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Learning Games and Activities For Toddlers

Updated on March 21, 2015

Research shows that a child’s environment plays a vital role in the structural development of his brain. A toddler’s experience builds synaptic connections in the brain, increasing the long-term efficiency and learning capacity.

Toddlers require daily opportunities to learn and experience new things, in order to build these connections.

Below you will find fun, enjoyable activities and toddler games to play with your child, categorized by age level. Keep these activities relaxed, and be sure that your child is developmentally ready for the activities you are introducing.

These games may seem small and insignificant, but it is clear that over time they make a difference in the future function of your toddler’s brain. Remember to keep it fun!

Toddlers games should be fun and simple.
Toddlers games should be fun and simple.

Toddler Games And Activities by Age

Toddler Games: 12-14 Months

Your toddler is probably able to focus on a person who is talking to him and has an ability to understand short commands. He is able to wave bye-bye, and point to things he wants. He may fluctuate between wanting to do things for himself and wanting your help.

  • Find an old hat and take turns dropping blocks into it. You can name their colors or count them as you play. Benefit: exercises fine motor skills, teaches numbers and colors concepts.
  • Turn a large box on its side. Fill it with lots of stuffed animals and encourage your toddler to crawl in and explore. Next time fill it with something else, like tennis balls or warm sheets just out of the dryer. Benefit: Provides a great tactile experience.
  • Use a full deck of playing cards and show your child how to sort them into piles by color or shapes. Benefit: A lesson in color and shapes.
  • Find a freshly mowed lawn and take off your child’s shoes. Let him run around in it and feel the grass on his toes. Talk about the differences in the feeling of grass and carpet or hard flooring. Benefit: provides a tactile experience.
  • Create a small book of smells for your child. Staple together a few sheets of paper and drip vanilla on one page, glue lavender or Eucalyptus to another, and a mild perfume on the last. Let your toddler enjoy her little smells book! Benefit: Provides a unique tactile experience, and builds pre-literacy skills.

Toddler Games: 15-17 Months

At this age your toddler is likely spending 80% of her time exploring her world. She is beginning to understand feeling and emotions of others and will express her own wide range of emotions. She may play pretend now, for example, having a conversation playing with a toy phone.

  • Count the steps as you go up stairs, building excitement as you reach the top. Benefit: Teaches number concepts and develops gross motor skills.
  • As you prepare to do laundry, roll socks into little balls and let your child throw them in the basket. Count them as they go in. Benefit: Develops fine and gross motor skills.
  • Play hide and seek with your child’s toys. Take a squeaky toy and another of similar size and hide them under a blanket. Ask your toddler to find the squeaky toy. Give her a hint by squeaking the toy. Benefit: Strengthens memory skills and concept of object permanence.
  • If you live in a cold climate, blow bubbles outside and watch them freeze. Pop, them look at them and talk about them. Benefit: A lesson in cause and effect relationships.
  • Get a piggy bank and help your child put quarters into it. When she masters this, try nickels, then pennies and finally dimes. Let her enjoy shaking the piggy bank, and letting all the coins spill out when she is done. Just don’t let your baby do this alone, or put any coins in her mouth, as they are a choking hazard. Be sure to stow this game out of your child’s reach when you are done playing. Benefits: Develops fine motor skills.
  • Cook some sticky rice and show her how to roll her own rice balls. Serve them for dinner. Benefits: Builds fine motor skills and social skills.
  • Place three or more sponges in a bucket of water and show him how sponges soak up the water. Show him how to squeeze the water out and start over again. Benefits: A lesson in cause and effect that exercises hand and arm muscles.

Watching toddlers games may give you some new ideas for interacting with your child.
Watching toddlers games may give you some new ideas for interacting with your child.
Active toddler games are beneficial on many levels!
Active toddler games are beneficial on many levels!

Toddler Games: 18-20 Months

You will probably witness a huge leap in your toddler's ability to use and understand language at this age, as well as a strong independent will to do things on his own.

  • Place a handful of animal crackers on a plate and help your toddler separate them into categories. When he is finished, count them to see which animal you have the most of. Benefit: Builds categorizations and counting skills.
  • Let your toddler help you mix a batch of cornstarch and water; add food coloring, if you like. This mixture makes a solid when rolled and a liquid when still. Benefits: Provides a unique tactile experience and a lesson in cause and effect.
  • Place a few of your toddler’s toys in a hat. Remove one quietly and ask your toddler which one is missing. Benefit: Strengthens memory skills.
  • Make a ramp from a large piece of cardboard and let your child roll small toys down it. Change the angles of the ramp to make the objects go faster and slower. Benefit: Demonstrates cause and effect and the power of gravitational forces.
  • Tie a string to a small stuffed animal and throw it a few feet away from you. Reel it back in like a cowboy. Monitor your child closely with this game and dispose of string carefully when done. Benefits: Develops fine and gross motor skills, and inspires imaginative play.
  • Squirm around on the floor like a snake or a worm; encourage your toddler to join you. Make an obstacle course to squirm throughout of pillows. Benefits: Develops gross motor skills and encourages imaginative play.

Toddlers Games: 21-24 Months

At this age your toddler is adding imagination and creativity to his quickly expanding list af abilities. He may have begun to referring to himself by his name and takes pride in his accomplishments, such as kicking a ball. He is beginning to participate in shared play activities and is hopefully becoming a little less defiant!

  • Go on a treasure hunt in your home, searching for things that come in twos, for example, a pair of lamps, a pair of shoes, or matching candlesticks. Count them as you find them. Benefit: Teaches categorizing and counting skills.
  • While preparing your child for a bath, review out loud all the steps you will be going through like filling the tub, taking off clothes, stepping in the tub etc. Benefit: this comforting ritual will also help build sequencing skills.
  • Take a walk through your home with your toddler and find things that are taller or shorter than him. Use a yardstick to show the difference to him in a concrete way. Benefits: Develops fine motor and pre-math skills.
  • Get a small bucket of water and some tennis balls and head out to the driveway. Soak the tennis balls in water and then roll them around on the pavement to make lines and arcs with the water. Roll them uphill and watch them roll back down. Talk about it! Benefit: Demonstrates cause and effect relationships.
  • Make a batch of bread dough (or buy it ready-made) and use alphabet cookie cutters to spell out your child’s name (be sure to let her help in this process). Bake it and enjoy! Benefits: Builds pre-literacy skills and awareness of sequential events.
  • Play tag with your toddler and be sure to specify a “base.’ Change the base to a new spot every few rounds. Benefits: Builds gross motor skills, social skills and teaches new vocabulary.
  • Hold your toddler’s hands and walk in circles, first slowly, then quickly. Do this to music and vary the pace with the beat. Benefits: Develops balance and exercises gross motor skills.

Toddler Games Prepare Your Child For Advanced Skills

Once you get the hang of playing these toddler games, you will find opportunities to create new and interesting games on your own or with their help. Always keep it fun, and stop a game if it causes frustration in your child. All children develop at a different pace, and some toddlers games may have to wait a few months until your child is ready.

Many of the games listed above can be played throughout the toddler years and in the preschool years, because your child will grow to love them! Expand games whenever you can, to provide additional opportunities for learning.


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