6 Tips that Foster Calm Intentional Play for Two Year Olds

calm two year old play

Any daycare provider that has a group of two year olds (or a single two year old) has probably seen them engage in the ever popular activity I like to call, “The Garbage Pile.”  The two year olds gleefully take a toy off the toy shelves and dump it in a huge pile.  Then, once every single toy (and object) within sight has been deposited in the pile, they walk away. And that’s it.  That is the whole game.

They are no longer interested in playing with any of the toys in the pile and they are definitely not interested in putting all those toys back on the shelves in an orderly fashion.

This game, played day after day, is the recipe for a caregiver melt down.  Yes, it does seem to bring the two year olds joy but it wipes out the caregiver who has to put everything away later. I have also found that the two year old gets revved up when they play this game; destruction play seems to bring out their mischievous side and they go hunting for another challenge like a pack of hungry cavemen.

So, how do you foster quality play with two year olds?

1. Remove 75% of the current toys in your playroom.

Don’t throw them away, just store them for a few months.  It is extremely helpful to create a calm physical environment in order to influence a calm focused play time. It’s too hard for a child to decide what to play with when there are so many choices. Too many choices for a two year old causes them to become wound up and looking for a way to release all that extra energy.

What do you keep? Here are a few ideas:

Vehicles with wheels or trains

Toy people and animals

Basket of bean bags or soft balls

Bin of cloths or small blankets

Sturdy board books

Play kitchen

A few dolls or stuffed animals


Basket of open-ended objects

The open-ended objects are anything you have around the house that is safe (no choking hazards) and that can be transformed into different props for any game. For example, soft cubes can be used one day as houses for a pretend village and the next day as money in a pretend store.

2. Re-organize your playroom with the reduced number of toys.

Even though the amount of toys has been decreased the room can still be inviting, warm and peaceful.  Check to make sure the room doesn’t echo with noise.  If it does, consider hanging fabrics from the ceiling or walls to help absorb the sound. Look at the fabrics hung in this room I found on Pinterest.

Create a few little hide-a-ways for your two year olds by re-arranging a toy shelf or low table.  Consider adding a big box as a tunnel from the main play area to a smaller nook play area.

Hanging plants from the ceiling or putting them up on a shelf will bring life and clean air into your playroom environment. Children enjoy being surrounded by calm colours and natural objects.

3. Make the floor inviting

Two year olds spend most of their time on the floor playing.  Is the playroom floor comfortable for them? Carpet or an area rug helps make the play space inviting to sit down on and get into a game.  Children will appreciate a few pillows on the floor in a corner where they can go and relax with a book or a stuffed animal friend.

4. Demonstrate creative play

I like to bring one toy off the shelves and put it in the middle of our play rug so when the first child arrives, the toy is sitting there waiting for them.  Often, I will give a two year old a few suggestions if they aren’t sure how to explore the toy in an appropriate manner.  Two year olds benefit from watching older children play. If you don’t have older children who can act as play role models then that job falls to the caregiver.

Bring out your bin of vehicles and help the children build a garage where they can park their cars.  Use a cardboard box and make a tunnel for the vehicles to drive through on their way home to the garage.  Show the kids how to put down a blanket for a picnic for the dolls.  Suggest feeding the dolls blocks for pretend food. Demonstrate how to put the dolls to bed under the blankets.  The two year olds might like to pretend to read a story to the dolls using the board books.

Once you get the children rolling on a game then they will quickly take the lead and change it to their personal interest level.  If the game seems to be taking a dangerous or inappropriate turn, gently step in and guide it back to a safer avenue.

5. Tidy up the Toys together

Clean up time won’t be so overwhelming when you only have 75% of your toys in the playroom.  Have the children help you put each type of toy back into each bin or spot on the toy shelf.  Invite everyone to first work together to put the blocks away, then the dolls, then the books.  Sing while you work, two year olds enjoy moving to music and consider tidying up a fun sharing experience!

Tidying up the toys and handling the toys with loving kindness shows your two year olds how we feel about our toys.  When your daycare toys are respected and viewed as quality playthings they take on a magical element.  Children will emulate what they see.  A caregiver who uses her body language to treat the toys as valuable objects will convey the message to her daycare children.

Children who view their toys as beautiful treasures will refrain from throwing them into the pretend “Garbage Pile.”

6. Take two year olds outside for an hour of play everyday.

If an hour is too long for your daycare children, break your outside time up into two different sessions.  Active outdoor play is the best remedy to get two year olds exploring and learning.  All you need is the natural world.  Children are naturally interested in leaves, sticks, bugs and trees.  A slow wander around your yard or park is sure to produce a variety of activities and interests that are all child lead.

Rolling down a hill is always a favourite for my group.


So is the slide at the park.


The daily outdoor time will help your two year old release extra energy and frustrations.  It re-boots their system and their mood for the next indoor play session.  They will be more co-operative and calmer after a few weeks of daily outdoor play.

Once your two year olds are playing with a more focused energy you can slowly add more toys back into your playroom.  It will take a few weeks for your daycare children to adjust to the new environment, so expect a few upsets in the first week. However, children adapt very quickly and they will follow the lead of a gentle caregiver with clear intentions.  Remember, your focused calm manner will quickly rub off on your group.

Please share your thoughts below.  I enjoy hearing from you and we all love to learn and get ideas from each other.

Happy playing everyone!



  1. I soooo needed this right now as a reminder that the behavior issues with the 19mo old are my issues with not providing the correct learning environment. I am on it now!

  2. What great tips. Even as the kids get older i find reducing the amount of stuff they have available to play with means that they actually play properly rather than floating from one thing to the next declaring they are bored.

  3. I use the same strategies. I recently had a couple of three year olds playing this way too. I found it helpful to ask the children, “What is your plan?” when they started the piling-play. This helps them collaborate on imaginative play themes and not just pile!