Playing it right

For toddlers, playing indoors and outside is as important as eating healthy food and fresh air. Playing is a core component of their development and, most important of all, it’s fun! Join in and help them make the most of it.

For your child, the years up to the age of 3 are all about discovering who they are and what they can (and can’t) do. Playing and experimenting is how children learn and develop. It also helps them to burn off excess energy.

Helping your child get the most out of play

You’re your child’s best toy. By encouraging play you’ll strengthen your relationship with your child. Kids love playing with parents, using them as the doctor or the horse.

Make the time

Spend time playing with your child each day, even if it’s only a short spell. This gives them a sense of their importance to you and makes for a happy child. Remember, playing isn’t about having the latest toy, it’s about spending time with your child and learning together as a family.

Put yourself in their shoes

Playing with your little one is a great way to get in touch with your inner child! Get down to their level, forget about being a ‘grown-up’ and let your imagination run free.

Choose the right toys

Different toys appeal to different age groups, and you can have fun choosing the best ones for your child’s stage of development.

Talk about it

Playing is one of the key ways in which your tot develops their language skills. When playing, talk to your child and take the opportunity to extend their vocabulary.

For example, if your child says, ‘It’s an aeroplane’ you can reply, ‘Yes, it’s an aeroplane. Shall we see if we can make it fly? Where do you think it’s going?’ That way they learn words and ideas about what aeroplanes do. Turn off background noise and be down at their level.

Let them explore

Allow your child to play at their own pace. Sometimes just sit quietly with them and notice what they are doing – perhaps say the things you can see such as, ‘I can see you have built a big tower there’. Let them take the lead.

Have a play corner

Find a space in your home where your little one can play safely and keep it as a safe, dedicated area free of grown-ups’ things and clutter. A corner of the sitting room or bedroom will do nicely.

Store toys where your child can see them

Keep toys at toddler eye-level where they are easy to get at. Shelves are better than boxes. Store things like bricks and puzzles in plastic boxes so the bits don’t get lost. Other good containers include plastic vegetable racks, filing trays or string bags.

Rotate toys to avoid boredom

Toddlers don’t have a very long attention span and they soon get tired of the same toys. Putting a few toys away for a little while and then bringing them out again at a later date can give them a new lease of life.

Give your child the chance to play with other kids

Playgrounds, nursery and toddler groups give your little one the chance to meet and mix with other children and start learning about relating to people outside the family.

How many toys?

Your toddler doesn’t need lots of bought toys. In fact, too many can be overwhelming. It’s better to buy a few carefully chosen playthings rather than a pile of cheap ones that break easily. Remember it is not about the cost of the toy, but about spending time joining in and playing with your child. Your play@home toddler book has lots of ideas for fun games to play with items already in your home.

Simple toys such as blocks are good value as they can be used in lots of different ways. You can also join a toy library or ask friends and relatives to get toys for birthdays.

Encourage your child to clear up

Even from an early age your tot can help you to tidy away after a play session. It can help ease them from one activity to another (for example, from playtime to bedtime) and helps teach tidiness and respect for belongings.

Tell me a story

All toddlers enjoy being read to, long before they can understand the stories. They may want to look at the pictures and turn pages at first. Reading to them helps develop their speech and language skills and can strengthen their bond with you. It helps develop their imagination and create a positive attitude towards books. Many toddlers will spend ages poring a book (and don't worry if they don't want to finish the story).

The Scottish Book Trust's Bookbug programme gives a free bag of books to every toddler between 12 and 24 months and another at the age of 3. Ask you health visitor, visit your local library or the bookbug website for more information.

A tactile Off to the Park book has been developed in consultation with children, families and organisations working with blind and partially sighted children and seeks to make reading accessible for all children. There is also an audio recording of this book as well as other tips and resources for sharing books with children with additional needs on the bookbug website.

Last updated: 15 April 2019