If you’re like most mamas, you’ve spent considerable time roaming the aisles of your local toy store searching for that perfect game for your toddler — one that will keep him engaged (that is, away from the remote, the stairs and the dog) and will help him learn. You’ll be happy to know that at this age, simple games work best. Puzzles, hide-and-seek, memory games and dice games all teach your toddler tons. Plus, they’re so engaging and fun, you may finally be able to stop worrying about your neatly folded laundry getting dumped out of the basket. Again.
Don’t you just love the way your toddler furrows his brow in concentration as he tries to shimmy the wooden firetruck puzzle piece into its rightful spot? Keep the puzzles coming, because they teach children lots. Psychologists have determined that a child’s brain is influenced when he is given the opportunity to manipulate and act on his world. Puzzles are the perfect vehicle for this, and doing them enhances hand-eye coordination, fine-motor skills, problem-solving, shape recognition, and memory. There are hundreds on the market today featuring transportation, animals, shapes, colors and numbers — all of the things closest to your toddler’s heart.
Toddlers love to find and be found. It’s in their DNA — the chasing, the shrieking, the laughing — they can’t get enough of hide-and-seek. Why? Shirah Vollmer, MD, notes on PsychologyToday.com that hiding gives kids a chance to explore and to know they’ll be fine on their own, helping them to develop a sense of autonomy. And being found is reassuring — when kids are pursued, they feel loved. “Hide and seek reassures children that people in relationships can separate and they can come back together,” Vollmer writes. So don’t feel like spending the whole afternoon playing good old hide-and-seek is a time-waster — you and your toddler are actually strengthening your bond, big time!
“Goat!” your toddler will proudly proclaim, flipping over a card to reveal a furry white animal with horns. Tots love memory games, either the traditional kind with a variety of images on cards or wooden blocks, or through a smartphone app. The games are great “exercise” for the brain; they increase neuron growth and have been linked to increased cognitive abilities and better academic performance down the road. Memory games also provide an opportunity for quiet concentration, something much-needed during the craziness of a typical day. At this age, it may still be difficult for your toddler to sit for longer than ten minutes or so, and that’s okay. Even if you play a memory game in spurts, it’s still beneficial.
Simple Dice Games
Six months ago, your toddler might have seen a set of dice and flushed them down the toilet or fed them to the cat. Now, believe it or not, she’s ready to use them to signify simple meanings — when it’s her turn, or what card or object to pick up. By playing an easy-to-follow dice game designed for her age, your toddler will practice key life skills, like how to take turns and how to problem-solve in order to “score.” This is also the perfect introduction to good sportsmanship — for example, if your child happens to lose a round, you can teach her to say, “Good game.” Reassure her that she might win the next time she plays.