Your toddler learns as they play. It’s how they find out about how to do things and what works. You’ll also find it’s how they develop their communication skills. The Play Talk Read video clips highlight how playing can help your toddlers brain to develop.

It also helps them to burn off excess energy. Under 5’s should be active for three hours a day and play is a good way to achieve this! Physical activity is essential to help keep your child fit and healthy and encourage their heart, bones and muscles to grow.

Playing is also a way for you to use your imagination as much as your tot! The Play Talk Read website has lots of ideas for you both to play indoors and out. Your play@home toddler book has lots of ideas for fun games to play with items already in your home. You should receive this in the post, usually within 6 weeks of your child's first birthday.

Leave the pricey toys on the shelf

Playing is not about having the latest toy; it’s about spending time with your child. You’ve almost certainly got loads of things around your home that will be just as fascinating to your toddler as expensive toys. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Make some playdough – messy but great fun
  • Do some child-friendly baking – let them help you in the kitchen and do some baking
  • Set them a task like collecting 10 things in an empty shoe box.

It's also a good idea to rotate the toys they do have to avoid boredom. Toddlers don’t have a very long attention span and they soon get tired of the same ones. Putting a few toys away for a little while then bringing them out again at a later date can give them a new lease of life.

Your playbox ingredients

Here’s a quick start guide to some cheap and easy play-things for your toddler:

  • Dress-up clothes: transform some of your old clothes into a second hand shop.
  • Cardboard boxes from shopping: make masks and hats.
  • Catalogues, phone books and junk mail: cut out photos and words – stick these together to make collages.
  • Old sheets, towels and even your sofa cushions: transform your home into a moon landing or simply build a den for explorers.

Your playtime pay offs: how play is good for you and your toddler

  • You can help your kids to learn and develop new skills.
  • Your toddler grows in confidence and feels good about themself.
  • You’re encouraging them to exercise, improving their physical coordination and learn to get rid of their frustrations in a healthy way.
  • Your tot gets to meet, mix and share with other kids. You can get time to chat with other mums and dads and even have time to treat yourself.
  • You and your child can get closer and get to know each other as you play.

Tell me a story

All toddlers enjoy being read to, long before they can understand the story. They may want to look at the pictures and turn pages. The Play Talk Read website has short video clips to show how reading to your toddler can help develop their communication skills. Here’s some top tips for sharing books together:

  • Sit comfortable. Make sure you and your child are warm and cosy so you can throw yourselves into the story.
  • Read slowly, put lots of expression into your voice and use gestures, funny faces and voices and sound effects such as rain falling or cows mooing.
  • Involve your little one! Encourage them to look at the pictures, point to objects and get them to say who they think they are.

Ways to help your tot get the most out of TV

  • Help them understand what’s on screen. Explain anything that could prove difficult and encourage them to be an active viewer by asking questions. ‘What do you think is going to happen next?’ ‘Why do you think so-and-so did that?’ ‘What was your favourite part of the story?’ and so on. There are ways to talk to your tot that helps them – for example, getting down to their eye level – find more tips on how to speak to toddlers.
  • You’ll all get more out of mealtimes by chatting and bedtime with storytime if you can remove the TV from these situations.
  • Don’t allow TV to be a constant presence in the room. Turn it off when you are not watching it and play together instead. Turn it off at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Be firm with the amount of screen time your tot has, including TV and electronic games. Remember toddlers should have no more than two hours a day.

ASK AN EXPERT IN… Child psychology

"Children learn to talk because someone listens to them and replies. Try turning off the TV and the radio sometimes and look at some pictures together. Catalogues and magazines are fine. Children’s libraries are full of colourful picture books and are very friendly places for children these days. They’re even free!" Christine Puckering, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Glasgow University

  • Name what they can see, make animal noises and imitate what they do.

Christine Puckering, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Glasgow University

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Last updated: 11 December 2015
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