Throughout age 2, you may notice your toddler playing with more purpose. Perhaps you see their wheels turning as they line up blocks, eventually forming a “bridge” for cars and trucks to drive across. This type of play involves planning, which develops throughout childhood and is intricately linked to life skills, writing, reading, math, and much more.
Why Planning Skills are Important
Planning skills allow toddlers to think constructively about what they’re going to do. When your toddler plans tasks before doing them, they’re exercising their memory, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and ability to carry out tasks.
There are two primary types of planning skills: Motor planning and cognitive planning. Motor planning is the strategizing process toddlers use to learn how to make their bodies move in different ways. It’s at the heart of learning and memorizing movements like running, jumping, navigating around objects, and writing. What we’re focusing on here, though, is cognitive planning. It is an essential part of executive function (the all-important set of skills at the heart of thinking and doing) and involves forming ideas and strategizing how to execute them.
Types of Play That Encourage Planning
Almost any form of play can help toddlers hone their planning skills! However, the following types of play are especially well-known for requiring strategizing, planning, and following through:
Art and creative play: From scribbling on paper to playing with an instrument, creative activities encourage planning. During months 22-36, toddlers begin to scribble with intention, eventually drawing pictures of Grandma! Planning skills are hard at work as they think about what they want to draw and how to do it. When playing with a xylophone, toddlers may begin to listen to the sounds, and use planning to hit specific keys or form a rhythm (even if it doesn’t quite sound like music to you!).
Symbolic play: Symbolic (pretend) play, especially as toddlers begin to act out imaginative scenarios, calls for a lot of thinking and strategizing!
Gameplay: Board, memory, and card games are perfect planning tools for toddlers. Games usually require some form of strategizing, like choosing which two cards to flip over in a memory game or deciding which direction to move a game piece on the board.
Block play: Playing with blocks benefits little ones in many ways, including boosting planning skills. As toddlers begin to build more complex structures with blocks, they need to strategize where to place different blocks to accomplish a goal.
Social play: The more your little one plays with others, the more they’ll learn to work together in constructive ways, which involves planning, of course! Sharing, playing cooperatively, and carrying out an imaginative scenario with peers all target your toddler’s planning abilities.
Planning games. Another way to build these skills is through specific planning activities that help toddlers think ahead. You can find fun ideas for this in our BabySparks program, including the activities Learning to Plan and Right Tool for the Job II.
Sparking your little one’s planning skills now is an important step towards independence and productivity later in life!