toddler play ideas

Toddler play ideas

Try these ideas to have some fun with your toddler and help her learn at the same time.

Your toddler is on a quest to find out how everything works. Curiosity drives her play and learning. If you say ‘no’ to her every time, it’s like dampening down her natural curiosity. Play is also one of the best ways for young children to find out about and express their feelings.

There are some great ways to encourage your child to express his emotions – but keep in mind that play is mostly about having fun! From about 14 months, your toddler will play side-by-side with other children, but not always with them (this is called parallel play). By the age of three, he’ll be starting to play with others. Playing with other children helps your child build important social and life skills such as sharing.

Time to play and learn

Playing lets your child’s imagination run riot. By listening, looking, touching, tasting and smelling, she starts to learn about her world. Join in these fun games and you’ll be showing her that she’s loved and valued.

Learning at this age is a type of play and can be lots of fun:

  • Sensory bag: put a variety of small objects into a bag. Ask your child to put his hand in and feel one. Is it warm or cold? Is it smooth or rough? Is it hard or soft? In doing this, you’re teaching your child to put words to objects and think about the names of different textures.
  • Building blocks: stacking and removing blocks can teach simple counting and maths skills.
  • Shakers: fill various plastic containers with sand, pebbles, rice and water. Give them a shake and discover the different sounds they make.

Get messy

Lots of fun can be had with a stack of recycled paper, a paint pot and your toddler’s imagination. Finger painting, potato prints and brush painting are all fun. Your child will also enjoy scribbling with crayons and pencils (on paper, blackboards or whatever you fancy).

Toddler play tips

1. Give your toddler time to play every day.

2. Have interesting and safe things to play with. Items like boxes, spoons, empty food containers, and clothes can be more fun than bought toys, and cost less.

3. Join in the play. Get down on the floor or grass and play together.

4. Make space for play. For example, have a place in the kitchen or bedroom and outside where your toddler can get toys easily and store them away.

5. Talk to your child about what he/she is playing: for example, I had great fun when we played with the garage. What did you like best about it?

6. Tell your childminder or the staff in your child’s crèche about the games, activities, nursery rhymes and books your toddler enjoys.

Creative play

1. Provide chunky crayons, paper and card, old magazines, a blackboard and chalk, non-toxic paint and chunky paintbrushes, play-dough, and safety scissors. Doing an activity together is as important as the finished creation!

2. Paint pictures together; make pasta necklaces; stick cuts-outs from magazines onto card to make a collage.

3. Make a sand or water tray (an old baby bath) or set your child up at the kitchen sink on a steady, safe chair. Give him/her plastic jugs and bottles, stones, spoons, sieves, a small watering can, funnels, and toy boats. Play together. For example, see what happens to water when you put it in a sieve. Have a water fight outside!

4. Make musical instruments from everyday objects, for example two biscuit tin lids can be cymbals or two paper plates stuck together with pasta inside can be a tambourine. March while singing songs and nursery rhymes.

Credit for above advice on toddler play tips and creative play: Aistear, the new curriculum framework for children from birth to six years shows how important play is for toddlers and gives lots of ideas for playing with your child. For more information on Aistear, visit

More like this:

8 ways to display kids artwork
Playful learning
How to play with your toddler

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.



Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.