Play is your child’s work and is the way she learns all the skills she needs. If I had to categorise toddler play into three areas, it would be:

  • Free and imaginary play – this is in my mind the most vital form of play in the toddler years. Toys to encourage this type of play include props such as dress up clothes, dolls and plastic dinosaurs. Your toddler will develop language and creativity through imaginary free play.
  • Outcomes based activities such as puzzles – this is a vital part of learning experiences and you will need specific props such as Duplo, puzzles, play dough and sports equipment such as bats and balls. These activities usually require involvement of an older child or adult and guidance is needed.
  • Electronic and switch toys – while I do not think these have as much value as outcomes based activities and free play, I do understand that there is a time in all our days when we want to have our toddler entertained for a bit. These types of toys do some of the work for your toddler, encouraging engagement for longer. Use them with discretion.

My advice when it comes to providing the right opportunities for these types of play is:

Free play:

  • Create a box in each room with props for imaginary games
  • Take time out of your day to get onto the floor and model how to do imaginary play – once your toddler learns to do it, it will free up hours for you as she occupies herself.
  • Help her to make up a story with the props and ask questions to prompt play: “Where do you think the princess is going?”

Outcomes based activities:

  • Aim to set up one activity a day, where its play dough or a puzzle
  • Set aside time to show your toddler how to do the activity and be on call if she gets frustrated

Electronic toys:

  • Limit screen time and rather choose switch toys that have a language component