5 Essential Skills Toddlers Learn Through Play

5 Essential Skills Toddlers Learn Through Play

What is it like to see the world through toddlers’ eyes? It must seem like so much is happening all of the time; there are countless things to touch and all sorts of sounds and smells that fill the air.

 How do the littlest ones make sense of it all?

 From 12 to 36 months, children learn a tremendous amount through play (no doubt, this is why the best toddler toys claim to be entertaining and educational).

 Given the chance, in a risk-free setting, kids will experiment with physical, intellectual, and emotional scenarios. Whether alone or with others, playtime is when toddlers learn and practice a host of skills they’ll come to rely on later in life.

5 essential skills toddlers learn through play:

Physical abilities

To a kid, a jungle gym looks like a structure built for fun, but to an adult, it should also look like an opportunity for physical growth and development. Whether it’s climbing steps, balancing on a ladder, or navigating a slide, toddlers exercise every muscle group when they scramble on a jungle gym. Overall, a playground (with swings, a sandbox, and wide-open spaces) is a perfect place to hone both gross and fine motor skills and experiment with active movements of all kinds.

toddler play  


When toddlers engage in parallel play with peers or join in games with older kids, they tend to mimic what’s happening around them. They try out new words and motions and wait to see what happens. Based on the reactions they receive they repeat what they said or did or they attempt something different. Over time, this is how they make sense of social etiquette. Through trial and error, they’ll eventually learn how to effectively communicate with other children and adults (in both formal and informal situations).


We clap after watching a toddler turn a somersault and we lavish praise when a little one finally finishes a tricky puzzle. At times this type of positive reinforcement may seem like overkill, but it’s so important! Showing approval boosts confidence and makes children feel like they are capable and prone to success. When they feel competent, they’re less likely to give up when faced with obstacles both large and small.


A playful environment is one that encourages spontaneity and creativity; it isn’t bogged down by strict rules, but. For example, if you present a box to a curious toddler, we bet she’ll soon turn it into something like a car, a house, a cave, or a train! While to the grown-ups, this may appear to be just a silly past-time, it’s actually a clever use of imagination that could lead to troubleshooting and creative problem-solving in future situations.


As a rule, toddlers are pretty open-minded; however, they tend to struggle with patience and acceptance when things don’t go as planned. Interacting with others, especially others their own age, allows for plenty of opportunities to practice tolerance. For example, some kids have no problem sharing toys, while others throw a tantrum at the thought of (temporarily) divvying up their belongings. When you immerse your toddler in a variety of stress-free, kid-friendly scenarios, she should begin to catch on to the different roles and rules of playtime. What’s more, as she matures, she will recall these experiences when faced with the unexpected and be more at ease with situations outside of the mainstream.

The power of play

As parents, we constantly worry that we’ve imparted enough of the right sort of knowledge so our children will become happy, successful, and independent adults. It may help to know that beginning in toddlerhood, our kids are garnering crucial skills that will help them at every stage of development. Even stuffed animals can make a huge difference for play. 

Children are quick to relax when they are immersed in age-appropriate, unstructured activities. Certainly, parents and professionals agree that playtime is good for releasing pent-up stress or anxiety! In turn, play is when toddlers freely express themselves and are in the perfect state of mind pick up on behavior patterns around them.

For example, when a toddler watches another child build a sandcastle, you can bet she’s going to mimic what she sees and attempt to make a castle of her own. When she does, she’ll be practicing a skill set that involves fine motor skills, problem-solving, and patience. Of course, the best part of all is that she won’t be the least bit concerned with her level of proficiency; all that will matter to her is the fact that she’s having a good time playing in the sandbox.  


Samara Kamenecka is originally from NY but lives in Madrid. When she’s not exploring the city with her boyfriend, their two kids, and their dog, she writes SEO-optimized content for bloggers. She blogs over at www.tinyfry.com.

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