From the moment they wake up to the time they go to sleep, toddlers are busy at play. Playtime is not just fun, but the right games can give your toddler’s physical, emotional and cognitive skills a boost. Here’s how you can encourage meaningful play.

The period of development from 3-6 years of age is extremely important for your child, as this is a time when their language, motor, comprehension and analytical skills will be steadily improving through their play activities. At this age, your child will be full of energy and learning to run, jump, skip, climb and generally be as physically active as they can. Their developing coordination skills mean that they are learning how to throw and kick a ball, with the result that they are starting to become more involved in play activities with others. Passing the ball back and forth introduces them to concepts of taking turns. Teaching them to catch and showing them how they can kick teaches them about following instructions.
This is the stage when parallel play gives way to shared play, although parents need to be aware that there is the potential for tears when playmates get together – sharing is a social skill that takes time to develop.

Playing outdoors

Your child’s understanding of the world outside the family home is now coming on in leaps and bounds, so time spent outdoors is very rewarding for them as they explore their expanding environment and develop their gross motor skills. As the size of your child’s world grows, their senses will be coming to terms with sights, sounds, smells and tastes that they have never experienced before. Splashing in puddles or picking up handfuls of sand to run through their fingers allows them to make sense of nature and explore new textures. Games for two or more people outside are popular. In addition to catching and kicking a ball, fun activities such as hide and seek. Or playing on rope swings, seesaws and monkey bars teach about spatial awareness and encourage thought processes and problem solving.


Toys that teach, encourage expression and fuel the imagination

The most appropriate toys at this stage of your child’s development are ones that teach about cause and effect, promote eye-hand coordination and help problem solving. Simple puzzles encourage thinking – rewarding your child when they manage to solve these will stimulate their sense of achievement. Building blocks provide for a range of possibilities and promote imagination. Crayons, paintbrushes allow for early artistic expression and experimentation with colours, even if this is limited to simple back and forth strokes at first. Simple musical instruments, such as drums and keyboards, are satisfying sound generators that reinforce the idea of cause and effect and stimulate early musicianship.

During the pre-school years a child’s play activities are heavily influenced by their imagination and by their interaction with their peers within their social group. Pretend play at this stage is a popular pastime and the interactions necessary to participate effectively in these types of make-believe and fantasy activities promote language development and social skills. Physically active role playing develops coordination and motor skills. The best toys for pre-schoolers are ones that encourage the development of these important skills. Toys that can be used as ‘props’ for a child’s imaginative play are ideal. These can be fancy dress costumes for dressing up (such as nurse, doctor, police or superhero costumes), medical kits, tool sets, dolls, model cars, action figures and animals. Toys that make a connection with the child’s experiences of the world have the best potential for dramatic play.

The pre-school child’s fine and gross motor skills will be improving every day and they will be developing a comprehension of their current limitations and their future abilities. They may be keen to sit in the family car’s driver’s seat to practice turning the steering wheel in a make-believe journey down the road. Buying them a bicycle with stabiliser wheels will introduce them to a new skill that they can understand, with the practice enhancing their balance and coordination until they are proficient enough for the stabiliser wheels to be removed.

Board games for the pre-schooler, such as Snakes and Ladders reinforce the concepts of taking turns, sharing with others and winning and losing. Books should contain both pictures and words to encourage language development, as well as scenarios featuring addition and subtraction to promote mathematics skills. Creative abilities should be given free rein through the use of paints, crayons, modelling clay and papier-mâché, with children encouraged to experiment and express themselves however they want.

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