Tips for Tots: Toddler Play

By Anne A. McGrady

Playing is the main way toddlers learn new skills.  Learning and having fun with objects and people are important.  Here are a few facts to keep in mind about play and learning.

When your toddler is at play, the process of actively figuring out how things work becomes a challenge.  The stacking and restacking of blocks is a good example – watching, experimenting and figuring how the blocks stack without a knock down.

As children experiment with cause and effect such as pouring, mixing, stacking, taking things in/out of containers, learning occurs.  Empty/full, large/small, more/less, in/out become words he/she begins to use.

Music and rhythm, simple songs, nursery rhymes, singing, clapping, moving to music, assist with communications.

As in language play, being read to, listening, puppets, talking, thinking sharpens attentiveness.

Body skills enhance knowledge of body  and his boundaries within.

Being with others enhances social skills, talking twins, sharing and bargaining on what the child wants from another child.

As your child matures, play becomes more advanced.  A few play skills by age with suggested activities.


Ages 12-14 months

Play Skills:  making noises, sounds, pushing, pulling, banging objects, pretending

Play Materials:  Jack in the Box, rattles, musical balls, pots, pans, lids, cell phones, keys, remote control


Ages 15-17 months

Play Skills:  Climbing, swinging, imitating, matching shapes, identifying

Play Materials:  Outdoor set, broom, vacuums, lawn mower, wooden bench, hammer, sorting toys, picture books, family albums


Ages 18-20 months

Play Skills:  Stacking, building, art projects

Play Materials:  Large blocks, bricks, play dough


Ages 21-24 months

Play Skills:  Art, music, pre-reading

Play Materials:  Picture books, puzzles, audio books


Ages 25-30 months

Play Skills:  Sorting, advanced pre-reading, water play, move around

Play Materials:  Puzzles, large ABC letters, bubble blowing, toddler ride on toys, small wagons


Ages 31-36 months

Play Skills:  Learning about music, pretending, collecting

Play Materials:  CD music play, pots/pans, xylophone, toddler kitchen store, pretend props, rocks, small toys in container by type.


References:  The Toddler Years, Sand Jones 2011



• The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, 75th Anniversary Edition, Dr. Seuss, Vanguard Press 1938/1965/2013 color enhanced

• There’s A Wocket In My Pocket, Dr. Seuss, 1974

• There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover!, Lucille Colandro, Scholastic New York, 2012, 3-5 years

(Adventures of an old lady who swallowed a clover.)

• Top  o’ the Clubhouse, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Marcy Kelman, New York, 2013, 2-5 years.

(Clubhouse pals are excited to celebrate St. Pat’s Day in the clover patch.  Adventures of four leaf clovers)

• The Forgetful Little Leprechaun, Ideals Pub., 2010, 4-6 years

(Written in rhyme – the tale of Knee-Leigh O’Loo – a great tale – push button to hear music.)