Your toddler is keen to explore, experience and learn about the world. She does this through play and interactions with others. You can help your toddler learn and develop with our toddler play ideas and toddler games.

What to expect from toddler play

Your toddler wants time to look at and try everything he sees. He’ll stop to look at cracks in the cement, wander into other people’s front yards, or pick handfuls of flowers. That’s why a walk to the letter box can sometimes take an hour!

Your toddler also wants to see how things work. She’ll open and close drawers, turn containers upside down to check out their contents, put toast in the DVD player, and put all sorts of objects into all sorts of holes to see what happens.

By the time she’s three, ‘pretend’ games like dress ups and playing house are likely to be favourite activities. This type of imaginative and creative play also helps your toddler express and explore new emotions she might be feeling at this age, like frustration, sadness and anger.

At this age, your toddler is learning the power of words – especially the word ‘no’. He often won’t like it when you tell him ‘no’, especially when he’s busy playing and exploring. He can’t understand that you might just be trying to keep him safe. Sometimes you might find your ‘no’ coming straight back at you.

If you let your child take charge with toddler games whenever it’s safe and practical, it teaches her about making decisions and using her imagination. When your child is leading, you can ask questions about what she’s doing or wants to do – for example, ‘Oh, you’re riding your horse to the shops, are you?’

Toddlers are full of energy – they run, reach out and express their active imaginations. With all this activity going on, it’s a good idea to make your home safe for your child to play and explore in.

Repetition in play is extremely important for children, and your toddler will repeat things over and over. For example, he might spend ages putting things into containers, tipping them out, putting them back in, and then tipping them out again. This repetition is how your toddler masters skills and understands what to expect in certain situations.

Toddler play ideas and toddler games

Play is not only fun – it’s also how children learn. You’re still the best toy for your toddler to play with – and the best toddler games still have you playing a very important part.

Here are some tips for toddler play:
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes: your toddler will enjoy singing with you – and she won’t care if you’re singing out of tune! Our Baby Karaoke can help you get started.
  • Read with your toddler: reading expands your toddler’s knowledge of words and helps him learn to talk. The best picture books are the ones you can read over and over. Pop-up and lift-the-flap books are fun and full of surprises. Let your child choose favourite books to read. As you’re reading, ask questions like ‘What happens next?’ Or get your child to join in with the story and repeat words.
  • Give your child things to draw with: your toddler will enjoy scribbling on paper – and on the walls, floor, fridge, your good books and the dog – with crayons, pencils and paints. You can expect her to put any pens within reach into her mouth too.
  • Try water play: let your child empty and fill containers, play with the hose, pour water from a teapot into a cup or enjoy bath toys. Remember that constant supervision is the only way to keep your child safe around water.
  • Try messy play: for example, play with sand or mud lets your toddler explore new textures and sensations.
  • Go outside with your child: outdoor play, like pottering in the garden or park, offers endless play possibilities. It also gives your child the chance to climb, run and be active. 
Speak to your child and family health nurse or GP if, by 18-24 months, your toddler isn’t interested in different kinds of play, exploring different objects and toys, or sharing toys when playing with you.

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Last updated or reviewed
05-02-2016

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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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