There are lots of places for your toddler to play: The floor, the tub, a bed, outside… Playing at a table may seem boring in comparison for an on-the-move toddler, but including occasional table play in her options supports development in unique ways.
How Does Playing at a Table Benefit Toddlers?
Whether your toddler sits at the table and draws, builds with blocks, puts together a puzzle, or does BabySparks activities with you, she’s getting the benefits of table play. Occasionally sitting at a table for playtime helps:
Build postural control.
Babies and toddlers are constantly building their core muscles – those in the lower back, pelvis, abdomen, and hips – that allow them to roll over, sit upright, walk, and more. Strong core muscles are necessary for postural control, which provides the strong base they need to successfully accomplish fine-motor tasks. Playing at a table while sitting in a chair targets core muscles and builds postural control.
Support midline-crossing skills.
Crossing the midline is central to your toddler’s ability to use both sides of her body to complete tasks. For example, she reaches her right hand across her body to grab a crayon that’s on the left side of the table. Or, she moves her eyes from left to right as she “reads” the pages in a book. Sitting at a table encourages your toddler to cross her midline as she plays or draws without moving the rest of her body to reach or manipulate an object. Midline crossing is an important building block of emergent writing, self-care, and spatial awareness skills.
Boost emergent writing skills.
The writing activities your child will eventually do in school will require her to sit at a table for periods of time, in the correct position to maintain control of her pencil. Table play now and in the years to come is great practice for this.
Promote school readiness skills.
Even though preschool is still a year or two away, incorporating table play now offers your toddler the same benefits as it will when she enters a preschool classroom. One of the reasons preschools introduce table activities is to prepare children for kindergarten and elementary school. Table play in preschool offers opportunities to work with a teacher, focus on the activity at hand, or socialize with others.
As your toddler becomes more comfortable with sitting at a table for some tasks, she’ll begin to learn all of the amazing things she can do on her own! From stringing beads to gluing together a collage to “writing” a letter, she’s gaining skills that boost her confidence and independence.
Choosing a Table and Chair Set for Your Toddler
If it makes sense for you to have a toddler-sized table and chair set in your home, it will be just the right size for your little one! She will be able to sit up straight in the chair with her feet firmly planted on the ground. You can often find toddler table sets used but still in good condition, or even from friends or neighbors whose children have outgrown theirs. Just make sure that folding chairs have child-proof lock systems to avoid pinched fingers.
If it doesn’t make sense for you to have a toddler table set, you can place your toddler in a booster seat at a regular table. This will help her reach the table while maintaining proper posture.
While table play offers unique benefits for your little one, it’s important to balance it with the other types of play we mentioned at the beginning of the article: Floor play, outdoor play, climbing on and off the couch… A variety of play helps support all areas of your child’s development.