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A Simple Trick to Encourage Toddlers to Deepen Their Play

A couple of days ago, I created a very open-ended backdrop to a small world play for my toddler with just a couple of Sarah Silks draped over milk crates and cardboard as well as a few pieces of our Grimms pastel rainbow. The playscape was open-ended in that it was purposefully set up minimally yet sufficiently inviting so that she had almost a blank canvas to work with while still getting some inspiration. And inspired she definitely was, helping herself to all the loose parts we had on our playshelf which is right next to this set up, and created a beautiful small world.

Here’s the incredible “Butterfly World” that the 2yo created. I wasn’t even allowed to help though I was totally itching to play haha. I tried suggesting that perhaps there could be two butterflies on one rainbow so they could be friends and play together but the toddler had her own ideas 🙂

However since that day, it has been left as it is the last couple of days without it being touched much and amazingly the baby hasn’t made her way over there to destroy the small world which is rather remarkable 😆

Anyway one question I get asked every now and then is what if an invitation to play is only played with for about 45 seconds? Well, the answer to that is it’s easy enough to pack it all away and just set up something new. But sometimes I do like to just add a couple of new pieces or props to the set up, almost like layering the invitation to play over several days, and see if that would inspire new imaginations and new ways of playing.

In this case, I decided to place our tray of wooden blocks that is usually on the play mat (see here for a closeup pic as well as what I love about them) on a stool right next to the small world set up. This simple little placement change inspired the toddler to jump right back into the small world for a play after a few days of barely touching it at all. She used the arch blocks to create a row of bridges and then the tray itself was used like a maze for the little wooden people to navigate through after hopping over the row of bridges.

Preschoolers are extremely capable of engaging their imaginations and can play for hours over several days at a small world set up. Toddlers on the other hand are still learning how to engage in imaginative play at a higher level and this is just a simple trick I personally use to encourage them to deepen their play 🙂

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