We all want to help our children grow and flourish, and part of that means exposing them to educational experiences that’ll help boost their development. But did you know that the best ways toddlers learn is through play? Forget boring workbooks and flashcards—the best toddler learning games help little ones hone important skills all while having a blast. According to Sally Goldberg, PhD, a professor of early childhood education and author of Fun Baby Learning Games, “You can’t teach development; you foster it. That’s why interactive games and activities are so important. They are natural ways to be with young children that are fun and promote development at the same time.” Of course, coming up with awesome educational games for toddlers can feel a little daunting. Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn what developmental skills toddlers and preschoolers are ready to master at various stages, as well as some fun toddler learning games to help them put those newfound abilities to use.
Learning Games for 1-Year-Olds
When baby’s first birthday rolls around, you’ll probably find yourself in disbelief. How did an entire year go by so quickly? But one look at baby and you can easily see they’re ready for more than just that colorful activity mat. “Age 1 is all about developing gross motor skills for crawling, walking, jumping, climbing and developing vocabulary to get their personal wants and needs met,” says Keriann Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist and toy expert, so experiment with activities that encourage coordination and language skills.
Here, we’ve rounded up three toddler learning games to help boost your one-year-old’s development. They may be simple, but they’ll provide tons of fun learning opportunities—over and over again. “While baby changed quickly before from month to month, progress now will take place over larger segments of time,” Goldberg says. “What you’ll probably like most about these activities is that you can play them repeatedly, and your toddler will learn and grow from each experience. You and your little one will be able to focus on new and different parts of the activity each time.”
One of the biggest achievements you may see in the months following baby’s first birthday is language. Little ones often say their first word around 12 months of age and will talk more clearly around 18 months. And they can understand way more words than they can say! “The ability to use a few words and understand many more open up wide avenues of participation for your child,” Goldberg says. “You’ll see them follow simple directions and begin to understand simple stories.”
Take advantage of this fun new skill by playing “go get” toddler learning games. There’s really no limit on how (or where!) you can play this fun learning game. To get started, place some familiar items around the room—like a cup, apple or toy—and then ask your toddler to bring them to you one by one: “Go get the cup!”. Be sure to show tons of excitement and say thank you (what better way to teach early manners?) when your child brings you the correct item.
Rolling a Ball
From baby holding their head up to cruising along your furniture, you’ve witnessed those gross motor skills blossom over the past year. “One-year-olds are learning how their bodies work and trying to make it do things,” says Barbara Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teachers and Advocates, Inc., which provides coaching for parents and early childhood educators. One of the best toddler learning games for one-year-olds is rolling a big ball back and forth, she says. “Using that same ball to do some kicking, moving and clapping are great for developing gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination.”
Peek a Boo
Peek a Boo is one of the most popular early learning games for babies and toddlers. You’ve probably been playing this with baby since nearly day one, but Peek a Boo is also a great game to play with your one-year-old. Usually by 8 months of age, babies start to understand the concept of object permanence—meaning just because they can’t see something doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. So when your face disappears behind your hands or a blanket and then suddenly reappears, it can initially be surprising, and then downright hysterical. By 12 months your child will fully grasp that you haven’t actually disappeared, but that doesn’t mean the game has to stop. Repetition will reinforce the concept. To keep your toddler on their toes, simply throw in a surprise element—like ducking behind a blanket and having a sibling or other parent reappear instead—or extend the game to objects. Hiding your little one’s pacifier under one of three identical cups to see if they can find it is a fun way to develop early critical thinking skills.
Learning Games for 2-Year-Olds
We’ve all heard of the dreaded terrible twos, but this age doesn’t have to be so terrible after all. Taking some time each day to play with your little one and engage in toddler learning games will help them feel more connected to you, which can help you both when those inevitable tantrums strike.
“At this stage your child is beginning to understand a lot more. They should also exhibit a major increase in attention span, and that will open up many more learning opportunities, lots of play possibilities and more time for reading,” Goldberg says. “You are your child’s first and most important teacher, so try to use this stage to begin the lifelong teaching process with your child.”
Need some ideas? Check out some of our favorite educational games for toddlers around 2 years old.
Toddler learning games can be a great opportunity to work on matching skills, which is key for school readiness. “Matching games are great fun now, and this version takes the game up a notch,” Goldberg says, as it encourages your child to use logical reasoning. To play this pairing game, simply gather a bunch of household items that go together, like socks and shoes, shirt and pants, a bottle of water and cup or plastic play knife and fork. Mix them up…
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