1. Toddlers
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  3. Play & toddler development

Imagining, creating and play: toddlers

1-3 years

Your toddler is exploring the world in imaginative and creative ways. Here are play ideas and creative activities to support and boost toddler imagination and creativity.

About toddler play and imagination

Your toddler is like a little scientist – observing, making connections, testing ideas and solving problems. He uses his imagination and creativity to experiment and better understand himself and the world he lives in.

Your child learns through play.

What to expect as your toddler’s imagination grows

Dressing up and pretend play start at around 15-18 months. Your toddler will enjoy pretending to be a grown-up, using props like old clothes and hats. For example, she might imagine she’s driving a bus or serving in a shop.

Your toddler learns by copying what others do – especially you or older children. For example, by the time your toddler is two years old he might pretend to cook dinner using leaves and grass he’s found in the backyard. Or he might say things like ‘You be baby, I’m mum’ or ‘I go to work, bye bye’.

At the same time, your toddler will also start creating her own pretend play stories and games. These might be from books you’ve read together or experiences she’s had, like seeing a monkey at the zoo.

Music of all sorts can have your toddler imagining fantastic things like flying or floating in space. And he’ll express himself by singing, dancing and moving to his favourite songs and rhymes.

At this age, your toddler will probably also enjoy messy play. Digging sand, building with mud or squeezing paint between fingers and toes will all be popular activities.

Your toddler might enjoy playing and splashing in the bath too. She might test what her toys can do by pouring water from one to another, dunking them underwater – or using them to empty the bath! Remember to always supervise your child around water. Toddlers are naturally curious and often fearless, so they’re at particular risk of drowning.

You’ll see your child expressing his imagination and ideas in all kinds of creative ways. Find out what to expect from toddler creative development and get some ideas for creative activities to do with your toddler.

Play ideas and creative activities to encourage toddler imagination

Play, especially open-ended play, allows your toddler to decide what to do and how to do it. You can try the following activities to encourage your toddler to put her imagination into action. It’s good to follow your toddler’s lead with most of these activities:

  • Read books and tell stories together about wonderful places and creatures. Talk about the stories with your toddler or ask him what he thinks might happen next.
  • Recite nursery rhymes using our Baby Karaoke and encourage your toddler to make up her own actions to songs.
  • Look up! Describe the different things you see in the sky – the moon, stars and clouds are fascinating to your toddler. 
  • Make some sounds and rhythms with homemade or bought musical instruments. You can also borrow CDs from your local library or search online for different styles of music. Perhaps try Kinderling Kids Radio, which plays a range of family-friendly songs. 
  • Scribble with crayons and paper, and let your toddler draw from his imagination. Give your toddler time to play outdoors. This could be a walk in the park, on the beach or anywhere with new sights and sounds that will inspire your toddler.
  • Set up water play. A bucket of water with bubbles and a few plastic cups are all your toddler needs. Always supervise your toddler for safe fun with water.
  • Set up a special play space within your home. This can be as simple as draping a table cloth over two chairs or cutting an opening into the side of a large cardboard box. Add some dress-up clothes or a pile of blocks to encourage your toddler to come up with stories and games.
All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s play development, it’s a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP.

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Last updated or reviewed
16-02-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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