Imitating adults is a favourite toddler activity
Jesse, almost two, will play alone occasionally. Even if they’re doing separate things, though, Jesse likes to be in the same room as his mom, Christine Larocque. “If I am making supper, he isn’t far away ‘cooking’ himself. I give him pots and pans and utensils.”
The ability to play alone is a welcome milestone. But with toddlers, it’s important that your expectations are realistic, says play specialist Jane Hewes, chair of the early learning and child care program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.
Not at the right age
“A toddler is not yet at the age when he can be left alone for any length of time,” says Hewes. When Duncan was just a year, says his mom, Danica Marshall, he would play with his cars or toy people for five minutes or so. Now that he’s almost three, if he’s really engrossed, he can spend 15 or 20 minutes at something.
Play develops out of the parent-child relationship, beginning in infancy with peekaboo, tickle games and the like. As children acquire language and become more mobile, they start to engage in more imitative and pretend play. Play with parents and caregivers is important: Like Jesse, toddlers want to do what you’re doing, and use the same stuff you’re using. “The younger the child, the more realistic the play objects need to be,” says Hewes. A basket full of papers, junk mail and envelopes might hold your toddler’s interest for a few minutes while you open the mail and pay the bills. Likewise, a small wash bin and some plastic dishes will allow him to wash the dishes just like you do.