Toddler play supports the development of a very young child, typically aged 1-3yrs. The child is beginning to develop physically, gain their own interests and personality. At this stage, learning occurs in leaps and bounds, their brains really are sponges and they show a keenness to learn and do more, independently. The following ideas support these skills and developmental milestones. All the bits that I use in these activities can be bought via my Amazon shop.
Learning colours - this is usually the very first piece of 'academic knowledge' that toddlers acquire. Start simply, by mentioning one colour when you are playing together: "This cup is blue", then follow up with a Colour Hunt, see if together you can find lots of blue things from about the house. Once this colour has been established you can add one single other coloured item: "Oh wait! This isn't blue, it's red!" and repeat the process with the next colour. Stick to the primary colours (red, blue and yellow) to start with.
Small world play - playing with figures and small scale, realistic toys, such as animals, dinosaurs or cars. Toddlers often really enjoy small world play as it allows them to develop their imagination, and can be played alone, alongside or with friends. Play to your child's interests, and gather together all the figures or pieces from that theme, add them together on a tray, table top, or floor with a few extra elements such as pictured sand and water to create a sense of environment.
Journey Jars - outdoor play is vital to develop our childrens' gross motor skills, anything that requires running, jumping, climbing, digging and reaching is a winner. However, there are times when you all need a bit more focus in your activities. The journey jar does just this! Take a jar or plastic bottle out with you on a walk or to the park, task your child to fill it with interesting discoveries along the way. Better still, make it a treasure hunt "Can you find me a green leaf? A feather? A stone?".
Sensory Play - Now, this comes with a caveat: some kids love sensory play and others can't tolerate it at all. It has always been a hit in my house which is why I've included it in this list. Sensory play is simply play that stimulates your senses, so it can appeal to your sense of sight (colour play), smell (using herbs or spices), taste (taste-safe bases are great in sensory play, such as dried rice, pasta, lentils or beans), touch (any texture is welcome) and sound (do your play items create interesting noises?). In the above picture I put two plastic glasses with coloured water (just add a drop of food colouring), clean kitchen sponges, a child's knife, a bowl of shaving foam (substitute with squirty cream for a taste-safe option) and in the bowl a small amount of sprinkles (although these are actually dyed rice which make an excellent noise when dropped on a tray). Your children can use the knife to spread the foam onto the sponges and add sprinkles to make "cakes".
Playdough - I spoke earlier about the importance of building gross motor skills in connection with the Journey Jar, now I can tell you about the importance of building fine motor skills, the skills and muscles found in the hands and fingers. Playdough is an essential piece of kit when it comes to fine motor skills, using your hands and fingers to shape and manipulate the dough is fantastic for strengthening those muscles. Any playdough will do, in the picture I've added some lavender from our garden for a calming aroma.
Learning to count - Another important skill that can be modelled and reinforced frequently through the day, by counting steps as you climb a staircase, or counting peas on a plate. By including numerals (images of, or physical numbers) in play the child can begin to associate verbal counting with numerals. In this picture we counted minibeasts and I put the corresponding amount under the numeral. This can simply be a tiny, coincidental part of your play, learning to count verbally is key.
Blow Monsters - This is a great way to get arty, for those kids who don't much like typical arts and crafts. Blob some paint onto some card or paper and blow through a straw to spread the paint. Allow to dry and add features! Activities that involve blowing are particularly good for speech development. Dont forget that after use, you can rinse the straws out and reuse, or even chop them up and use as a sensory base!