From the time your child was born, you have delighted in each of his developmental milestones. Now that he is a one-year-old, a whole new world of language and movement are available to him. The primary way that young children develop their brains and bodies is through interacting with the world around them, and that means lots of play! So how can parents help their young child learn through play?

“At the end of a child’s first year, most children move from crawling to walking. Provide plenty of safe opportunities to practice the new skills being learned," advises Jen Kuchyt, Program Coordinator and Parent Educator for The Parents as Teachers Program. "For example, set up an obstacle course using pillows or blankets to walk over and a chair to crawl under. This not only helps your child practice motor skills, but by giving verbal directions and using words like 'over' or 'under' you are also helping to expand language development.”

Want to get started? Here are more activities to help your toddler develop his emerging language, sensory and gross motor skills.

Language Development

Children are able to understand language long before they begin to speak. Talking to your child using descriptive words will help build his understanding of words and give him a large variety of words to use when he begins to speak.

  • As you go through the day, name the objects that you see. Even if you think your child is not listening, his brain is processing all the words you say. Talk to your child as you perform actions and involve him whenever possible. For example, “Mommy is going to put the clothes in the washer to get them nice and clean. Can you help Mommy?”
  • Add descriptive words about the color size or shape of an object when you talk about it. For example, rather than, “Can you bring me the ball?” say “Can you bring me the yellow ball?”
  • Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs with your child. If you don’t know the words, get a book at the library, do a quick search on the Internet or make them up! The more language your child hears, the more likely he is to have a rich vocabulary.
  • Read, read, read! Be sure to pick books appropriate for toddlers, with few words, colorful pictures and sturdy pages. Even if he isn’t interested in sitting and listening, you can read as he plays.

Sensory Development

Babies and toddlers use their senses to explore the world around them. When a child uses his senses to discover a new object, it helps develop his brain by creating new neuronal pathways. Exposing your busy toddler to a variety of textures, tastes, smells, sounds and sights will aide in the development of his brain.

  • Provide your child with lots of different textures to explore. In addition to toddler books that contain sensory materials,  give your busy boy the opportunity to feel objects around the house. Use descriptive words as your child feels the rough sandpaper, the sticky tape or the soft blanket.
  • Create a sensory trail using blankets, pillows and other items with unique textures and allow your child to crawl or walk on it with his bare feet. Ask him which objects he likes best.
  • Give your child the opportunity to fingerpaint with a variety of materials. Shaving cream is great when he is in the tub, pudding or whipped cream make for a tasty art project and drawing in sand or salt gives a whole different sensory experience.

Gross Motor Development

Gross motor skills are those that involve the large muscles that enable your child to walk, kick, sit upright and throw. Now is the time for major gross motor development!

  • Before your child begins to walk, let him use you as his jungle gym. Crawling and scooting around and across you as you lay on the floor is a great toddler workout!
  • Give your child the opportunity to practice walking on soft and safe surfaces such as grass or carpet. Don’t be afraid to let him fall: this is how he will learn and it will give him “baby steps” practice at working towards a goal.
  • Use a variety of wheeled toys to push, pull or ride. This makes movement just a little more fun for little ones.
  • Once your child is steady on his feet, play a game of "move like the animals." For example, ask him to hop like a kangaroo, crawl like a kitty or jump like a frog!

Playing with a one-year-old is as simple as using the objects around you in ways that stimulate growth and development. You don’t need fancy toys; just use ordinary household objects and enjoy exploring them with your little one. The world is new and exciting to him. Be part of his discovery and you are both bound to have many exciting adventures as you play!