A Few Secrets about Playing with Toddlers
How do you play with a toddler?
I have to tell you a secret about playing with my toddler- a few actually.
First off, even though she’s my third child sometimes it still feels awkward to sit and play with my current toddler. I have a hard time letting go of the million busy items I need to do and just sitting. My brain starts firing away with “Well what will I DO?”
I get bored. And then I feel bad for feeling bored!
I did ask for ideas from the Facebook page this time around and came up with this “bucket list” of Toddler Activities, which has been helpful. Honestly though, I think that it’s perfectly natural to be bored from time to time, in fact I was just reading another article about unstructured play and that was one of her tips- it’s ok to get bored.
But here are my other secrets to playing with a toddler. Here’s what I do!
2 Secrets to Playing with Toddlers
1st secret to play: I start doing something that I know my toddler is likely to to get interested in like.
So if I’m sitting with my toddler and start to feel bored or unsure I might try:
- Stacking something
- Lining up objects
- Repeating- an action or phrase, making it into a joke
- Wearing something (anything) as a hat
Sure, if we had all the planning and organizing time in the world, we could set up loads of interesting play activities for our toddlers, but the plain truth about toddlers is that they’re BUSY and that makes us BUSY, and tired, and generally behind in keeping up with the mess maker we love. The other truth is the activities toddlers love best are usually very simple.
Often, our moments for play and connection come without warning, we just have a lull in our day, or we’re waiting at a restaurant or doctor’s office.
Want some short hand so you can always think of something to do with your toddler at these times? I have four easy to remember words:
Sort – Stack – Smash – Stash
- Sort blocks into piles- talk about colors or sizes, sort buttons into cups or legos into stacks. Or try sorting silverware into the tray together.
- Stack anything- blocks, yogurt cups, boxes, rocks
- Smash down the tower you just built, smash play dough and crumple paper, smash an old box by stepping on it, smash a sand castle or pile of dirt.
- Stash blocks in a bucket, bits of paper into an old baby wipes container, a ball in a purse. Stash one thing into another and then it can be carried somewhere (Ooh, happiness for a toddler is toting things from one place to another!)
Those are my SSSSuper words 😉 that I remember so that I always have something to do with my toddler! Frequently if you begin one of these games, as if you are super interested in doing it yourself, your toddler will be happy to take over for you.
2nd secret of play: I get curious.
I’m with my toddler at the park and maybe feeling a bit aimless, so I look at her, just look and think, “I wonder what she’s up to? I wonder what she’s trying to do?”
I might start copying her movements and talking about it like, “Oh I see you’re stomping in that snow!” ::stomp::stomp:: “Oh, it looks like you’re making a big flat patch here.” ::stomp::stomp::
By joining what she’s doing I give approval to her exploration of the world.
It’s not complicated. I’m not trying to teach her about the properties of snow. (She’s learning that all on her own.) I’m just describing what we’re doing, getting curious about what her aim is and seeing if I can join in. She’s a toddler- her drive to learn about the world will take her where she needs to go.
All I need to do is follow her lead.
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Is it just me or does the kid in this picture look like Cal?
Mamie Dawson Rudd
Good article! I already do most of these things with Binty
Mamie Dawson Rudd
Slow down and enjoy. It is really hard sometimes but they are only little for a moment.
We spent half an hour yesterday rolling a bead back and forth on a baking tray… she was fascinated. If I’m bored by the activity I always try to be interested in her fascination with it. Thanks for the reassurance that boredom is normal 🙂
Kyla great read
Thank you! I so needed this today 🙂
Larissa, I completely agree. We mostly follow the RIE philosophy (check out The book “Baby Knows Best” ) Just sitting and watching my toddler is fascinating. Letting my toddler have extended play time and not getting in the way of his play is what I do. I pretty much only engage if he invites me. Sometimes it’s quite dizzying watching parents constantly stimulating their children – not letting them make their own choices in play — this is also exhausting for the caregiver/parent. I find if I’m getting bored, I need to get to a different space/environment with my toddler.
Julie - Ladybug's Spots
So simple, perfect!
I love playing with toddlers
I have a different approach. To say “I got bored” by watching or sitting along with a toddler, makes me think that the adult does not see the importance of independent playing or playing. To us might be boring to watch a toddler play but really there is a lot of brain development going on here. And by us sitting next to a toddler playing without necessarily engaging, we are saying, “I enjoy what you are doing” “you are important to me, so I sit and watch because I want to spend time with you” I am a nanny and I usually just sit next to the child and observe, and only engage IF the child invites me to his game or to whatever he is doing, but as this article states, I limit myself to narrate what I see not necessarily making any action, I also do not suggest toys or games the child takes the lead when it comes to play.
Children when playing do not need our approval, if we praise too much, they will grow up always seeking the applause or approval, the inner motivation to do it or to be curious will be lost. Also NO teaching on how to play. “When we teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering by himself” JPiaget
I just went to a parent ed class for my daughter’s co-op last night and we were talking about play ! I love seeing parents who are new to these ideas light up – thank you for this post.
Thanks for the post. Glad to know I’m not the only one thinking that I should be using this play time to “teach” him something..instead just go with it and PLAY
Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas
ah, yes! Toddlers live in their own world and it is hard to “visit” sometimes. I remember those days, vividly. Thankfully, I too would catch myself and say – ok, let’s spice this up! Let’s see what we can do. Toddlers are so curious, if we allow them to explore – there really is ton to watch as they “work”.
The Iowa Farmer's Wife
Great post Alissa! it does get boring every now and then, and these are some great tips!
Katey (Having Fun at Home)
Great post! I really agree with #2. Some of my best interactions with toddlers have begun when I start a sentence, “I wonder…”
Krissy @ B.Inspired Mama
Thanks so much for your honesty! I feel so guilty when these feelings creep up. But your tips are so great! My Priscilla is 3 now, ans she constantly wants me to interact with her and her dolls and Barbies. It drives me nuts sometimes. So when I’m out of ideas, I just ask her and her dolls to put on a “show” for me. That way I can be a passive observer in her imaginative play. And I just give her applause or ask questions here and there.
I got so bored at the playground today, so I encouraged my 17mo daughter to walk through the nature-y part of our NYC park instead. She (and I!) had much more fun exploring trees, plants and twigs which climbing up and down hills much more than climbing on the jungle gym.
Great post Alissa!
I have a post in my drafts titled, “I’m bored.” I’m so happy to know I’m not the only one! Thanks for these simple and thoughtful suggestions.