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Manipulative Play Activities for Toddlers

by Eliza Martinez, studioD

Toddlers learn primarily through playing, so giving him every opportunity to do so with a variety of toys is an ideal way to foster every aspect of cognition. Manipulative play involves using the hands and eyes and promotes healthy coordination, control over the body and other skills he'll need in school. Many activities are available, so you'll have plenty to choose from. Mix them up now and then to give your little one new and exciting ways to play.

Examples of Manipulative Play

Almost anything that gets your little one to explore items with his hands works for manipulative play. Let him squeeze and mash clay or salt dough. Splashing in the bathtub or playing in the sand are other fun toddler activities that he probably won't turn down. Blow bubbles and let your little one pop them as they float past him. Nesting and stacking toys as well as large connecting blocks are other toys that promote manipulative play. Drawing with crayons or markers is another fun toddler activity. Offer him large wooden peg puzzles that he can take apart, explore and then put back together.


Not only is manipulative play fun for you and your toddler, but it has many brain development benefits as well. Your little one will learn about size, shape and weight as he plays with various toys. He'll also build early math skills by learning about sorting, patterns and sequences. He will also get to compare and contrast toys, even if he doesn't realize it. Manipulative play also develops the muscles in your toddler's hands, fingers and arms.


The best way to turn your toddler off of a certain activity is to force it on him. Children are naturally drawn to playing and toys, but they each have preferences. With the many manipulative play options, there is no reason to make your toddler do a puzzle if he'd rather build a sand castle. Offer choices, but allow your toddler to make the final decision. Set out a variety of toys at the beginning of the day and let your toddler move among them. The more he plays with, the more skills he is building. So, don't announce time for manipulatives, but instead offer him the choice of blowing bubbles or painting, or whatever activities are his favorites.


As the parent of a toddler, you are probably well acquainted with their tendency to put everything into their mouth. It is important to stay near your child when he plays to make sure he is safe. If you choose small manipulative toys, watch carefully to make sure he doesn't decide to nibble on one. If he can't resist the temptation, put them up and try again in a few days. Likewise, keep your toddler from eating crayons or licking his paints. Most are nontoxic, but could still cause a tummy ache or a funny colored diaper. Always pick up toys at the end of the day so no one trips or slips on one and gets hurt.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images