When your child is at child care, it may look like he’s just playing; but he’s actually hard at work. Toddlers learn by playing. Play helps your toddler develop the muscle control, balance and coordination necessary to master gross motor skills like running and pedaling a tricycle. Play also helps your toddler hone the fine motor skills he needs to feed and dress himself. Each new skill your toddler masters prepares him to take the next step in his physical development.
But play doesn’t just help your toddler develop physically; play is also essential to your child’s cognitive development. Nurturing child care staff engage toddlers in play that is designed to help young children develop problem-solving, attention and memory skills. As with physical skill development, each new cognitive skill your child masters prepares him to tackle the next skill.
It is important for parents to understand two things about their toddler’s development:
- Development is progressive which means that a child must master one skill before he can move on to the next skill.
- Each child develops at his own rate. There is a wide range of “normal” development at every stage of life, but differences in the speed at which skills are mastered can be particularly noticeable during the toddler years. It’s normal for parents to compare their child to other children; but parents should not be overly concerned if, for instance, a friend’s child can ride a Big Wheel and their child is still pushing along on riding toys. In most cases, it will be only a few more weeks before your child is also cruising on a Big Wheel.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when choosing a child care center, you should look for one that incorporates unstructured playtime into your child’s day: “ Playful learning, where children take the lead and follow their own curiosity, should be the main focus of high-quality early childhood education,” the AAP notes.
When you’re at home with your toddler, you don’t have to worry about having the latest toys on hand. Simply giving them empty boxes, containers, wooden spoons or toys like puzzles or blocks can foster creativity and development in your child. Reading to them or singing songs and dancing can also encourage play, learning and creativity.
If you are concerned about your toddler’s development, arrange to talk to your child’s day care teacher. Experienced toddler care staff will be able to answer your questions and help you understand your child’s developmental progress.
Horizon’s toddler care programs allow your child to participate in numerous social and educational activities that focus on learning and development, including peer interaction, number sense, arts and crafts, and large motor activities — both indoors and outdoors.