Learning to Play With a Toddler

Eventually, goofiness comes naturally.


Learning to Play With a Toddler

Photo: Donald Fraser


I’ve had mountains of muffins over the past few weeks. I’ve had more cups of tea – each with several scoops of sugar – than I can possibly count. Ordinarily, I’d be worried about my gradually softening midsection, but thankfully these sweet treats have all been imaginary.

With Krista prepping to go back to teaching after an extended maternity leave, daddy/daughter time has been on a continuous rise. And 20-month-old Clara’s favourite activity is cooking in her miniature kitchen. Her specialty? Muffins. And tea.

I’m going to be honest here. When Krista reminded me that I would be spending a lot more hours with Clara, I was a bit nervous. Quite frankly, I had no clue how we were going to fill all the extra hours together. Talking to a few other dads, I realized I was not alone. Apparently, knowing how to play with one-year-olds is not intuitive.

My first instinct was to plan fun outings for the two of us. As far as instincts go, it was a good one. Late summer and early fall saw us taking long trips to the park, the splash pad, and the zoo. These adventures were a hit. My daddy stock went through the roof. For a few hours afterwards, Clara, who is a major mommy’s girl, would have a new favourite word: “daddydaddydaddydaddy!”

But as much fun as they are, these adventures are hugely time-consuming. They’re also somewhat unfair to Krista, who also wants to share in some of the special planned trips. “It doesn’t always have to be something big and special,” she advised. “Just hang out and sometimes let her take the lead.” We have a bit of a routine now, Clara and I. If we have a half a day or so together, we will often do something fun. I’m hoping to fit in one more zoo trip this fall. Sometimes, though, our adventures are a little more mundane, such as trips to the grocery store or market. We take our silliness sideshow on the road and multitask.

For shorter periods together, I make sure we have an activity planned. Let me tell you, dads, craft time is “get stuff done” time. By introducing colouring or painting, you are giving your child some creative activities. Stay close to supervise or to join in to keep things interesting. But also take the opportunity to do a few dishes or some tidying. I also keep a big stack of books handy for reading together.

If it is nice out, we’ll either go for a walk or I will push her on her trike. Fresh air in the big open world makes for pleasant diversions before or after dinner.

Sometimes, though, toddlers just want to play. They are full of energy and imagination and want you to be a part of their world. If this means making muffins and having tea, make muffins and have tea. Lots and lots of it. If it means pretending to be barnyard animals, be the best darned goat you can be.

This is definitely no time to be proud. When your toddler leads playtime you are going to look ridiculous. Yesterday I fed a stuffed lamb a baby bottle of milk. The day before, I taught a doll how to do the Foxtrot. Or perhaps it was the Tango. I’m not sure. I really don’t know how to dance. But Clara wanted a dance party and I tried my best to give it to her. Afterwords she gave me the biggest hug she’s ever given me. My head nearly popped right off from the squeezing. I may have spent the previous hour looking as goofy as goofy can get, but in my daughter’s eyes I was the coolest dad ever.

It’s funny, in no time at all I went from worrying about what to do with Clara to looking forward to the special hours of wackiness that just the two of us share.


Author: Donald Fraser

Donald Fraser is a freelance writer for television, radio, and print publications, both locally and nationally. He is a consultant, and environmental educator with an emphasis on food issues.

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