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Learning Through Play: 12 to 24 Months

Possibilities for play grow by leaps and bounds for your young toddler. Discover what your child is learning as they play at this age and find new ideas for activities you can try to support their development!
mom and baby play with dinosaur toys

Your young toddler learns to communicate better with gestures, sounds, and words. She also learns to stand on two feet and walk forward and backward—even run, jump, and climb. She’s able to use her fingers and hands to play with and explore objects in more complex ways. Children now have preferences for how they like to explore. Some like lots of action. Others prefer more calm, quiet play. Watch and you will see the activities your child enjoys.

Toddlers are also entering the world of make believe. They go from imitating what they see in “real life” to using their imagination. Whether in the sandbox, in the bath, or on the kitchen floor, children use their bodies and minds to learn how this big, exciting, complicated, and wonderful world works.

Games to Play

Running, Climbing and Action Games Games like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge” encourage children to move, sing, listen, and take turns. On a rainy day, try creating an obstacle course indoors. On a sunny day, head to the park.
Let’s Do It Again… and Again… and Again Repetition helps toddlers learn how things work. They might fill and dump a pail over and over to learn about full/empty and in/out. This repetition helps them master new skills, which boosts their self-confidence.
Name That Tune Toddlers will enjoy singing songs and having you read books with rhyming words. See if toddlers know the next word in the song by pausing before you sing it. Dance to the music so children can experience the joy of movement.
Busy Hands Young toddlers love to make things work. They use their hands and fingers for pushing buttons, opening boxes, and turning pages. Many children also like to finger paint, color, play with play dough, or squeeze water out of a sponge.

What They’re Learning

This example shows how even during simple play times, your child is learning so much from you.

Kira, 20 months, is busy with her shape sorter. When her dad, Marcus, sees that she is starting to get frustrated, he gives a little help by putting his hand on hers. “Let’s turn the yellow square this way.” In it goes. “Yea!” says Kira as she claps her hands, pleased with her accomplishment. Marcus encourages her: “One blue circle and one green triangle to go.” Kira picks up a square, shows it to her dad, and says, “Boo.” Marcus agrees, “Yes, that’s the blue circle.” Kira successfully drops it in. “Good job,” says Marcus, “How about a triangle?” But Kira is ready for something new. She gets a book. “Okay, let’s read about animals,” says Marcus. Kira cuddles up with her dad and opens the book.

As Kira and her dad play, she is learning about:

  • Colors, numbers, and shapes as dad names them.
  • Communication and new words as she and dad talk together while playing.
  • Hand–eye coordination and problem solving as she learns where the shapes fit.
  • Self-confidence as she masters a new skill.
  • Building close relationships as she experiences the pleasure of sharing her discoveries with her dad.


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