Toddlers aren't usually known for their excellent social graces. After all, your testy tot is likely to either ignore his peers or start a brawl when around kids his own age. Still, if you're arranging a play date, heading to a play group or introducing toddlers at a party or daycare, icebreakers can help set the tone for more fun and fewer fights between kids. Practicing names, singing songs and instigating teamwork can help occupy and engage little ones so your job is a bit easier.
Duck, Duck, Name!
Most toddlers know basic games like Duck, Duck, Goose, so you can use it to your advantage when helping little ones warm up to each other. Instead of shouting "Goose!" when patting the head of the chosen child, demonstrate the game by saying that child's name. As the kids take turns, they also start learning each other's names. If a toddler forgets and says "Goose!" simply stop the game and help her remember the child's name before proceeding. If other parents are present, they can lend a hand by sitting in the circle and calling out names as well.
Toddlers love to be engaged in play -- allowing free play might seem easier, but could end up in altercation between headstrong kids or a lack of play with shy little ones. Action songs, like "Hokey Pokey" and "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" are familiar enough that toddlers feel comfortable with the actions and can laugh and giggle as a group. Try an action song before free play and you may find that the kids are engaged and therefore more comfy with chatting each other up and playing together, rather than just alongside one another.
Getting kids to work together can help foster an environment for teamwork, rather than competition between little kids. Start by taping plenty of small paper flowers around the room. Then, explain that the kids are busy bees and you're the Queen Bee. Ask that they buzz around and collect all of the flowers together and then bring them back to you. Just keep an eye out to make sure that one child doesn't dominate the others and steal all the flowers for himself.
Practice names and build toddler confidence with a simple throwing and catching game. Sit in a circle -- if parents need to help out, have them sit too -- and then bring out a soft, squishy ball. Say your name and the toss it to someone else in the group. That child says her name and tosses it to another and so on. It's perfect for a play group or daycare group where learning names is a big deal for toddlers. Thanks to the squishy ball, it also makes for solid gross motor skill development as well.