Engaging Play Techniques for Your 18-Month-Old: Fun Ideas to Stimulate Development

At 18 months, your child is exploring their world with newfound mobility and curiosity. They are constantly learning through play, and using the right techniques can help them develop essential skills in a fun and engaging way. Here are some play techniques you can use for your 18-month-old:

1. Sensory Play:

Sensory play with different textures

Sensory play allows your child to explore the world through their senses of touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing. This type of play helps them learn about different textures, shapes, and sounds while stimulating their brain development.

  • Here are some ideas for sensory play activities:
    • Provide your child with safe objects of different textures, such as soft blankets, crinkly paper, and smooth wooden blocks.
    • Let them explore different materials like water, sand, or play dough.
    • Set up a sensory bin filled with beans, rice, or other safe materials.
    • Play with scented play dough or introduce them to different smells like spices or essential oils (always supervise closely).
    • Touch:

      • Play dough fun: Make your own play dough or purchase safe, store-bought options. Let your child explore the dough by rolling it out, squishing it, poking holes, and shaping it into different forms.
      • Texture treasure hunt: Hide different textured objects (like cotton balls, sandpaper squares, wooden spoons) around the house and let your child find them using their sense of touch.
      • Sensory bottles: Fill clear plastic bottles with various safe materials like water, glitter, beads, or rice. Seal the bottles securely and let your child explore how the contents move and feel.


      • Color sorting: Provide your child with different colored objects (blocks, toys, pom poms) and containers. Encourage them to sort the objects by color.
      • Light play: Use flashlights, colored tissue paper, or a projector to create different light displays and shadows for your child to explore.
      • Mirror play: As mentioned earlier, provide a safe mirror for your child to explore their reflection. Play games like peek-a-boo or make funny faces together.


      • Spice jars: Open safe spice jars (cinnamon, cloves) and allow your child to smell them under close supervision. Talk about the different scents.
      • Scented play dough: Use essential oils (diluted in carrier oil) or natural ingredients like vanilla extract to create different scented play dough varieties.
      • Flower exploration: Take your child outside and let them smell different flowers (non-toxic varieties) under supervision.


      • Taste testing: Introduce your child to different safe and healthy foods with a variety of textures and flavors. Encourage them to explore the taste through licking or nibbling (under supervision).
      • Homemade sensory snacks: Make yogurt parfaits with different toppings or smoothies with various fruits and vegetables. Let your child explore the different textures and tastes.


      • Musical instruments: Provide your child with safe instruments like shakers, drums, or bells. Encourage them to explore these instruments and make different sounds.
      • Nature sounds: Take your child outside and listen to the sounds of nature, such as birds singing, leaves rustling, or water flowing. Discuss the different sounds together.
      • Homemade shakers: Fill empty containers with different materials (rice, beans, pasta) and create your own shakers to explore different sounds.

      Remember: Always supervise your child closely during any sensory play activity, especially when using materials they could put in their mouth.

2. Parallel Play:

Parallel play with two babies

Parallel play is when two children play alongside each other, but not necessarily together. This type of play helps your child develop social skills and learn how to interact with others without necessarily engaging in direct interaction.

  • Here are some tips for encouraging parallel play:
    • Provide two sets of similar toys, so each child can have their own.
    • Set up a play area with different activities, such as a block building area and a reading corner.
    • Talk to your child about what they are doing and narrate your own actions as well.
    • Similar Activities, Different Materials:

      • Building towers: While you build a tower with wooden blocks, your child can build one with plastic blocks or stacking cups.
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      • Playing with cars: You can race toy cars on a track, while your child pushes their cars around independently.
      • Drawing or painting: You can both sit at a table and draw with crayons or paintbrushes, each creating your own masterpieces.
      • Reading books: Each of you can sit with your own book and pretend to read, narrating your own stories.

      Shared Space, Different Goals:

      • Playing in a sandbox: You can both play in the sandbox, each building sandcastles or digging holes independently.
      • Playing in a ball pit: You both get into the ball pit, but you focus on throwing balls into a basket while your child focuses on rolling around in the balls.
      • Playing with water: You can both play with water in a small pool or tub, but you might rinse toys while your child splashes and pours water.
      • Playing in the kitchen: You cook pretend food in a play kitchen, while your child washes play dishes in another corner.

      Mimicking Actions:

      • You play with a toy phone and talk to someone imaginary, your child may grab a toy phone and pretend to talk too.
      • You build a tower of blocks, your child might try to imitate you by building their own tower or knocking yours over playfully.
      • You sing a song and clap your hands, your child might clap along or babble a melody in response.


      • Parallel play involves playing alongside each other, not necessarily interacting directly.
      • Providing similar materials or activities can encourage parallel play, but also allow room for individual exploration.
      • Observing your child during parallel play can offer insights into their interests and development

3. Pretend Play:

Baby girl pretending to drink from a toy cup

Pretend play, also known as imaginative play, allows your child to use their imagination and creativity. They can act out different scenarios, take on different roles, and explore different emotions. This type of play helps them develop their language skills, problem-solving skills, and social skills.

  • Here are some ideas for encouraging pretend play:
    • Provide your child with simple props, such as dolls, stuffed animals, toy cars, and dress-up clothes.
    • Play along with your child and act out different roles.
    • Read stories that involve pretend play and talk to your child about the characters and their actions.
    • Everyday Activities:

      • Feeding dolls or stuffed animals: Give your child toy dishes and utensils and let them pretend to feed their “babies.”
      • Cleaning imaginary messes: Provide safe cleaning tools like a toy broom and dustpan and let them clean up after themselves or their toys.
      • Going shopping: Set up a pretend grocery store with toy shopping carts and food items. Let your child pretend to pick out groceries, pay at the “cash register,” and “bag” their purchases.
      • Pretend phone calls: Give your child a safe toy phone and let them pretend to talk to someone on the other end.

      Imaginative Scenarios:

      • Animal hospital: Provide your child with stuffed animals and toy doctor tools. Let them pretend to examine the animals, take their “temperatures,” and bandage their “wounds.”
      • Building a house: Use pillows, blankets, and chairs to create a pretend house. Let your child crawl in and out, “cook” imaginary food, and pretend to sleep.
      • Going on a safari: Pretend to be on a safari looking for animals. Use stuffed animals or pictures and let your child “drive” the jeep, “spot” the animals, and make animal sounds.
      • Dressing up: Provide dress-up clothes like hats, scarves, and capes. Let your child dress up as different characters and act out different roles.

      Additional Tips:

      • Narrate your own actions and talk about what you’re doing in the pretend scenario. This helps your child understand the concept and encourages them to participate.
      • Use simple props and everyday objects to create your pretend play scenarios. This allows for endless possibilities and keeps the play open-ended.
      • Get down to their level and play along with your child! Your participation will make the play more engaging and enjoyable for them.

      Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started. The most important thing is to be creative and have fun together, letting your child’s imagination guide the play.

4. Active Play:

Toddler running and laughing

Active play is essential for your child’s physical development. It helps them develop their gross motor skills, such as running, jumping, and climbing. It also helps them develop their hand-eye coordination and balance.

  • Here are some ideas for encouraging active play:
    • Take your child to the park or playground.
    • Play games like tag or chase.
    • Dance to music together.
    • Go for a walk or hike.
    • Here are some additional examples of active play for 18-month-olds:

      Indoor Activities:

      • Dance party: Play energetic music and dance around the room together. Encourage your child to jump, clap, and spin.
      • Obstacle course: Create a simple obstacle course using pillows, blankets, and chairs. Your child can crawl, climb, and maneuver through the course.
      • Indoor ball games: Ball games can be played in various ways. You can roll a ball back and forth, play catch with a soft ball, or set up a small bowling alley with empty bottles and a soft ball.
      • Simon Says: Play a modified version of Simon Says with simple instructions like “jump,” “touch your toes,” or “clap your hands.”
      • Parachute play: Use a large fabric parachute or sheet to play games like peek-a-boo, make waves, or lift the children off the ground.

      Outdoor Activities:

      • Playground fun: Take your child to the playground and let them explore the different equipment like slides, swings, and climbers.
      • Nature walks: Go for a walk in the park or explore your backyard. Encourage your child to run, jump, and collect leaves, sticks, or other interesting objects.
      • Bubbles: Blow bubbles and chase them together. This encourages running, jumping, and reaching.
      • Sidewalk chalk: Use sidewalk chalk to draw hopscotch squares, a path to follow, or various shapes for your child to jump, balance on, or walk over.
      • Water play: Splashing in a kiddie pool, playing with a watering can, or running through a sprinkler are great ways to cool down and get active in the summer months. (Always supervise closely near water.)

      Additional Tips:

      • Keep the activities short and engaging, as 18-month-olds have short attention spans.
      • Be sure to choose activities that are appropriate for your child’s physical development and abilities.
      • Make it fun! Your enthusiasm and positive energy will encourage your child to participate and enjoy the active play.
      • Remember to supervise your child closely at all times during active play to ensure their safety.

      By incorporating a variety of active play activities into your child’s day, you can help them develop essential gross motor skills, coordination, balance, and stamina, all while having fun!

5. Exploratory Play:

Toddler crawling and exploring

Exploratory play allows your child to explore their environment and learn about the world around them. They can experiment with different objects, discover new things, and learn cause and effect.

  • Here are some ideas for encouraging exploratory play:
    • Take your child on nature walks and let them explore the outdoors.
    • Set up a safe space indoors or outdoors where your child can explore freely.
    • Provide your child with safe objects to explore, such as pots and pans, cardboard boxes, and empty containers.
    • Sensory Exploration:

      • Mystery boxes: Fill a box with different safe objects with various textures, sounds, and smells. Let your child open the box and explore the contents through touch, smell, and listening to the sounds they make.
      • Ice play: Give your child safe objects frozen in ice cubes to explore. They can watch the ice melt, feel the coldness, and even try to manipulate the objects as the ice melts.
      • Nature walks: Take your child on nature walks and encourage them to explore different elements like leaves, flowers, rocks, and even small insects (under close supervision). Talk about the different textures, colors, and shapes they encounter.

      Cause and Effect Exploration:

      • Water play with simple containers: Fill different sized containers with water and let your child experiment with pouring, spilling, and transferring the water between them. This helps them explore cause and effect, such as observing how the water level changes in different containers.
      • Building and knocking down: Provide your child with building blocks or stacking cups. Encourage them to build towers and then knock them down. This helps them learn about cause and effect and develop problem-solving skills.
      • Playing with switches and buttons: Find safe household items with buttons or switches, like light switches or remote controls (not functioning ones) and let your child explore how pressing them might change something (supervised).

      Imaginative Exploration:

      • Building a blanket fort: Create a cozy blanket fort with your child and let them crawl in and out, explore the enclosed space, and use it as a base for imaginary play.
      • Playing with mirrors: Place a safe mirror at your child’s eye level. Encourage them to explore their reflection, make funny faces, and observe how their movements are mirrored.
      • Dress-up play in nature: If you’re exploring outdoors, let your child dress up in fun hats, capes, or scarves and pretend they are on an adventure. This encourages imaginative exploration and role-playing in different environments.

      Additional Tips:

      • Provide open-ended toys and materials that encourage exploration and discovery, like blocks, balls, containers, and natural objects.
      • Allow your child to explore at their own pace. Don’t rush them or try to direct their play too much.
      • Ask open-ended questions like “What does that feel like?” or “What do you hear?” to encourage them to observe and describe their experience.
      • Be present and engage with your child during exploratory play. Show interest in their discoveries and join them in their exploration when appropriate.

      Remember, the goal of exploratory play is to allow your child to learn and understand the world around them through their senses and interactions. By providing opportunities for exploration and creating a safe and stimulating environment, you can help them develop essential skills like curiosity, problem-solving, and creativity.

By incorporating these play techniques into your child’s daily routine, you can help them develop essential skills and lay the foundation for lifelong learning and play. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy your time together!

Additional Reading links

I can’t provide real-time Google search results, but I can suggest popular websites that often rank highly for such topics:

  1. Parents.com – “50 Fun Activities for Kids to Do at Home” Website: https://www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/imaginative-play-ideas-for-kids/
  2. Today’s Parent – “The Ultimate List of Indoor Activities for Kids” Website: https://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/50-fun-activities-for-kids-to-do-at-home/
  3. What Moms Love – “50+ Easy Indoor Activities for Kids” Website: https://whatmomslove.com/kids/ultimate-list-indoor-activities-for-kids/
  4. My Bored Toddler – “20 Simple Play Ideas for 2 Year Olds” Website: https://myboredtoddler.com/20-simple-play-ideas-for-2-year-olds/
  5. The Spruce – “25 Fun Activities for Toddlers” Website: https://www.thespruce.com/activities-for-toddlers-4685918
  6. Hands On As We Grow – “100+ Toddler Activities” Website: https://handsonaswegrow.com/category/toddler-activities/
  7. Busy Toddler – “50+ Quick Toddler Activities” Website: https://busytoddler.com/2019/01/50-quick-toddler-activities/
  8. Happy Hooligans – “30+ Awesome Toddler Activities” Website: https://happyhooligans.ca/toddler-activities/
  9. Childhood101 – “50+ Simple Play Ideas for Toddlers” Website: https://childhood101.com/simple-play-ideas-for-toddlers/
  10. The Best Ideas for Kids – “50+ Indoor Activities for Kids” Website: https://www.thebestideasforkids.com/indoor-activities-for-kids/

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