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Are you struggling to help your young toddler transition to independent play? Get a game plan to make the switch from baby play to toddler play easier! I use these strategies to support play and development for my 18 month old.

Early childhood play is so important! At times though, it can be difficult to navigate playtime as our little ones move from the baby stage into the independent toddler stage. As babies, our little ones are completely dependent on us. Somewhere around the 18 month mark, however, a radical change takes place. Out of nowhere, our babies take off! He’s probably been walking for months, but at this particular age there is a new found passion for independence. This emotional milestone is a game changer for the way your child plays.

It’s can be a tough transition to move from “baby playtime” to “toddler playtime.” How can you support your kiddo in this new independent stage of play?

No worries, mama. I’ve got you covered. Check out my top five tips for 18 month old play. Ready, set, go!

1. Get Active

For those of you about to enter the toddler stage, hear me now: Get ready to exercise! My motto is, “When in doubt, wiggle it out!” Toddlers crave movement. They thrive on it! They’ve just realized freedom from of all those months being stuck wherever mama put them. And, let me tell you, independence is addictive! Here’s a few ways you can get those wiggles out:

  • Dance Party! Put on your favorite tunes and let each family member make up their own signature move.
  • Lego Dash- Place a box of Legos and an empty box or bucket on opposite sides of the room. Race to see who can fill up their bucket the fastest!
  • Handy Helper- What is work to us is play for toddlers. Little J loves to help me push the vacuum. It helps me knock out my cleaning, plus gets some gross motor “play” in for him.

2. Puzzle Them

Along with improved gross and fine motor skills, 18 month old toddlers are growing in leaps and bounds in problem solving. Did you know that a toddler has 200% more synapses in his brain than you do? Give him the chance to use those brain muscles! Here are our favorite puzzling activities for 18 month old play:

  • Puzzles- Obvious one here, of course. Puzzles are perfect for developing critical thinking! We love our wooden ones from Melissa & Doug.
  • Creative Thinking- One of our favorite brain building exercises is to encourage creative thinking with a box of random toys and objects. Little J’s favorite imaginary play at the moment is to line up his dinosaurs and stage a massive coup d’état on the stuffed animal hierarchy. (The dinos always win.)

3. Give Them Space

Kids who can’t play by themselves grow into adults who can’t solve problems by themselves. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but this is a guiding principle of raising self-sufficient kids. It’s oh so tempting to jump in at every little hiccup your 18 month old encounters. But young toddlers need space to figure things out for themselves! Plus, when you see them succeed you get to swoop in for the victory hug. The next time you see your little one struggling to stack a block or match a shape, wait a minute or two. Keep a watchful eye from a distance and you’ll be surprised at what your kid can do!


4. Give Them Support

Now, based on what you just read you might think I’m a cold-hearted mommy-monster who never plays with her toddler. On the contrary! It’s all about balance. Just as your toddler needs space to explore, he also needs support to succeed.

I’ve found that this looks like independent play in the areas he’s comfortable in. Then when he’s ready for a challenge I come in to teach him the skill he needs. For example, he loves pretend play with dinosaurs and animals. My little guy is an expert at animal sounds, for sure. I’ll let him play independently with his toy animals for a bit. After a few minutes, I might step in and help him push his imagination a little. I’ll challenge him to add a storytelling dynamic to his play. “Let’s pretend these dinosaurs are on an adventure. Should they climb a mountain or swim through a river next?”

Then he’s off to the races again, armed with a new playtime skill and a kiss on the cheek! In the teaching world we call this scaffolding. It’s a pretty big deal y’all. Try it!

5. Give Them Limits

Lastly, one of the most important tips for 18 month old play is to set limits. Set them early. Set them firmly. I’m inspired by the phrase one of my cousins uses with her little ones. Before they set off to play she states (in a sweet, yet business like tone) “These are the rules.” She gives at the most three simple rules her kids need to follow to stay safe and be respectful of their environment. I’m working on this one with Little J, as he is just entering the verbal stage. “Practice makes permanent,” as they say!


Supporting your child as they transition into more independent can be easy after all! Remember that each child is different. Tune in to your child’s particular needs. Does he need a more support driven and a less hands-off approach? Perhaps he is captivated more by fine motor play then gross motor activities. No matter what, make playtime personal. Find out what makes your little one thrive!

Check out my recommended resources for toddler play!

If you’re looking for the perfect combination of early learning and Bible learning, check out my Bible curriculum for toddlers and preschoolers! The God’s World curriculum is designed to make it easy to teach your child God’s Word. Plus, as a former teacher, I’ve integrated key early learning skills into each activity.

You won’t find tons of worksheets in this bundle. This curriculum provides a month’s worth of hands-on activities (three totally doable activities per week) which will:

1.) get you and your toddler out into the sunshine

2.) build curiosity, critical thinking, and creative thinking skills

3.) encourage an appreciation for God’s beautiful creation!

This curriculum is the perfect guide to planning those morning activities. Try it out! It’s only $4, plus I have a 100% money-back guarantee if it’s not the right fit for you.

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