A wooden toy car on a handrail

Why are toddlers obsessed with toy cars?

Vroom! Vroom! Beep! Beep! Nee-naw! Nee-naw

Vehicle play can seem pretty one-dimensional at first glance. But look more closely and you’ll see a world every bit as rich and subtle as the doll’s house.

Language, science, co-operation. Vehicle play has got it all.

Heuristic play, also known as discovery play, is central to how young children learn about the forces that shape our world. It’s the trial-and-error process that they go through as they attempt to understand the laws of physics. Vehicles allow children to test their hypotheses about many of these concepts.

Watching a two- or three-year-old with a toy car is a study in how to investigate gravity and trajectory, friction and acceleration. See how they build ramps for rolling down and launching upwards, marvel at the myriad ways they find to crash a car or derail a train.

And don’t forget the language benefits of vehicle play. We usually associate role play and small world play with language development but even a single car offers many ways to improve thinking and speech. Over, under, through, behind, between. These prepositions get a regular workout. And how about ideas like stop and go, fast and slow, up and down, left and right? Then there are the stories children narrate as they play.

Take another look at vehicle play. It’s every bit as educational as some seemingly worthier activities – and great fun!