There are so many things you can do with your 1 to 2 year old, but simplicity is always a good bet. Here’s a nice little list of things to do when your toddler is looking for some action.
12 to 16 months
Coming to life
Pretend your child’s favorite teddy or doll is real — make him walk, go to bed, or dance across the room. Include him in everyday activities — sitting him at the table for dinner, for example, and putting a bib on him. Talking about what you’re doing will help your toddler with her language skills. Act out happy and sad times, too, so she can learn about feelings and emotions as she’s developing her imagination.
Push me, pull you
If your toddler is pulling herself up and trying to walk, help her practice with a pushing and pulling game. Use a moveable object such as a child-size chair or plastic stacking box filled with soft toys. While she holds the edges for support you can hold the other side and keep it steady. Then slowly pull the box toward you to encourage her to step forward. Soon she’ll start to push while you gently pull. This will build her confidence for the day she finally walks on her own.
By now your toddler can hold her hands open, but it may be a while before she claps independently. For now, clap them together for her, or let her hold your hands while you pat them together. Sit her facing you on the floor or on your lap, and sing clapping songs like patty-cake. These will boost her language skills as well as her hand-eye coordination.
Who’s hiding here?
Just as she loved peek-a-boo as a baby, your toddler will love to play simple games of hide-and-seek. First thing in the morning take turns hiding under the bed sheets; at bath time, use a big towel. For extra fun and giggles you can gently prod her as she hides. “Hmm, is this a leg? Or is it an arm?” Games like this help teach your toddler that just because she can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. For a change, while she’s wrapped up in the towel, carry her into another room. She’ll be delighted when she pops her head out to discover she’s in a new spot.
16 to 20 months
On a sunny day, take a child-sized plastic tea set outdoors and fill a large plastic bowl with water. Pretend you’ve “come to tea” and encourage your toddler to fill the teapot and pour the tea. This fun game will challenge his coordination skills and help him learn about the properties of water — for example, that it always flows down, not up.
This requires some concentration on your toddler’s part, so it’s best played when he’s feeling refreshed. Use his building blocks to make simple patterns, such as three in a row or “two up, two down” to make a square. Encourage him to use other blocks to copy your pattern. Then let him try making his own pattern, which you have to copy. Sorting objects like this into shapes will help encourage your toddler’s problem-solving skills.
Roll it to me
Balls are popular toys for toddlers. Bouncy balls are best kept outside, but soft, foam balls make great indoor toys. The best ball game to start playing with your toddler is an easy version of “catch.” Both of you sit on the ground facing each other with your legs apart and toes touching. You can now roll the ball backward and forward to each other without it going out of bounds. Fun for building arm muscle strength and hand-eye coordination.
Go for a walk together and take a bucket with you. Collect small objects that interest your toddler — stones, leaves, pine cones. Your toddler will want to carry the bucket, but don’t be surprised if he also dumps its contents and starts again. Toddlers this age love to fill containers just so they can empty them again. Meanwhile, he’s practicing his hand movements and developing dexterity.
20 to 24 months
Play favorite snatches of music that lend themselves to particular actions — something with a big, loud beat so your child can stamp like an elephant, or something quiet so she can pretend she’s tiptoeing past a sleeping lion. Marching to music is also great fun and easy enough for most toddlers to manage. These games will stretch her imagination and develop her sense of rhythm.
Balloons are great for indoor play — they move slowly enough to be chased and are relatively easy to catch. Blow one up and tap it gently into the air. Count how long it takes to float to the ground or let your toddler try to catch it. A good game for counting skills and hand-eye coordination.
Note of caution: Uninflated or broken pieces of latex balloon are a serious choking hazard for children. Inflated balloons are okay, but supervize your toddler closely and take away broken pieces immediately if the balloon pops. If possible, choose mylar or paper balloons instead.
What can you hear?
Take a big towel or blanket out into the garden and lie down on it together. Ask your toddler to close her eyes and listen carefully. After a minute or so ask her what she could hear, and tell her what you heard: The wind in the trees, a bird singing, a car driving past. This is a great game for helping your toddler develop her listening and descriptive skills.
Catch me if you can
Toddlers love to be chased. The object of this game is for your child to be caught, especially if she knows she gets a big bear hug and tickles every time you manage to catch her. For variety, pretend to be different types of animals — a roaring lion or a scuttling mouse. A great game for building up your toddler’s stamina — and yours!