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The transition from baby to toddler is startlingly apparent in playtime. Suddenly your kid isn’t so much “banging” as he is building. Her crayon scribbles are now deliberate faces. His foot can actually connect with a ball—on purpose.
It can feel overwhelming at first, adjusting to these changing dynamics and interests. And although toddler playtime does come with its challenges (fearlessly jumping from furniture and the word “MINE,” for example), there’s some pretty cool stuff going on:
1. You get to see what they’re good at
Babies are an easy crowd to amuse—as long as it’s shiny, noisy, or brightly colored. (Bonus points if it can be mouthed.) But once they step over the threshold to toddlerhood, they suddenly gravitate toward very specific interests. They start to get good at certain things—like building skyscraper buildings with blocks, or throwing a ball crazy far, or painting “ballerina girls” (which Noah painted, above). It’s so interesting to watch toddlers hone in on certain skills and activities—whether it’s more creative or more physical.
What you can do: Explore as much as you can, exposing your little one to all types of toddler-appropriate activities. When something sticks, you’ll know it.
2. They do stuff for longer than an eye blink.
A baby will flip through a book (put it in his mouth), throw it across the room, crawl over to a ball (put it in his mouth), throw it across the room, grab a fistful of crayons … you get the idea. But a toddler—with specific interests—can become engrossed in something. Noah would stand in front of his easel carefully crafting masterpieces for the better part of a morning. My friend’s toddler can sit down with a pile of play dough and be set for an hour. Your toddler might develop an obsession with little play cars, and zoom them around tracks set up in your living room.
What you can do: Check out these 15 quiet-time activities for toddlers. Or just give your toddler a cardboard box and watch the possibilities unfold.
3. They develop imaginations.
This is—without a doubt—my most favorite part of toddlerhood. Noah’s main source of imagination comes from little play figurines (most of which were mine c/o the late 80s), although the forts! The dress up! The play kitchen! The pretend dialogue! It’s such a precious reminder of the magic and innocence in childhood.
What you can do: Start with picture books and made-up bedtime stories that help them visualize imaginary worlds (rather than, say, watching a TV show, in which it’s already visualized), and use your own imagination together (like turning a bed sheet into a fort, or a broom into a horse). And encourage imagination with pretend props, dress-up clothes, and the freedom to play.
4. They develop signature “things.”
Maybe your toddler wears fairy wings to preschool every day, or a cape to bed. Maybe she has a stuffed bunny that stays by her side from morning to night. Or maybe he’s like my toddler, who would carry a wand around with him at all times—in the car, in his backpack, in his bed, etc. It’s incredibly cool to watch their individual personalities blossom in playtime.
What you can do: Just go with it. This stage is far too fleeting.
5. They nurture.
Babies might rock and kiss baby dolls, but toddlers fiercely LOVE their toys. Whether it’s a few select stuffed animals or one beloved doll, it’s rewarding to watch your toddler give the kind of love they receive.
What you can do: If you see an attachment starting to form, try and buy a second back-up toy. Coming from someone who lost her precious “Sarah” doll at the age of 3, these are the kind of losses that can stick for a lifetime.
6. YOU get to have fun.
Babies are cute and all, but man! Toddlers jam out with mid-afternoon dance parties. They watch Disney movies and color in coloring books. They really PLAY—giving you a rare opportunity to re-live the best parts of childhood.