Why play is important.
Play is very important for a child’s development for it is one of the main ways in which children learn. Through the power of play, young children may develop their language and communication skills, emotional literacy and resilience.
A child’s imagination is nurtured through play and they can learn essential skills such as problem solving and working with others. Play connects and supports relationships and also can improve responsiveness to a child’s needs.
How you can help.
By making time and providing lots of different opportunities to play, parents can take an active role in helping support their child’s learning and development.
Sarah Owen, founder of ‘Pyjama Drama’ – drama, music, movement and play for pre-school children says, “Many children seem to be born with a natural ability to play, but some children find it more difficult and need to ‘learn’ how to play well and this is where parents can make a big difference. Whilst it is very important that children play with their peers and are given opportunities for unstructured play, children who also play with a loved adult can benefit greatly – the benefits of having fun together cannot be underestimated!’”
Ideas to help your child learn and play.
Playing with water. Babies and toddlers love playing with water whether they are in the bath, paddling pool or just using the sink or a plastic bowl. You can use plastic bottles or anything else you can find for pouring and squirting. Babies also love bubbles, so try blowing them near your baby and watch their gaze as they follow them.
Drawing, painting or playing with play doh. This is great for encouraging creativity, imagination and expression of feelings.
Puppet show. Make some simple finger puppets from old gloves cut up or from paper and show your baby or toddler how they can sing, talk and dance. Your child will love watching the puppets come alive.
Making music. You can make your own musical instruments using objects in the house. Saucepans with a wooden spoon make great drums, a plastic screw-top bottle filled with dried rice or pasta make a good rattle or shaker, especially for younger babies. Singing to your baby has also been shown to improve language development.
Build a tower. Building blocks, (you could make your own from empty cereal boxes or yogurt pots) jigsaws and shape sorters can help with recognising different shapes and sizes, putting things in order and developing logic.
In and out. Babies love emptying boxes, bags, purses etc and it can be a great way for them to learn about size and shape and concepts like empty and full. Try filling a plastic container or bowl with a variety of different shaped, interesting objects and help your baby to empty it and refill it.
Reading. It’s never too early to start sharing books with your child. Young babies love looking at picture books and they also will enjoy listening to your voice as you read. Listening to you will give them a feel for the sounds, rhythms and rhymes of language. Looking at books with your baby will help them build important skills and encourage their interest in reading.
Role play. Make a pretend kitchen for your child with some bowls, spoons and some dry ingredients and see what they can cook up. Playing with dolls, trains and cars is also great for encouraging imagination.
Junk modelling. Collect cardboard boxes, plastic cartons, bottle tops and anything else you can think of and help your child make a rocket, house or whatever they like.
Be active. Toddlers love to dance, jump, climb, walk and run and they are essential for developing strength, flexibility and co-ordination skills. You could set up a mini obstacle course in your house or garden for your child.
Go on an adventure. Outdoor play is extremely beneficial and necessary for a child’s development. It enables children to develop their gross motor skills as well as meeting their multi-sensory needs. Go on a walk with your baby or toddler and talk to them about the ever changing environment around them. Toddlers love bugs, so why not go on a bug hunt in your garden or the local park and see how many you can find.