Surprising Ways Your Toddler Will Play

Your toddler is not just making a mess, she is exploring, learning and growing while she plays

When you tell your antsy toddler to "go play!", you might not know it, but there are many good reasons you should keep doing it (aside from, you know, getting your kid out of your hair).
Experimenting through play helps young children discover what they're best at. For toddlers, playing is learning while doing. It lets them test out their problem solving skills, develop hand-eye coordination, and stretch their imaginations — and this last one is a biggie. As Einstein said, "the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination." 
Hence, your kid's playing should be encouraged. Here are some surprising behaviours to keep an eye out for. They mean your kid is playing and getting smarter.  
Climbing on things
Does your kid have a penchant for wrapping their body around the rungs of kitchen chairs, hanging off the couch, and climbing up your the banister like it’s a tree trunk? He isn't trying out domestic par-core — rather, he's testing out what it’s like to assert control over his bodily movements. These kinds of actions involve divergent thinking. Your child is pushing the limits of what’s possible. 
A note about injuries: there’s a difference between climbing for a thrill and figuring out what the body is capable of; and you'll be able to tell what your kid's up to. Of course, toddlers will have to be reminded that dangerous places are unstable, but don’t stress about a potential couch-fall too much (more on this later). 
Does your child chant, or recite the same word or syllable over and over again? Make up nonsensical rhymes or tunes? It may sound hilarious, but this is actually a fantastic cognitive tool. According to yoga teacher Scott Blossom, chanting "has a naturally soothing effect on their minds and helps kids develop concentration." 
Chanting with your kid can help diffuse conflict during a squabble, create calm when your kid is bouncing off the walls, and help you help them self-pacify. Creating a "mantra" as a family can be a great bedtime ritual. (Pop songs are actually full of 'em. The really catchy parts that stick). Make a mantra about teeth brushing, getting into pyjamas, etc. This can provide comfort and stimulate focus.
Making a mess
From a spontaneous barefoot stroll through a mud puddle to sticking hands in a bowl of spaghetti, getting messy is pretty much the best feeling ever for a toddler. It might be your knee-jerk reaction to rescue your kid from a messy situation, but letting them make a mess can help them build essential skills from creativity to retaining knowledge.
When mulitple senses are stimulated, the ability to learn and retain information is heightened. Carve out a spot in the backyard for making a mess, and count shells and stones and twigs with her. Invite her to bake with you, or dedicate a Saturday afternoon to making messy crafts. Be clear that making a mess is ok during play — but crack down on clean-up. 
Rough housing
"Playing rough" is by no means something that should be avoided at all costs — physical play makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, physically fit, and more likely to form great friendships. 
You can set a great example by physically engaging with your kids. Authors of The Art of Rough HousingDeBenedet and Cohen, believe, “when we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn't everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn't take over.”
This summer, get outside and run around with your kids, and don't afraid to play rough. 
Scribbling on things
If your toddler tends to uneash his inner Picasso on your walls, tabletops and book covers, he's only doing what the great artistic masters did when they took to their canvas's — expressing himself! 
Scribbling is to writing what babbling is to speaking. At an early stage of your toddler’s life, it serves a helpful function. As your child gains control over his fingers and the tools they use, their scribbles will start to evolve into shapes, letters, figures. In drawing, most kids make stick figures before they gain identifiable characteristics. What your kid needs is the freedom to experiment with scribbling on their own. And of course, the right surface. Set them up with their own craft station where they can go wild with colours, tools and types of media. 
We learn by discovering for ourselves even more than we learn by being taught. Help your kid get smart by encouraging play — even in the weird ways he or she may do it!

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