ways to encourage your child to express his emotions – but keep in mind that play is mostly about having fun! 

From about 14 months, your toddler will play side-by-side with other children, but not always with them (this is called parallel play). By the age of three, he’ll be starting to play with others. Playing with other children helps your child build important social and life skills such as sharing.

In turn, being able to share helps toddlers and children make friends and play cooperatively.

Time to play and learn

Playing lets your child’s imagination run riot. By listening, looking, touching, tasting and smelling, she starts to learn about her world. Join in these fun games and you’ll be showing her that she’s loved and valued.

Learning at this age is a type of play and can be lots of fun:

  • ‘Touching bag’: put a variety of small objects into a bag. Ask your child to put his hand in and feel one. Is it warm or cold? Is it smooth or rough? Is it hard or soft? In doing this, you’re teaching your child to put words to objects and think about the names of different textures.
  • Building blocks: stacking and removing blocks can teach simple counting and maths skills.
  • Shakers: fill various plastic containers with sand, pebbles, rice and water. Give them a shake and discover the different sounds they make.

Reading with your toddler

Books open up amazing new worlds and experiences. Reading and storytelling with your child help her develop speech, imagination and even counting skills.

Well before your child learns to read and write, reading together also helps with building the foundations for literacy – the ability to speak, listen, understand, watch and draw.

And reading together can also become a much-loved ritual. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of story time with your child:

  • As you read the story, talk about what’s happening in the pictures. For example, ‘Look, it’s raining so he has his umbrella up!’
  • Ask him to identify things he knows in the picture. For example, ‘Where’s the emu on this page?’
  • You can introduce your child to numbers by counting objects in the pictures. For example, ‘How many children are there in the playground? One, two, three …’.
  • You can also just lose yourselves in the story.
The best picture books are those that stand up to reading over and over, night after night. Pop-up and lift-the-flap books are full of surprises. Your local library or bookshop might also be able to recommend some classic picture books. You can find more information on books and reading in our article on reading with your toddler.

Play ideas

Toys can kickstart your child’s play and support your child’s development. But choosing the right toys can be tricky. Homemade toys can be a great way to play without paying. They can keep children entertained, help them learn and grow, and really fire up the imagination.

Craft and creating
Nothing beats a stack of recycled paper, a paint pot and your toddler’s imagination. Finger painting, potato prints and brush painting are all fun. Your child will also enjoy scribbling with crayons and pencils (on paper, blackboards or whatever you fancy).

Water fun
In the bath or paddling pool, your child will love emptying and filling containers. But drowning is quick and silent, even in a small amount of water, so don’t leave him alone even for a moment.

Pretend play
By the time she’s three, your toddler might love dressing up in your old clothes, shoes and jewellery. She’ll enjoy playing house and creating her own world with a doll’s house or farmyard of animals.

Outdoor play
Climbing and running are favourite activities for older toddlers. But running means falling, so be prepared for occasional spills and tears. Sandpits can also provide hours of sifting and digging fun. You can read more about outdoor play.

Books and songs
Singing and reading expand your toddler’s vocabulary and help him learn to talk. He might love sharing a burst of ‘Incey Wincey Spider’ (try it out with our Baby Karaoke) or exploring the pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Discovery play
To see how things work, your child will open and close drawers, push buttons on the DVD player and ‘post’ all sorts of objects into all sorts of holes. To avoid saying ‘no’ to all this discovery play, remove access to valuable items. You might like to make up a box full of interesting things, like reusable stickers, shiny paper, stacking cups, a pop-up book, old cards, crayons, dominoes and a small peg puzzle. You can also sneak in some new items occasionally so she’ll get a surprise the next time she opens it.

Rough-and-tumble play
Most children love rough-and-tumble play and play fighting. It helps them understand their own strength and work out their social relationships.

Television and your toddler

When children watch television, they don’t see and experience the same things grown-ups do. When you understand the differences, it can help you make the most of TV time for your children.

Deciding whether a TV program, movie, computer game or website is good quality can be tricky. You can be guided by the age classification, and you can use your own judgment of whether it’s high quality, challenging and well made. You can also browse our child-friendly movie reviews for age recommendations and warnings.

It’s recommended that children under two should steer clear of the screen altogether. Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour of screen time a day. For more information about toddlers, TV and screen time, you can check out the following articles:

Video: Playgroups

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This short video features mums and dads discussing the benefits of playgroups, child care and preschool. You’ll hear information about how playgroups help children learn social skills, such as communicating, taking turns and sharing. Playgroups can also help meet your social needs as a parent.

Parents share strategies they use to settle their children into play and care outside the home. They also discuss their feelings about sending their children to child care and preschool.

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  • Newsletter snippet: Toddler play and learning: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Playtime is learning time for your toddler. When she plays, she’s exploring feelings and developing physical skills, self-esteem and confidence.

    Play ideas

    • Touching bag: place small objects in a bag to help your toddler put words to objects and discover the names of different textures.
    • Building blocks: stacking and unstacking can teach her simple counting and maths.
    • Shakers: fill plastic containers with sand, pebbles, rice and so on to help her discover different sounds.
    • Craft and painting: give your toddler recycled paper, some paint and crayons so she can finger paint, scribble or make potato prints.
    • Pretend play: have a collection of old clothes, shoes and jewellery so your toddler can play dress-ups.
    • Outdoor play: build a sandpit for hours of digging.
    • Books, stories and songs: sing and read together to help her learn to talk and build early literacy.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website,

  • Last Updated 15-02-2012
  • Last Reviewed 01-12-2011