Meeting a different group of friends at a new play group can be intimidating for toddlers. Your toddler, like the others, may cling to you rather than immediately start playing. As with adults and older kids, icebreakers are excellent in helping kids feel more comfortable around each other. Plan simple, toddler-friendly icebreaker activities that soon will have the kids moving, laughing and playing together like old pals.
Have the toddlers sit in a circle and sing simple introduction songs. If you start singing the song, the kids will quickly pick it up and sing along. One introductory song is "Hello and How Are You," which goes: "Hello, hello, hello and how are you? I'm fine, I'm fine, I hope that you are too." Have the kids wave to the children sitting on either side of them as they sing. Another appropriate song is sung to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and goes: "Look who came to play today, play today, play today, look who came to play today, we sure are glad you came." Insert a child's name into the song next, as in "Sarah came to play today ... " and continue until you have put all the kids' names into the song.
Help the toddlers learn their new friends' names by playing a simple name game icebreaker. Have the kids toss a bouncy ball around the circle; the child holding the ball must say her name and age and then toss it to anyone else in the circle. The introductions continue until everyone has stated her name and age. Another idea is to have each toddler introduce his neighbor. One child can start by whispering his name, age and something he likes to do in the ear of the child to his right. It can get the tots giggling because someone often has to repeat himself, which they often end up doing loudly. After the second child introduces the first child, he then whispers his information to the next child, and so forth until everyone has been introduced. Make sure to help with any incorrect name pronunciations and step in for any child too shy to speak.
Find Your Group
Play icebreaker games that show the toddlers things they have in common with their peers. For one game, ask the kids to close their eyes and to raise their hand if they like puppies better than kittens. Have them open their eyes and tell them that the kids who raised their hands are now puppies and everyone else is a kitten. The puppies and kittens must find each other only by barking and mewing and sit together. You can replay the game repeatedly with a number of different animals, and the kids will love pretending to be their favorites. For a similar activity, have the kids join different groups based on what they are wearing. For example, you might say, "Everybody with blue shirts, run to this corner!" Help the kids who are unsure of their colors.
Interactive Circle Time
Play circle games with the toddlers in which they have to interact with each other. Try a version of "Simon Says" in which the kids have to connect in some way with those standing next to them. For example, call out, "Simon says touch elbows," or "Simon says grab someone's hand." Other commands include making a train, in which the kids must hold each others' shoulders and move around the circle making "choo-choo" sounds, or doing the bunny hop. Let the kids take turns calling out commands as well.
For another circle game, have the toddlers form a circle and hold a plain cotton sheet in front of them. Have another adult helper hold the sheet along with you. Tell the kids the sheet is a parachute and when they lift it up, they must walk under it and find another place to sit in the circle. Emphasize walking to keep kids from running into each other. You can also play the game by having only two kids walk under at a time, or certain groups of kids at a time, such as all boys, all girls, kids wearing sandals, and so forth.