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PARENTS CORNER • Last updated October 28, 2017

Toys Are the Textbooks of Toddlerhood

By Julie Loe, B.S., PTA, Director of Pediatic Services

For a young child, play is the means by which she learns about her world.

In this sense, play is the same as work for a young child. Children do not imitate the play of adults; they imitate the work of adults, such as domestic activities. Play is the major means by which a child educates herself about her world.

To rob a child of play, or provide inadequate play materials is to rob her of her major source of learning about life at this stage of her development.

rob-slide.jpg (4292 bytes) Robert learns to walk the slide while Mom looks on.

A toy could be defined as "anything your child likes to play with" — pots, pans, boxes, and so forth. Given this definition, what toys does your toddler need in her environment?

She especially needs toys that will help her develop large muscles by running, jumping, pounding, climbing, crawling, pulling, and carrying. A large box, balls of all sizes, and jungle gym apparatus are excellent choices.

One often-forgotten need is the dirt. A sand box is a great toy for children to play in, dig in, and just experience dirt.

Just as important as sand and dirt to the toddler is water. If you can display a relaxed attitude, let your toddler play with a container of water with her sand or dirt. If the mess repels you, then confine her water play to the bathtub. Otherwise, your negative attitude will likely be felt by your child and diminish her experience.

As a teacher, I tell all parents of toddlers, "If she is not dirty when you pick her up after school, she probably didn't have any fun!"

Indoors, your child needs toys and playthings that will aid in small muscle development: Bean bags, pegboard, hammering toys, large beads or buttons for stringing, simple puzzles, simple take apart toys, blocks, cars and trucks, books, and pull toys.

Sometimes adults think that it is not masculine for little boys to play with dolls or stuffed animals, but doll play is a positive aspect of a boy’s development. It encourages feelings of tenderness, care, and protectiveness. Dolls help all children work out important emotions and various aspects of family life.

Toys dealing with sounds and music are important at this stage. Toddlers like rhythm and playing with sounds. Pots and pans work well, as does a series of graduated tin cans.

rob-water.jpg (5201 bytes) Robert learns about his world -- water and all.

Your child is very impressionable at this age. Give her a wide variety of music to listen to. Standard children's favorites are very important and should be included. Help your child learn and participate in finger plays and songs.

Books should be a definite part of her play materials, too. I define "book" in a very broad sense. Remember to include catalogs, old magazine, and picture albums.

Read to your child. Reading will stimulate language and help her verbally label her environment.

By the time she is 18 months, will most likely be using some words. At this time though, she is still primarily attempting to understand what is spoken to her.

The number of words in her vocabulary at the end of toddlerhood can be greatly influenced by you. The rate of language development depends to a great extent on how much you have talked and played with her using language. No toy or computer could possibly be designed that could teach her as much about language as you!

It is unfortunate that many adults have forgotten how to play. For adults, play serves to counterbalance work time. For children, play is work, and serves to educate them about their world.

Let your child help you recapture the joy of PLAY!

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Last modified: October 28, 2017