Babies and toddlers love to play! Sometimes it seems like they want to play all day!  This can be overwhelming and challenging for a parent/caregiver, especially when you many have things to do throughout the day.  So why is it so important for young children to play?

A child’s “job” is to play, and this is the way a child learns. During play time, infants/toddlers learn many life skills.  Some of these skills are:

  • Bonding and attaching to important adults
  • Talking/learning language and communication
  • Relating to other children and adults
  • Tolerating frustrations
  • Spending time by himself/herself
  • Solving problems
  • Making eye contact
  • Sharing and taking turns
  • Waiting
  • Learning to use their hands (fine motor skills) and bodies (gross motor skills)
  • Having fun, delighting, laughing

You can be your child’s first toy – singing, playing games (Peek a Boo; Row, Row, Row Your Boat), imitating each other, smiling, and taking turns. Here are some tips for playing with your little one:

  • Follow your child’s lead. Notice her interests. Let the child show you how she wants to play with a toy, build, play a game, do arts & crafts, or play with figurines/dolls.
  • Get on your child’s level. Sit on the floor or at eye level with your child.
  • Be patient. Show your child how to use a toy (e.g., stack blocks), and give the child time to imitate what you do. Also, give your child time to explore a toy before problem solving for her.
  • Read your child’s signals (cues). Your child might not be able to use words to tell you if he is enjoying an activity. Observe your child to see if he smiles, giggles, cries, looks away, points to something else, or grunts. This will help you determine if he is having fun or needs to move on to another activity.
  • Try it over and over. Children will play, use a toy, or engage in an activity over and over. This is how your child understands how something works, learns new skills, and masters new abilities. While this might be boring or frustrating for an adult, your child will learn confidence, determination, and independence.
  • Check the environment. Does the child have a safe area in which to play? Are the lights too bright, noises bothering him, or the television distracting him?
  • Have fun! Try to relax into being on your child’s level and having sacred time to enjoy each other’s company.

If you would like help in learning how to play with your infant or toddler, please contact your pediatrician, child care provider, or home visitor.

By, Sarehl Lomme