Aah, toddlers and their blossoming imaginations, where a wooden block is a slice of pizza, and a shoe can be a phone. If you’re the parent of a 2 to 3 year old, you’ll know firsthand that your child’s interests and skills are developing at a dizzying rate, and that everything they see, hear and experience in a day fuels their creativity and play.
And play is, of course, how they learn. Here are the key play areas your 2 to 3 year old is focused on, with some useful tips on how to help them learn as much as they can in each area.
Pretend play that enriches toddler creativity
Not only will your toddler mimic what they see in everyday life, they’ll also learn to play with objects symbolically, so that a frisbee becomes a donut, or a banana becomes a phone.
Encourage pretend play by being part of their imaginary world – answer that banana phone, ask questions about the bus route they’re taking their passengers on, and place an order at their diner.
Provide them with pretend play toys, such as dolls, pretend groceries, toy cars and trucks, building blocks, or accessories for dressing up.
1 Simmer and Serve Cookware Set, 3 years+ ($17.99) 2 Delicious Deli Slicing Playset, 3 years+ ($17.99) 3 Heroic Knights Castle Blocks, 12 months+ ($22.99) 4 Double-Decker Tour Bus, 18 months+ ($36.99) 5 Back To School Bus Playset, 18 months+ ($24.99) 6 Pretty in Pink Stroller, 3 years+ ($39.99).
Play ideas for toddler problem-solving
Toddlers can be quite persistent in finding a solution to a problem, for example, turning a shape this way and that, experimenting until it fits perfectly into its slot.
From the age of 2, memory becomes a useful new tool in problem-solving. They’ll remember, for instance, what mom did to make a pull-back car move forward, and mimic it. This is the perfect time to introduce concepts like sorting and matching, and age-appropriate toys like chunky puzzles and shape sorters.
This age represents an enormous leap forward in thinking – “Why?” is probably the question you’ll hear most often. This is because your child has started to make logical connections (“We eat to grow”, “On rainy days we need an umbrella”), and you can help this along by asking them “Why?” too – “Why is the bus going that way?” “Why are the leaves falling off the trees?”.
Not only will this challenge your toddler’s thinking skills, it will show them how to be part of a conversation, build their verbal skills, and show that their ideas and answers are important to you.
1 Little City Match ‘n Stack Nesting Blocks, 3 years+ ($19.99) 2 Pull-Back Derby Racers (3-Pack), 3 years+ ($13.99) 3 Developmental Wooden Bead Maze Game, 4 months+ ($17.99) 4 Chunky Exotic Safari Puzzle, 18 months+ ($12.99) 5 Balancing Bears Stacking See-Saw, 18 months+ ($17.99) 6 Barnyard Animals Puzzle Blocks, 2 years+ ($15.99).
Play that improves toddler communication
At this stage of their development, your 2 year old is likely using 2-word sentences such as, “What that?”, progressing to 3-5-word sentences around the age of 3 (“Sam want pizza”), making short conversations possible.
“Always layer activities with lots of language, interaction and imaginative play,” recommends Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., dean of the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development at Nova Southeastern University, and co-author of Let’s Play and Learn Together. “Child development comes through the portal of relationships with parents or caregivers.”
Name and talk about everyday things, using simple adjectives such as “the big plate” or their “red shoes”. Ask questions and listen to their responses.
And since your toddler now understands stories and connects words to illustrations, this is the perfect time to introduce reading together.
Build your toddler’s fine motor skills
Between 2 and 3 years, your toddler is able to use his hands and fingers to pick up food, small toys, and more. He may even hold a crayon using his thumb and pointer finger, instead of his fist.
His rapidly developing fine motor skills – those movements we make with the small muscles of our hands – are vital for exploring the world, developing hand strength, coordination and manipulation skills, all necessary for later life skills like handwriting and dressing.
Boost fine motor skills in your toddler by exposing them to fun activities like wooden block play, chunky and wooden knob puzzles, and washable crayons. Encourage them to fold paper, draw lines and circles, turn single pages in a book, hold crayons using the thumb and fingers, build towers of blocks, string beads, play with shape sorters, and stacking and nesting toys.
1 Fruit Slicers, 3 years+ ($19.99) 2 Colorful Counting Number Stacker, 18 months+ ($17.99) 3 Stacking Train, 18 months+ ($21.99) 4 Twisty Traffic Bead Maze, 4 months+ ($32.99) 5 Building Blocks Wagon, 18 months+ ($24.99).