Helping your child's development through play

Playing helps children form essential skills. So making time for play every day is important. Parents and carers shouldn’t direct the play. They should allow their child to choose how, what and when they play. They should encourage children to play outdoors often and where possible, join in the activity.

Playing at different ages

The urge to play begins when a child is born and lasts until adulthood. Babies, toddlers, children and teenagers have a natural instinct to play and be playful. They need different types of play because they’re at various development stages and have different abilities. A play experience might be easy for one child but challenging and difficult for another.

Baby’s development

A baby develops through a sequence of steps and milestones. But they don’t always reach these steps in the same way or at the same time. Their development is also influenced by:

  • their environment
  • experiences they have

New born baby to one year-old

Babies can be demanding and need routine. To grow and develop, a baby needs stimulation and attention from someone who is happy to communicate and play with them. Playing with your child helps forms a bond between you. You don’t always need to buy toys to stimulate young babies. You can make your own or use ordinary objects such as:

  • scraps of fabric
  • plastic beakers
  • clean, empty boxes
  • a small mirror
  • a clean,  dry fir cone
  • a small natural sponge
  • bunch of keys

 You can play with your baby and get their attention by:

  • talking, singing, clapping, bouncing, crawling
  • lying on the floor, kicking, tummy time, playing Peek-a-boo
  • showing them brightly coloured objects with different sounds and textures
  • allowing them to touch scraps of fabric, balls, rattles, soft books, empty boxes

Toddlers aged between one and two years

Children begin to explore and discover their surroundings when they’re between one and two years old. Most take their first steps and move around more. They enjoy repetition and are very curious about the world around them.

They’re able to play a little by themselves but prefer playing with parents or adults. Time spent playing helps your child’s development.  Suitable playing activities to do with children this age include:

  • movement games, singing, dancing, action rhymes
  • push along toys, push and pull toys, toddle trucks, posting boxes, natural materials
  • using fat crayons or chalks to write on large pieces of paper on the floor
  • jumping in puddles, water play, messy play such as making mud pies

Children aged over two years

Children aged two to four are usually interested in everything that happens around them. They want to climb, balance, run and test their abilities. Sometimes parents worry about their child’s safety doing these activities. By supporting and encouraging your child to do things for themselves, they develop self-confidence and resilience. Suitable activities to play with children this age include:

  • using crayons, paints and chalks
  • dressing up with old clothes, hats, shoes, bags and beads
  • baking, gardening, hanging out washing, playing outdoors
  • playing match, sort and find games

Children aged under five

Children between four and five years are often in a pre-school setting. They have different routines and structures in their day. They’re becoming more independent, self-confident and inquisitive.  Usually they are content to play with their toys for longer, enjoy doing new things, and will play with or without an adult. Playing with your child is still lots of fun but you should encourage their freely chosen play.

 Suitable playing activities for children this age include:

  • reading or looking at books
  • simple games such as snap, i-spy, snakes and ladders, playing cards
  • outdoor scavenger hunts, picnics, ball games, hide-and-seek
  • adding new items to the dressing up box such as old mobile phones, cameras, walkie-talkies and binoculars

School age children

As children grow up, they become more independent. They also test boundaries, explore their emotions and make friends. They should be encouraged to follow their own play ideas and instincts. Suitable playing activities for children this age include:

  • outdoor play, traditional games, two ball, hopscotch, tag, bike rides, tree climbing
  • den building using blankets, sheets, fabric, string, pegs, cushions, carpet squares
  • doing arts and crafts such as junk art, building, crafts, sewing, woodwork
  • going to a forest or beach to collect conkers or shells
  • playing in the rain or snow
  • walking to school

Post primary children and young people

When a child leaves primary school, they still need to play. They need opportunities to explore their neighbourhoods, test their boundaries and be outdoors. Their friends and friendship groups are important. They often enjoy socialising in parks or public places.

Parents should encourage young people to be outdoors and limit the time they use mobile telephones and digital screens. They need:

  • time to relax away from study and schoolwork, household tasks or structured activity
  • indoor and outdoor spaces to relax

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