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Mumsnet tips about toddlers' play

TrampolineToy people Chad Valley asked us to ask you about your toddlers and play - encouraging imaginative play, getting them to play by themselves, role play, and favourite toys and games. Thanks to everyone who posted on the thread. Here are just some of your top-notch toddlers' play tips.


Imaginative play

Sometimes toddlers need a little prompting to get stuck into imaginary games (sometimes, of course, they don't). And some Mumsnetters (naming no names) clearly love nothing more than a bit of imaginative play themselves, to judge by these suggestions...

  • I try to encourage imaginative play by inventing voices for inanimate objects (for months I had to do the voice of our kitchen in a Deep South USA accent, and our lounge saying Good morning to DD so she wasn't scared to come downstairs). WhipMeIndiana
  • Find something they already love and suggest new ways of using it. And the old trick of bagging up toys and storing them then bringing them out again at a later date works brilliantly. fartingfran
  • Take the lead and act out 'grown-up situations'. Threelittleducks
  • Reading stories really helps. DS often acts out the plot of the books we've read together recently. And props help. Blatherskite
  • I spend quite a lot of time pretending to be 'ill' on the sofa whilst he sees how hot I am, and then gives me medicine. RAlover
  • Lego is really good - our planes regularly land to fill up with holiday makers and jet off. justshootmenow
  • DD2 can amuse herself without any toys at all for quite a long time... I hear her feet having quite emotional conversations with each other in the back of the car! Aranea
  • For imaginative play I just get out the pots and pans, put them on an upturned box and add dried pasta, and watch as they 'cook' for hours. sussexmum
  • Sounds obvious, but a big dressing-up box. mummybrained
  • "Not having everything makes them use their imagination more." missorinoco
    Provide 'lots of' an item - so lots of blocks or pine cones or conkers. Adair
  • Give things names and voices and characters - be it bath toys, favourite car, doll, etc, and talk to your child through it. They soon start talking back or copying. Then you end up in a house of madness where everything has a name and character. swallowedAfly
  • Provide a good range of toys and don't direct their play too much. If they want to use a golf club as a walking stick or a horse, or a box as a hat or a boat, so be it. BringBackPacers22
  • Keep it simple. DS loves random stuff from around the house - loo roll middles, plastic bowls, cushions. untimewincies
  • Top tip? Slights and injuries in the imaginary world are serious and need to be taken that way. stealthsquiggle

Playing on their own

So you've got a load of Mumsnetting chores you need to be getting on with, but you've also got a child who needs entertaining. Mumsnetters have some canny ploys for persuading toddlers to play on their own for a little while...

  • DS2 will always play on his own for much longer and much more happily if he has two of things (one for each hand) - be it little people, cars, sticks, building blocks, spoons, whatever. If he has two, then they interact and he does both sides of the interaction. zipzap
  • What seems to work is not entirely leaving him to it, ie popping in and out, and talking about what he's doing. BornToFolk
  • The best way to get him to play on his own is often to play with him till he gets sick of me. HazedandConfused
  • The best way to get him to play by himself is to be too busy to play with him, sadly. KvetaBarry
  • Both of mine like to play on their own. They also like fighting over toys a lot. craftynclothy
  • I practise a policy of Benign Neglect to encourage independent play. From their earliest days I have allowed my DC to be bored. That way they learned to entertain themselves. (I do also play with my children as well!) PrettyCandles
  • "My kids LOVE playing in the garden - something as simple as collecting rocks or twigs can keep my DC entertained for a good hour." AngelDelightIsFab
    Have more children. More children = less attention from parents = more likely to learn to entertain themselves, with and without their siblings. That's how it worked in our family, anyway. Bogglepodder
  • I put DS's favourite toy (his train set) in his bedroom under the guise that it is 'too big' for the living room. BertieBotts
  • Rotate toys. onadietcokebreak
  • Interject at times (not very often) and give the scenario a new spin. Threelittleducks
  • Just back off and let them get on with it. I overhear lots of parents really closely directing play, "don't do that, it doesn't go there, don't be silly it's not an x it's a y" blah blah blah, especially with crafty projects. Just give them the stuff and don't worry if the finished article doesn't look like the picture. ProfYaffle
  • Fill an old baby bath with lukewarm water, put it in the garden by the kitchen door and they'll play out there for hours. menagerie
  • Have a few toys within easy reach that they can get out themselves. 2gorgeousgirls
  • A hole puncher and a load of collected recipes ripped from magazines. sunmonkey

But if your children simply refuse to play nicely by themselves, fret not...

  • Playing by themselves or not is nature, not nurture. BringBackPacers22

Role play

Listening to your children playing by themselves is often hilarious - and occasionally chastening when your hear 'yourself' being channelled...

  • Since the arrival of DD2 she has been understandably neglected left to her own devices a lot more. This has forced encouraged more role play and I have overheard some immensely cute playing: 'Have you done another poo?' or 'Oh dear, what's wrong?' I am often to be found cowering behind doors sniggering softly to myself. RainySmallHands
  • My children's soft toys spend half their time on the 'step' and the other half having their nappies changed. missorinoco
  • DD2 sounds really patronising sometimes when she talks to us, but she is only repeating what we say to her. BringBackPacers22
  • My three-year-old daughter role plays with everything and anything. Her tub of pencils are brought to life where they all talk with each and have different personalities. Together we do loads of role reversal. She will be mum and I will be her, or I will be dad and she will be mum. presario
  • "DS to DD: 'Stay away from that, it's hot... I SAID, DON'T TOUCH'." jenniferturkington
    DD (four) and DS (two) have just started to involve the cat in their games. Luckily, this cat has a good sense of humour and will tolerate being put to bed (under the covers) because 'he looks a bit ill', but it's only a matter of time before they try to give him an enema. whomovedmychocolate
  • Their favourite game at the moment is 'mummy and sweethearts', which has to be voiced in a fantastic American drawl. DD3 is usually mummy, and DD4 and Ruby, our Staffordshire bull terrier, are usually sweethearts. The game consists of a lot of ordering about, hugging and kissing, and clumping about in plastic high heels. It's about the farthest removed from how I act and parent as possible - I'm not American and I walk like Dick Emery in heels. 5GoMadOnAZ650
  • My eight-year-old daughter and three-year-old son were playing mummies and daddies a few weeks ago. They spent ages looking after the dolls. Then they put them both in the buggy, and DD said to DS: "Come on - let's go to the pub." PasstheTwiglets

Favourite games and toys

Timeless classics (aka oldies but goodies) seems to be the order of the day when it comes to Mumsnetters' toddlers' fave pastimes...

  • DD is never without a doll or stuffed toy. RainySmallHands
  • Construction toys are a big hit. Both my daughters love playing with Lego and building blocks. Sassyfrassy
  • Playing animal hospitals with all their soft toys, a doctor's set and millions of plasters and bandages. llynnnn
  • DD3 (one) loves drilling - she has a builder's set and is not afraid to use it! DorisIsAPinkDragon
  • Making dens on the trampoline with old sheets and curtains, 'painting' on the patio slabs with water then watching it magically disappear as it dries, using the water butt to fill watering cans and then watering anything that doesn't move quick enough... 5GoMadOnAZ650
  • We make tents on the floor and get sheets out to paint on - my DS2 has special needs and he loves it. Loves his sand pit and the trampoline, too. ilovesprouts
  • "Our best toy at the moment is a 'mud kitchen' on the allotment, cobbled together out of charity shop buys. Hours of fun." ProfYaffle
    My toddler's favourite game is probably pretending to be a train, and lining up sticks (or preferably someone’s legs) to run up and down as a train track. LaWeasel
  • Mine (three) loves building blocks - we started with some (appropriately!) Chad Valley wooden blocks in a tub, then moved on to Duplo/Megabloks and we are now on proper Lego. moonbells
  • Favourite game to play by himself is always a 'saving someone' scenario, or being saved himself! Threelittleducks
  • DD's (nearly two) best toy is her older siblings. Nemoandthefishes

But, naturally, what toddlers REALLY want to play with is...

  • Whatever the other one is playing with! herecomesthsun


Toys from Chad Valley


Cooking set Cooking set Laundry


Car Transporter Wash Day Set 
Cooking set Cooking set Pram 
Vacuum Cleaner  Trampoline  My first doll's pram

Last updated: over 3 years ago