Children learn through play. They’re naturals. It’s us adults that sometimes need help! We’ve forgotten how. Plus it’s difficult to know how much babies and toddlers understand anyway.
Next time you serve in the nursery, play with your own little tikes, or take care of children this age, use these developmental ages and stages as a guide to know how to play with them.
0-6 months: Sensory Learners
Infants absorb the world around them. Their visual and auditory skills are developing quickly. They love black and white contrasts, their parents’ voices, and reaching and grasping items. Tummy time is beneficial, as is flashlight or mirror play, and singing favorite nursery songs.
6-10 months: Little Explorers
Babies this age learn to impact their environment. They develop an understanding of cause and effect. “If I shake this rattle, it will make noise.” They also begin to understand object permanence: the realization that just because the ball is under the blanket doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist. Peek-a-boo games, texture exploration, ball play, and singing are some of their favorite activities.
10-16 months: Budding Communicators
Children this age are mobile. They crawl, stand, cruise, and walk. They learn to communicate with hand movements, sounds, and words. Baby signs are helpful at this age to reduce frustration levels. You can also support growing language development with songs (Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, I’m a Little Teapot, etc.) Favorite toys may include jack-in-the boxes, instruments, and push and pull toys.
16-22 months: Problem Solvers
These little guys and gals figure out how the world works. Their curiosity is insatiable! They will fill a pail, empty a pail, fill a pail, and empty a pail. They crave repetition and find security in routines. Favorite activities may not include toys at all. They are just as content with boxes and spray bottles, climbing on equipment and furniture (be cautious!), and playing any game with a trusted adult. Ring around the Rosy and London Bridge are favorite songs!
22-28 months: Creative Thinkers
Children this age enjoy pretend play. They utilize creativity, symbolic thinking, and imagination. They love role playing. In any one hour, they may be mommy, daddy, firefighter, teacher, doctor, or singer. Support their development by playing along with them: create costumes, play dress up, and talk about their pretend world. Utilizing play-dough, paint, sand, and water will help develop their fine motor skills in a fun way. Musical games like the Hokey-Pokey and musical chairs are also a big hit!
28-36 months: Logical Thinkers
Add sequence, order, and rules to the Creative Thinkers and you’ve got the Logical Thinkers. Their imaginations take off and they create their own scenarios for everything! If they attend a pretend baseball game, they will pack for the trip, ride in the car, walk to the stadium, buy concession food, and cheer on the team. To encourage them, be a part of their pretend world! Be spontaneous, fun, and creative! At 28 months, children begin to truly socialize with peers and they love it! Provide many opportunities for friend interaction.
I hope this serves as a helpful guide. Please feel free to add any comments or suggestions. As we get on a child’s level to play with them, may we love and serve them as Jesus would, according to their unique ages, abilities, and preferences.
Much of this information was derived from Zero To Three, a non-profit organization that resarches and supports infant and toddler development.