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Helping your toddler develop through play

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Health & Development Your 1-5 year old's development

For toddlers, playing indoors and outside is as important as eating healthy food and fresh air. Playing is a really important part of their development and, most important of all, it’s fun! Join in and help them make the most of it.

For your child, the years up to the age of 3 are all about discovering who they are and what they can (and can’t) do. Playing and experimenting is how kids learn and develop. It also helps them to burn off excess energy – which is good news when it comes to bedtime!

Helping your child get the most out of play

You’re your wee one’s best toy. And by encouraging play you’ll strengthen your relationship with them. Kids love playing with their parents, whether that’s bandaging you up while playing doctors or riding on your knee like you’re a horse!

How many toys?

Your toddler doesn’t need lots of bought toys. In fact, too many can be overwhelming. It’s better to buy a few carefully chosen playthings rather than a pile of cheap ones that break easily. Better still, you can use every day items like kitchen utensils, ribbons, feathers, leaves, sponges, cardboard and chalk to spark their imaginations. You might have heard this called ‘loose parts’ play at nursery – you can find out more about it on the Play Scotland website.

Simple toys such as blocks are good value as they can be used in lots of different ways. You can also join a toy library or ask friends and relatives to get toys for birthdays. Remember it’s not about the cost of the toy, but about spending time joining in and playing with your child. Your play@home toddler book has lots of ideas for fun games to play with items already in your home.

Tell me a story

All toddlers enjoy being read to, long before they can understand the stories. They may want to look at the pictures and turn pages at first. Reading to them helps develop their speech and language skills and can strengthen their bond with you. It helps develop their imagination and create a positive attitude towards books. Many toddlers will spend ages poring a book (and don't worry if they don't want to finish the story).

The Scottish Book Trust's Bookbug programme gives a free bag of books to every toddler between 12 and 24 months and another at the age of 3. Ask your health visitor, visit your local library or the Bookbug website for more information.

A tactile Off to the Park book has been developed in consultation with children, families and organisations working with blind and partially sighted children and seeks to make reading accessible for all children. There is also an audio recording of this book as well as other tips and resources for sharing books with children with additional needs on the Bookbug website.

Toddler reading with mum

Toddler reading with mum

Top tips for sharing books together

  • Sit comfortably. Make sure you and your child are warm and cosy.
  • Read slowly, put lots of expression into your voice and use gestures, funny faces and sound effects such as rain falling and cows mooing.
  • Involve your child. Encourage them to look at the pictures. Point to objects and characters and get them to say what or who they think they are.
  • Give encouragement if they repeat what you’ve said.
  • Visit your local library for free Bookbug sessions and to borrow more children’s books.

You can find more ideas for story time here.

Last updated: 16 Jan, 2024