Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Kids Through Play blog post


5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Kids Through Play

October 23, 2023

Board certified behavior analyst Erin Ross shares her tips for skill-building play

Not sure what to do with your little one during playtime? Many parents say they aren’t good at playing with their young children, that it’s boring, or they feel overwhelmed about creating enriching play routines. Have no fear! Here are five fundamental skills you can teach your child through play.

1. Requesting

Requesting is an important skill for getting our wants and needs met, and it’s a great one to teach during play. When playing with a puzzle such as the Construction Chunky Puzzle, try giving your toddler just one piece at a time. You’ll create an opportunity for them to ask for more pieces with the word or sign for “more,” or by requesting the specific piece they want. Each time your child needs a new piece, you’re creating a learning opportunity and including yourself as an integral part of the activity. 

Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Through Play blog post

2. Labeling

Labeling is another building block skill that helps children navigate their world. You can model this skill by playing with toys that have lots of color, texture, shapes, and sounds. The Musical Farmyard Cube is a great fit for labeling and can help you feel involved in playtime with your baby. As baby explores each side of the cube, try narrating what you see, feel, or hear. “Oooh, that’s a pink pig. Oink oink oink!” “The sheep’s ears are so soft!” and “Who’s in the mirror? It’s baby!” are all great places to start. 

Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Through Play blog post

3. Imitation

Imitation skills are really important fundamentals for learning more complex skills as kids age, and imitation is super easy to teach with pretend play. You can model an action like scooping, stacking, pouring, rolling, and encourage your little one to copy you. A pretend play toy like the Slice & Toss Salad Set works great for this since there are so many actions to imitate. You can put the foods together, chop them apart, put pieces in the bowl, pretend to pour on the dressing, and pretend to eat. Bonus: this style of toy targets fine motor skills, too! 

Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Through Play blog post

4. Following Simple Instructions

We can also teach children to follow simple instructions during play, which is really important for future safety, like listening to “stop!” before crossing the street. We can work on the basics of following directions with simple things like “put it in” or “roll the ball to me.” The Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks are a perfect fit for teaching this skill. The blocks can be stacked (“put on”), nested (“put in”), knocked over, sandwiched together with something inside to make a rattle (“shake it!”), played like a drum, used as pretend cups or bowls — the possibilities are endless! 

Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Through Play blog post

5. Answering Questions

For toddlers with more emerging language, we can really start to hone the skill of answering questions. Using a toy with a lot of familiar components like the Take-Along Sorting Barn creates many opportunities to engage with your child during play time. You can ask what each animal is called, what sound they make and what colors they are, and while playing with each, ask questions about what they’re doing, where they’re going, and how they feel. 

Melissa & Doug 5 Fundamental Skills You Can Teach Through Play blog post

Playing with your baby or toddler doesn’t have to be scary or boring or overwhelming. And teaching while playing isn’t just for the professionals. You can be a great playmate and a great teacher all while having lots of fun with your little one. 

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