Feature image Toddler playing with cars and shovel in the dirt

A Few Secrets about Playing with Toddlers

How do you play with a toddler?

I have to tell you a secret about playing with my toddler- a few actually.

First off, even though she's my third child sometimes it still feels awkward to sit and play with my current toddler.  I have a hard time letting go of the million busy items I need to do and just sitting.  My brain starts firing away with “Well what will I DO?”

I get bored.  And then I feel bad for feeling bored!

Feature image Toddler playing with cars and shovel in the dirt
Image: Canva

I did ask for ideas from the Facebook page this time around and came up with this “bucket list” of Toddler Activities, which has been helpful. Honestly though,  I think that it's perfectly natural to be bored from time to time, in fact, I was just reading another article about unstructured play and that was one of her tips- it's ok to get bored.

But here are my other secrets to playing with a toddler.  Here's what I do!

2 Secrets to Playing with Toddlers

1st secret to play: I start doing something that I know my toddler is likely to to get interested in like.

So if I'm sitting with my toddler and start to feel bored or unsure I might try:

  • Stacking something
  • Lining up objects
  • Repeating- an action or phrase, making it into a joke
  • Wearing something (anything) as a hat

Sure, if we had all the planning and organizing time in the world, we could set up loads of interesting play activities for our toddlers, but the plain truth about toddlers is that they’re BUSY and that makes us BUSY, and tired, and generally behind in keeping up with the mess maker we love.  The other truth is the activities toddlers love best are usually very simple.

Often, our moments for play and connection come without warning, we just have a lull in our day, or we’re waiting at a restaurant or doctor’s office.

Want some short hand so you can always think of something to do with your toddler at these times?  I have four easy to remember words:

Sort – Stack – Smash –  Stash

  • Sort blocks into piles- talk about colors or sizes, sort buttons into cups or legos into stacks.  Or try sorting silverware into the tray together.
  • Stack anything- blocks, yogurt cups, boxes, rocks
  • Smash down the tower you just built, smash play dough and crumple paper, smash an old box by stepping on it, smash a sand castle or pile of dirt.
  • Stash blocks in a bucket, bits of paper into an old baby wipes container, a ball in a purse.  Stash one thing into another and then it can be carried somewhere (Ooh, happiness for a toddler is toting things from one place to another!)

Those are my SSSSuper words 😉 that I remember so that I always have something to do with my toddler!  Frequently if you begin one of these games, as if you are super interested in doing it yourself, your toddler will be happy to take over for you.

2nd secret of play: I get curious.

I'm with my toddler at the park and maybe feeling a bit aimless, so I look at her, just look and think, “I wonder what she's up to? I wonder what she's trying to do?”

I might start copying her movements and talking about it like, “Oh I see you're stomping in that snow!” ::stomp::stomp:: “Oh, it looks like you're making a big flat patch here.” ::stomp::stomp::

By joining what she's doing I give approval to her exploration of the world.

It's not complicated. I'm not trying to teach her about the properties of snow.  (She's learning that all on her own.)  I'm just describing what we're doing, getting curious about what her aim is and seeing if I can join in.  She's a toddler- her drive to learn about the world will take her where she needs to go.

All I need to do is follow her lead.