“I’m a toddler and I learn through play”

From when I was born until I reach the ripe old age of seven, I will go through three stages of developmental play. And even though it might look like I’m ‘just playing’, play does lots of important things….

Play helps me figure out who I am! Who I am, and also who the people and the world around me are. Play teaches me that I am not the world, and the world is not just about me. I learn where the ‘I’ ends and the world outside me starts.

Play is my language…. I communicate with other people through play. And guess what, Mum and Dad? The best way for you to get your message through to me is through play!

… and you need to learn my language! Playing with me is the best way of connecting with me and supporting my development. It’s important you learn to play and that you are comfortable communicating with me at the right level for me, because it helps me to make sense of the world.



The first stage of play development is called Sensory Play. It lasts from birth right up till I’m three-and-a-half or four. (There are two other stages, but we can get around to them another time!).

 Sensory play helps me develop my capacity for trust. You see, I don’t learn how to trust through words and thinking; I learn it in a physical way.

Touch is really important to me.

I like to play with things I can touch; that feel different. When you play with me, we are touching each other. I learn what my body is capable of doing. I learn that I have hands and feet, and that I can make them move, and pick up and hold things. You can imagine how exciting that is!


When I’m still only 12-18 months old, I learn that things and then people are forever, and exist even when I don’t see them. You know the way I drop my spoon from my high chair onto the floor and you pick it up and give it back and then I drop it again? I know that drives you crazy when I do that over and over, but for me it’s incredible! When I drop my spoon and can’t see it, it ceases to exist. So when you return it, it’s magic! I’ll do this over and over and one day I’ll have somehow know to lean over the side of the high chair and see the spoon and the floor… and I’ll just know that it really exists, even when I can’t see it. Object permanence, you adults call it. Once this happens, I begin to understand that when you aren’t with me, you still exist somewhere and I can trust that you’ll return.

Games like peek-a-boo show me that you still exist even when I can’t see you, and that you’ll return to me. I need lots and lots of this kind of play between age one and two. (Yippee!)

I also love hands-on and messy play (sand, water, play doh, finger painting) and music play during this stage. The messier the better, in fact! You should be able to know by looking at me what I’ve been playing, because it will be all over me and my clothes!


You are also a great toy for me! I love when you swoop me up in your arms and swing me around. Another thing I like is to lie on a blanket on the ground and have two of my grown-ups lift the blanket with me in it and swing side to side, (singing me a song at the same time would be great).


Ithe things you do when we play….

I like you to cover me in kisses.

I like you to massage lotion into my skin after a bath.

I like you to bounce me on your knee and pretend to drop me.

I like you to dip me backwards saying goodbye then bring me back up and look into my eyes while you say hello.

I like your touch. It is like magic to me. Safe, healthy, loving touch helps me grow and develop. It’s a key part of my play experience while I’m a toddler.


Toddler Top Tip…

Let’s keep the music play simple. A pot and a wooden or plastic spoon make a great instrument. Or we could put some dried peas in a Pringles tube and tape the lid on.”


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