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Your busy toddler: Games, toys and play in the second year of life

  • Playtime is an important part of your child's development.
  • Your toddler doesn’t need expensive or complicated toys.
  • As much as possible, avoid TV and other electronic media. Children learn best by interacting with people, not from screens.

When your baby becomes a toddler and starts walking, running and climbing, playtime becomes a whole new experience. As their physical abilities improve, children between 12 and 24 months are learning a wealth of other new skills: how to talk, play games, socialize, and make friends. Playtime is an important part of these developments.

  • Toddlers like to touch and explore. You can encourage curiosity by creating a safe home environment where you don’t have to say “no” all the time. By putting forbidden objects out of reach, you’ll have fewer confrontations. Outdoor spaces also offer great opportunities for children to learn about their world, with new and exciting things to experience, touch and discover. Always closely supervise your toddler in the outdoors
  • Toddlers are in constant motion, testing their new skills: walking, running, jumping, kicking and throwing. Be sure to build lots of outdoor playtime into daily routines, so that your child can develop these skills and stay active.
  • Toddlers want to climb. A safe way to encourage this skill, and to enjoy some fresh air, is at your local playground or park. Play structures should be age-appropriate and well maintained, with lots of sand or another safe surfacing underneath to cushion a fall. Supervise playground activities closely at all times, and stay within arm’s reach of your child on play equipment.
  • Toddlers want to do what they see others doing. Encourage your toddler to help around the house by giving him simple things to do—pick up toys, fold laundry, or sweep.
  • Toddlers are developing their imagination. By the end of the second year, your toddler will start to engage in pretend or imaginative play. She might incorporate household objects into playtime or make up little stories about her cars, trains, or dolls.
  • Resist the urge to always direct your toddler’s play.Sit back and observe, and let him come to you when he needs you. Watch, wait and wonder!

Toys for toddlers

Toys become more interesting now that your toddler is better able to handle them. Simple things like blocks, floating bath toys, your own pots and pans or empty plastic containers, often make the best toys. Toddlers are learning how things work, and experimenting with cause and effect. They are also fascinated by measuring and pouring.

Your toddler doesn’t need expensive or complicated toys. Toys that are safe and appealing to children this age include:

  • push-pull toys (with short pull cords)
  • safe ride-on toys that your child makes move with his feet
  • simple dolls or animals that can be dressed, especially with Velcro or snaps (watch for features or buttons that can be pulled loose)
  • simple puzzle boards with several pieces
  • toddler building toys
  • large cardboard boxes with doors and windows cut out for climbing and peering through
  • stacking and sorting toys, large plastic or wooden boxes with shaped holes and corresponding blocks
  • large soft balls to kick and throw
  • musical toys, like a drum or shakers
  • hand-sized cars, trains or trucks
  • a child-sized broom and dustpan
  • peek-a-boo scarves, which can also be used for wrapping a doll, to dance with, or as a superhero cape
  • workbenches, blocks, toy telephones
  • sand and water toys, such as a bucket, shovel, rake or sieve
  • bubbles: You’ll still need to blow the bubbles, but this simple activity encourages visual tracking (following the bubbles as they move through the air), cause and effect (pop!), and gross motor skills (chasing and reaching).

Art and language

Toddlers enjoy simple arts and crafts, like drawing with large crayons on blank paper, playing with clay, chalk and a chalkboard (or sidewalk), and painting with large paintbrushes.

Continue to use books in your toddler’s playtime and daily routines:

  • Have books available in different areas of your home and within easy reach of your toddler: on a low shelf or in a basket on the floor.
  • Toddlers enjoy books with simple rhymes and predictable text, with just a few words on each page. Books about saying goodbye and bedtime help with these transition times. Sturdy board books that are easy to carry around are best for toddlers.
  • As language skills develop, your toddler will participate more during storytime. When you read, point at pictures, ask “what's that?” and give your child time to answer. Or pause and let your child complete the sentence.

Music is an important and fun part of playtime. Encourage your children to clap, dance, and eventually sing along. Be sure to sing and dance along with them.

As much as possible, avoid TV and other electronic media. Children learn best by interacting with people, not from screens.

Making friends: Playdates

At 12 to 18 months, children usually begin to take part in “parallel play,” playing alongside (but not directly with) other children. Around 18 months, your toddler will start to notice other children and to interact with them more.

Inviting a friend to your home to play is a great way to encourage your toddler’s social and sharing skills. Here are some tips to make these first playdates positive experiences:

  • Schedule the playdate for a time of day when your toddler is likely to be in a good mood, such as the morning or right after a nap.
  • Keep playdates small and short, about an hour long. Invite just one friend at a time at first.
  • Toddlers have a short attention span. Plan a few fun activities and crafts that you can do together in a short period of time.
  • Toddlers haven’t yet learned to share. Put away your toddler’s favourite toys to reduce the chance of a conflict. If you have more than one of a favourite toy, then each child can have one.
  • Make sure that an adult is supervising children at play.
  • Don’t forget to serve a healthy snack!

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Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last Updated: October 2011