How to play with toddlers: learning through play and games

How to play with toddlers: learning through play and games

Dollhouses, trains or imaginary wizards are all parts of how children play. Find out about the different ways to play with toddlers.

By watching your child play, you can find out how she thinks, what she's learning, and how the world – including you – is influencing her. The window intothese insights is play.

The Baby X experiment
Back in the 1970s, psychologist Phyllis Katz conducted what we now call the Baby X experiment. She put three toys in a room: a small football, a femininedoll and a gender-neutral toy. She dressed a three-month-old in an unadorned yellow jumpsuit and brought a series of adults (the subjects of theexperiment) into the room to meet the baby. Some of the adults were told that the infant was a girl named Mary; others were told that the baby was a boynamed Johnny. Most of the adults who thought the baby was a girl gave her the doll to play with. Most of those who believed the baby was a boy gave him thefootball.

The Baby X study sparked a lot of heated discussion about gender stereotyping. Nevertheless, when Dr. Katz repeated the experiment 10 years later, she gotthe same results. What's more, despite great efforts toward gender equality in recent years, if you walk into a typical American preschool, it won't behard to guess which children will be brushing Barbie's hair and which will be crashing toy trucks.

Boy toys versus girl toys: getting past stereotypes
Should you worry if your child desires or plays mostly with toys typically associated with his or her gender? Probably not, but encourage your youngster toplay with a variety of toys, including those usually linked to the opposite sex. It’s not about the toys themselves, but the underlying skills they helpyoung children master. The fantasy play associated with dolls helps girls become sophisticated in skills used in interpersonal relationships, especiallynurturing and empathy, but they’re seldom acknowledged as much as the mathematical and visual-spatial skills learned from playing with "boy toys," likeblocks and cars.

Fantasy versus reality: best of both worlds
Another way in which children's play differs is whether it's based on reality (such as board games and sports) or fantasy (such as playing house orpretending to travel through time and space). In general, firstborn and only children seem to do more fantasizing, perhaps because they spend more timealone. They're also more likely to have imaginary companions.

Having an active fantasy life also seems to help develop, or at least reflect, higher intellectual skills. When your child imagines that a golf ball is amagical talisman and decides what to do with it (save the princess? Fight the dragon? Conjure ice-cream sundaes?), he is using fantasy to consider theimplications of choosing different options. Fantasies are also an excellent way for a child to come to terms with things that challenge, frighten orconfuse him. For example, a three-year-old who is upset by the noise made by a big truck can master his fears by pretending that the wooden block he'sholding in his hand is an even bigger and scarier truck.

Reality play, on the other hand, can help a child hone important social skills. A board game gives a preschooler practice taking turns. Early sportsactivities teach the basics of teamwork and shared responsibility.

Getting involved
What can you do to help your child try new kinds of play? The simplest thing is to get involved. If you start playing with a cardboard house, your sonwon't be able to resist. The more you try to get involved and play with your child, the closer you will understand him and connect.

Leave a comment *Mandatory text
I confirm I have written the entirety of the content and agree to the community guidelines and terms and conditions
  • Show comments

this is great

joie 9/13/2015

my daughter likes cars.

Good Article

Shay 9/9/2015

Good read. Interesting



shouldn't treat child as boy or girl. instead treat as a person



It is an interesting article. I see no problems with girls playing with girl toys and boys playing with boy toys. Or vice versa


Mrs Lady 8/7/2015

very helpful

Newborn Play: Activities with a 2-month old

Convinced your newborn just eats and sleeps her way through the day? As it happens, she enjoys and benefits from stimulation and playtime. Learn more about infant play and development.

Read more

Literacy tips for babies: teaching your baby to love reading

Babyhood is when our kids start to acquire a love of stories and interest for words. Discover some easy ways to nurture the joy of reading with your baby!

Read more

Child safety: keeping your mobile toddler safe

Every day there are more things your child can do by himself, from walking backward to hopping and jumping. Get some tips on keeping your little mover safe.

Read more