Creative Play for Toddlers
Two-year-olds love to imitate their parents. Play tools or kitchen items, a toy phone or pretend computer will stimulate elaborate pretend creative play. Children also like to help mom and dad, so give them a broom or rake that’s just their size when they want to work alongside you. Pretend play also blossoms during these years. A farm with animals, toy cars and streets, and playing with dolls are great ways for children to enjoy creative play. On the artistic front, older toddlers and preschoolers are ready to express their creative side through markers, crayons and paper. Scribble drawings will soon progress into recognizable pictures. Be sure to display these on the refrigerator door. Active play becomes more daring in the preschool years and children search for fun and adventure. It’s time to zoom around on a tricycle and engage in more daring climbing and jumping creative play. As your child’s confidence and language skills grow, it becomes easier to play cooperatively with family members. Simple games will offer chances to teach patience, taking turns and counting. With advanced thinking skills, preschoolers become interested in mechanical toys that “do something.” Fantasy creative play grows more complex as children get older. Costume clothes, hats, capes, vests and various props add details to a child’s play scenario. Artistic creations become more advanced with clay, paint, scissors and glue the older the child gets. Building with interlocking plastic or wooden blocks continues to be a favorite activity, combining imagination with thinking, planning, and advance hand coordination. Preschoolers will begin to discover friendship and will learn to play cooperatively with other kids their age. Reading books takes on a whole new meaning as children can now understand story lines and appreciate pictures more.
Gross Motor Development
From this time on, your child’s more daring play will try your nerves. Climbing, jumping and balancing skills all progress faster than you perhaps would like. Riding toys become faster and more daring. Safety is an issue, but allowing exploration and trial and error is also important. A child’s abilities in sports and ball play will progress and become more fun and challenging. Here are some ways you can promote these gross motor skills through creative play:
- Providing a safe play environment is important. A small indoor play structure with a ladder and slide on soft carpet or padding is just the thing for your older toddler to perfect his climbing and balancing skills.
- Allowing your child to explore and test his motor skills helps build self-esteem and confidence. Keep it safe without being too restrictive.
- Cheering your child on during ball play and other active games lets her know you are involved and encourages her to test her abilities and take chances.
- Tricycles and other riding toys are a perfect opportunity to teach “safety first” with helmets and pads. Reinforce these rules throughout childhood so they really sink in.
- Take your child outside as often as possible to keep him active and exercising.
- Instead of sitting and watching, join your child on the playground and swing, climb and slide together. This makes children feel important and connected to parents.
- Teach your child skipping and hopping games to enhance their coordination.
Fine Motor Development
Artistic skills using various materials will improve to varying degrees throughout the next few years. As your child learns to build, creative play will advance using more complex toy blocks and sets. Children become more able to take care of their own needs, and will try to “do it myself” more and more. Here are some ways you can promote these fine motor skills through creative play:
- Your older toddler will become more skilled with fingers and hands. Buttons, zippers, snaps and shoelaces are great skills you can work on together everyday. A dress up doll with these features is a helpful learning toy.
- A creative picnic or tea party is a great way for your preschooler to practice pouring and utensil skills without risking too much mess at the dinner table. Let your child take part in these special lunch times together each day to stay connected.
- Toy musical instruments continue to be a great way for children to perfect their hand and finger coordination. Join in and sing along together.
- Teaching rhythm is an important part of learning about music and song. Clap different beats together to help develop your child’s sense of rhythm. Drums and other toy instruments make this even more fun.
- Your growing child will become more adept at various forms of art using different materials and tools. Frequent art projects together are great fun and will exercise your child’s creative mind.
- Your preschooler’s expert hands will love building with more advanced blocks and interlocking plastic sets. Joining your child in this type of creative play builds his sense of importance and confidence.
Social and Cognitive Development
Pretend play is the hallmark of the preschooler years. This will advance from simple imaginative toy play into more creative play with fantasies involving costumes and acting out stories. Children begin to take part in organized game play with rules. Social interaction with family and close friends blossoms during these years as your child learns names and develops more relationships. Self-help skills such as brushing teeth, dressing, combing hair and eating will all become a part of daily life for your child. Here are some ways you can promote your child’s social and cognitive skills through creative play:
- Older toddlers love to imitate their caregivers. Pretend grown-up toys like phones, tool sets, toy kitchen items and more help your child feel they are part of your world.
- Car rides are a great time to interact with your kids. Singing songs or nursery rhymes, pointing to police cars and fire trucks, or just asking questions and talking together will help you stay connected.
- Fantasy play is a favorite for kids, and a great way for you to join in the fun. Provide plenty of costume clothes and props and watch your child’s creativity soar.
- Pretending to be a favorite animal is a classic creative play game for kids. Show off your own role-playing animal skills to thrill and entertain your children.
- Younger preschoolers like to imitate older siblings. Let your child join in various day-to-day activities such as packing his own pretend lunch, going to pretend school, and joining in on art projects and pretend “homework”.
- Your child will want to start taking care of himself such as brushing teeth, combing hair and dressing. Make these everyday tasks more fun by doing them together as a family. Your child will thrill to do these “just like mommy, daddy and big sister.”
- Preschoolers will begin to enjoy organized games. These are perfect for teaching counting skills, colors, numbers, and the ever-frustrating concepts of rules and taking turns.
- Flip through family photo albums together to help your child become acquainted with extended family members. Play the point and name game as you go.
Beyond age two, children begin putting words together into sentences of increasing length. Speech becomes more and more clear over the next few years. Children learn simple counting and will proudly practice this as often as possible. Singing and reciting nursery rhymes is a favorite preschool game. Eventual progression to letters and numbers will occur all too soon as your child approaches school age. Here are some ways you can promote your child’s language skills through creative play:
- Reading together every day continues to be one of the best ways to enjoy quiet togetherness with your child. Nursery rhymes and other simple stories are perfect for younger preschoolers, while older kids will begin to understand and appreciate more involved stories.
- Learning colors is an exciting milestone. As you interact with your child throughout the day using colorful toys and picture books, keep asking your child to point out the various colors. Comparing the colors on your child’s clothes to your own or a favorite doll helps reinforce this learning.
- Numerous toys can be used to teach counting. Begin counting blocks, small balls, stacking cups and other toys as you sit and play together.
- Counting body parts is also a fun way to play and interact with your child while teaching at the same time. Incorporate a favorite doll or animal toy and count the eyes, ears, fingers and toes together.
- Your child will begin to recognize letters and numbers. Blocks with these symbols on them are a perfect beginning tool for introducing this concept. Books and flash cards also work well.
- Plastic letters and numbers for the refrigerator or in the bath are fun to use. Start by spelling your child’s name to catch his interest.
- Play the “how many” game together throughout the day. Point to various objects around your child and ask her to count them. This works great for colors as well.
|5 Main Developmental Play Stages|
|All hands & mouth – Birth to 3 mo.|
|Reaching & rolling – 4 to 6 mo.|
|Baby on the move – 6 to 12 mo.|
|Active play – 12 to 24 mo.|
|Creative play – 2 years and up|
|Main Developmental Milestones 2 years and up:
One-on-one creative play will help your baby progress through these stages.
Dr. Sears’ Top Creative Play Tips for 2 Years and Up
- Find teachable moments throughout the day – great for counting and colors
- Provide plenty of costumes and props for creative fantasy play