The terrible twos get a bad rap, but it’s also a magical time for parents and toddlers. There is nothing more amazing that watching your child’s imagination and creativity explode and to see their delight in exploring the world around them. One of your most important tasks as a parent during this time is to take steps to nurture your child’s imagination. It’s not only fun for them, it’s also the most effective way for them to learn self-regulation and problem solving skills.
Give Playthings that Encourage Imaginative Play
The more “work” that a child has to do for their toys, the better it is for their growing brains. Toys such as play food, blocks, dolls and puppets require children to provide their own storyline as they go along. This helps children improve their language skills, learn how to plan and carry out a course of action and how to work cooperatively with others.
In addition to providing high quality toys that encourage imaginative play, parents should also strive to avoid screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended no screen time at all for those under that age of two and no more than one to two hours daily for older children. This includes time spent using the computer and playing video games.
Some of the best choices for toys for pretend play include:
- Puppets and puppet theaters
- Dolls and doll houses
- Kitchens, cooking utensils and food
- Tool sets
- Housekeeping toys (broom, iron, duster, etc.)
- Arts and craft supplies
Talk, Read, Sing and Listen
Language skills develop hand in hand with a child’s imagination. The more exposure and practice that a child gets with language, the richer their imagination is likely to be. The very best way that parents can help their child’s developing language skills is to talk to them as early and as often as possible and actively listening to them as they talk to you.
As you listen to your child, ask them open-ended questions and give them the time to come up with their own answers before jumping in. Talk about the things that you see as you go about your daily errands and play, again, asking plenty of questions and paying attention to what they ask and tell you.
Reading and singing songs also encourage speech and future literacy. Make reading a daily habit and let your child “read” to you, too. You can find a wide variety of children’s songs on YouTube or ask the childrens’ librarian at your public library for album recommendations.
Spend Plenty of Time Outdoors
More and more, social scientists and biologists are discovering that we humans have a very real need to be outdoors. Unstructured playtime in natural environments helps your child’s developing imagination and gives them a sense of connection to the world around them. Playgrounds and play equipment are terrific, but don’t forget about the simple joys of playing with a stick or finding insects under rocks or jumping in a pile of leaves.
Outdoor playtime should be a part of your child’s daily routine. Ideally, this will be in an area where your child has the opportunity to explore the natural environment and not just on a blacktop playground. Some other ideas for helping your child connect with nature include:
- Let your child help you with gardening and landscaping.
- Go for hikes and nature walks.
- Visit your local botanic gardens.
- Look for playgrounds that include trees and open fields that are suitable for children to play in.
- Walk or bike as much as possible to run errands or go to school.
- Make your backyard a warm, inviting place for the family to play, socialize and relax.
Jacob Maslow enjoys using his experiences as a father of five curious children to write articles that will help other parents learn how to nurture and encourage their little ones. He works for Today’s Concept, an online retailer that sells the full range of Melissa & Doug toys, which are highly regarded by educators and parents alike as being wonderful tools for encouraging pretend play.