A Place of Our Own
About the Series Feedback Glossary Search Go Español
Home Topics Activities Resources Episode Guide Active Learning
Infant & Toddler Games

Dear Debi,
I have a 1-year-old son. He enjoys books, battery-operated toys and climbing. He also has a basketball and blocks, but can you suggest other things for me to do with him?
Natalie Martinez
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Play simple & fun games
  • Pay attention to responses
  • Include older children
Expert Advice
Su Livingston
Su Livingston
Early Childhood Education Instructor
Play and games for children under the age of two is about experimenting and exploring. They play through their senses and movement. This is where they learn about themselves and the world around them begins. This kind of play has no end product with no way to fail and that’s important toward building a sense of self.

Infants and toddlers are sensory learners. They’re learning through their senses and movement. Sometimes we forget that there are things around the house, the yard and nature. All those tactile materials are a world of games all around us. The best kinds of games you can play are peek-a-boo, chase games where the child runs away and you scoop him or her up, and cause-and-effect kinds of learning such as pop-up toys, noise making, and putting blocks back in a cube. Cause-and-effect games allow children to discover that when they push this button, it lights up or this happens. They start connecting relationships that way. The senses are also important. You can make games by creating an environment with pillows, blankets and sheets to crawl under or through leaves that have been raked together outside. You can also do singsong musical play like “Patty Cake Patty Cake,” play with pots and pans and other noise making items, and make farm animal sounds.

The games kids play change as their knowledge base grows. For two-year-olds, games are still simple, but it’s a continuum. They become increasingly more complex. As the child has more skills, the ability to play with it changes. Take the basketball from the question for example. Up to age two, the child is learning what a ball can do. They’re learning to let go of it and roll it to someone else and that’s huge. After the age of two, they’re going to start developing more motor skills to be able to bounce and catch the ball, kick it, etc. Eventually, that will move into games with rules in elementary years and more cooperative skills with other children. So essentially, you can still keep the same play and game materials, but the play can advance as the child develops.

Older kids enjoy all the same things, but they’ll do it at the level they’re ready to do it at. When the toddler is learning that if they hit the spoon to the pot it makes a sound, a preschooler will want to create a certain beat with that same spoon. So the same tools works, but the older child will be able to use them in a much more sophisticated way.

It’s very important to read into your child’s responses. You’re watching to see if they’re interested and delighted. Don’t keep pushing your idea if they’re not engaged in it – just try something else. Be willing to change the plan if it’s not working. Sometimes we have good ideas, yet our infant might find it frightening, so watching to see how they’re experiencing our idea is important. That also helps us find out if they are interested in an activity and are stimulated by it.

Infants and toddlers don’t get tired or bored of playing a game over and over. They thrive on repetition and building on what they know. They develop a sense of mastery on what has become familiar. For example, in the beginning they know to dump out blocks and pick them up, but later they know how to stack. Then as they are preschoolers they’ll learn to represent their ideas in building a house or building. As they get older, the play definitely becomes more sophisticated.
Child Care Provider Comments
Andre Wiseman
Andre Wiseman
Father of two
My 22-month old, Haile, tries to emulate things that my older son, Omar, does. One thing that’s big with us is football because Omar plays football and tackles and he goes running around with the ball, so Haile wants to play the same way. We like to do a lot of physical things like going to the park and running.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
A one-year-old loves to play in the water and feel different textures like sand. I keep a sand & water table for my 20-month-old granddaughter, Catia. She loves water so much, even if it’s raining. It’s a great sensory experience for her and I even give her little measuring cups to play with and pour water from. If you don’t have a water table, you can also use a tub, a little swimming pool or a bucket and put measuring cups and spoons in it.
Darlene Morales
Darlene Morales
Mother of one
Something really fun to do with a one-year-old is music and movement. You can do “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes” and it’s a moving game that’s great since they’re moving and learning body parts. Anything that involves music and instruments, for example maracas and tambourines, are excellent for children and a lot of fun for them. You can even make musical instruments by using a paper towel roll, taping one end with paper, filling it with Cheerios and taping the other end to make maracas. It’s fun and even safe if they put it in their mouths.

Homemade Tent Featured Activity:
Homemade Tent
Infant & Toddler Games Featured Video:
Infant & Toddler Games
Topic: Play & Creativity
View Index
Learn More
View All Topics
Message Boards
Related Episodes
How Babies Learn
Reading to Infants
The Importance of Outdoor Play
Competitive Games, Plus Week in Review
Competitive Games, Plus Week in Review
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
© 2007 Community Television of Southern California. All rights reserved.