Q: How can I get my babysitter to engage my toddler in learning activities? I'm worried that they spend the whole day just playing?
A: Play is a learning activity. The fact that it is also enjoyable adds to, rather than detracts from, its educational value.
Children -- all of us, in fact -- learn best by doing. Pushing, pulling, patting and poking are experiments with the nature of objects and with cause and effect. Climbing, running, throwing and dancing promote motor skills. Talking during playing, looking at picture books, naming toys and other objects help to buildlanguage skills. Simple games show your toddler how to get along with others and how to enjoy and anticipate what others will do or say. You can assist by providing a variety of age-appropriate toys and materials. But you needn't buy a huge number of "educational toys." Nothing pleases a toddler more than pots and pans and cardboard boxes.
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that playing should be your toddler's profession, his or her work. If your sitter knows this and spends "the whole day just playing," you and your child are lucky. What your toddler needs from a "teacher" just now is all that lovely attention.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.