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Helping your toddler learn through play

Play is one of the main ways that your child explores the world.  

Play can really help to boost their brain development as well as help with their social and communication skills. 

When your child reaches toddler age they will start to play more and may start to include you in their play too. Playing together builds your relationship and lets them know that they are important to you. Showing children how to play with their toys is so important, we often expect them to be able to instinctively know how to play which might not be the case! 

It’s just as important for you to let them take the lead which will give them the confidence to keep learning and exploring and helps their creativity to grow. Often the games they play will be repetitive but this is helping them to learn. 

Toddlers are determined to try everything, even activities that might not be suitable for their age. They’re just trying to figure out how things work. Making sure you have a safe home environment will give them the freedom to explore without getting hurt. 

Here are some ideas you can use to get your toddler thinking and learning through play. 

Indoor play  

Children don’t need expensive toys to play with, they are often just as happy with some cardboard boxes, scrap paper or even pots and pans!  

Build towers out of toy blocks or even empty boxes – this helps with a child’s hand eye coordination. 

Messy play is an amazing experience for children to learn using all their senses! For example, put some dried pasta in a bowl which they can feel, touch, smell, listen as they move it around a bowl. 

A bowl of water (supervised at all times) can keep children amused for a long time, splashing and swirling the water, seeing if objects float or sink, you could even add a few drops of bubble bath as long as there is no skin sensitivity.  

Building dens with bed sheets draped across some chairs to create a teddy bears picnic in is always great fun! 


Children love singing! Even if we cannot hold a tune they love nothing more than hearing us singing to them. Singing with your toddler not only helps their speech and language communication but also their hand-eye co-ordination when you add actions to the songs. 

Nursery rhymes tend to be simple and repetitive and your toddler will start to pick up the actions and even the occasional word.  

Lots of different nursery rhyme videos can be found online in many different languages too. 

Outside play 

Going for a walk and playing simple ‘stop-start’ walking and running games are a great way of getting some fresh air and exercise too. Talk about your surroundings – looking at the clouds, trees, counting birds or dogs, to make your walk more interesting. 

Drawing some shapes on the ground with chalk so children can jump between them is fun – they can also get creative with the chalking too!  

Take a ball to an open space to kick, throw and roll to each other. 

As your child gets older they may want to collect sticks and leaves  you can talk to them about their texture and size and perhaps make a creation with them back at home!   

When were able to mix more with other people again, the local Children’s Centres will hopefully be able to reopen their ‘Stay and Play’ sessions for babies, toddlers and pre-school children. These sessions are so valuable for children learning to play through watching other children, and experiencing toys and activities which may not always be possible at home. It’s also a great opportunity for parents and carers being able to have a chat with other grown-ups. 

The NSPCC have some really useful tips and ideas on their ‘Look, Say, Sing, Play’ programme which is available on their website for all parents and carers. And check out our other blogs on play across different ages.

About the author

Sharleene Wilcox is a Community Nursery Nurse