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The Wonderful World of Toddler Play

Give a baby an empty tissue box, and he'll chew on it, maybe even toss it off his high chair to watch it fall to the ground. Give the same box to an 18-month-old, and he'll fill it with little treasures he's found around the house. A 2-year-old will proudly try to wear the box as a hat, and by the time he's nearing 3, it will have turned into a mailbox, a speedboat, a barn, and innumerable other objects we could never identify.

What's going on? Between 18 months and 3 years is a magical period of development for a toddler. He's beyond the rattle and working hard to master skills he'll need later. "Play is how kids are trying to understand the world around them," says Lydia Soifer, Ph.D., executive director of Children's Development and Education Foundation. "It's linked to many other abilities that are developing at the same time  -- social and language skills, cognitive and emotional growth."

Indeed, play isn't merely a game  -- it's a job that consumes your toddler's every waking hour. Here's what you can expect:

Julie Tilsner is the author of Planet Parenthood, out next month.

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