How do children play?
As children grow, the way they play will change. Examples of play for children of different ages is below:
Babies (birth to around 18 months)
With babies you might try:
- music, songs, gentle tapping on your baby’s tummy while you sing, bells or containers filled with different objects – these activities can help develop hearing and movement
- objects of different sizes, colours and shapes to encourage a child to reach and grasp
- sturdy furniture, balls, toys or boxes to get a child crawling, standing and walking
- play with movement (for example, holding a baby while singing, swaying or gently dancing)
- play with words, such as in simple rhymes, animal noises, books, blowing raspberries and playing peek-a-boo.
Toddlers (around 18 months to three years)
A toddler might enjoy:
- big and light things like cardboard boxes, buckets or blow-up balls to encourage them to run, build, push or drag
- chalk, rope, music or containers can encourage jumping, kicking, stomping, stepping and running
- hills, tunnels or nooks that encourage physical activities like crawling and exploring or experimenting with different sounds and rhythms (try singing, dancing and clapping along to music with your child).
Preschool children (around three to five years)
Ideas to get your preschooler’s mind and body going:
- Old milk containers, wooden spoons, empty pot plant containers, sticks, scrunched-up paper, plastic buckets, saucepans and old clothes are great for imaginative, unstructured play.
- Simple jigsaw puzzles and matching games like animal dominoes help improve your child’s memory and concentration.
- Playdough and clay help your child develop fine motor skills.
- Favourite music or pots and pans are great for a dance concert or to make up music.
- Balls and frisbees can encourage kicking, throwing or rolling. When encouraging your child to kick or throw, try to get them to use one side of their body, then the other.
School-age children can have fun with the following objects and activities:
- Furniture, linen, washing baskets, tents and boxes are great for building.
- Home-made obstacle courses can get your child moving in different ways, directions and speeds.
- Rhymes or games like “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with…” are great for word play and help develop literacy skills.
- Simple cooking or food preparation like measuring, stirring and serving food is great for developing numeracy and everyday skills.
- Your child’s own imagination – with imagination, your child can turn themselves into a favourite superhero or story character.If your child is interested, you could think about getting them into some sports or team activities for school-age children. Other possibilities include after-school or holiday art and craft activities.
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/119/1/182.full.pdf.
Isenberg, J. P., & Quisenberry, N. (2002). A position paper of the Association for Childhood Education International PLAY: Essential for all Children. Childhood Education, 79(1), 33-39. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261685514_A_Position_Paper_of_the_
Rushton, S., Juola-Rushton, A., & Larkin, E. (2010). Neuroscience, play and early childhood education: Connections, implications and assessment. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5), 351-361.
Why is play important
Being interested and supportive of a child’s play helps them to feel connected, valued and accepted. Having fun together during play time enables children to experience pleasure and joy.
Last updated: February, 2022