What is Play?

When we enjoy what we are doing, we want to do it again and again. When you do something, again and again, you learn.

Do you have to play with your child all of the time?

The answer to that is no. Children need to learn how to direct their own learning. They need space to explore and use their imagination. They need to test out their limits.

What can you do to help?

What you can do is help to ensure that they gain different experiences through their play. Setting out different games, or encouraging them to explore through sensory play, talking and singing nursery rhymes and so much more. And play isn't just for our younger children. It goes on. You can find ways to make their learning fun. If they want to find out about something, then you can find ways to gain that knowledge in different ways.

Is it just children that play?

Hopefully not. While play is crucial for a child’s development, it is also beneficial for people of all ages.

Play can add joy to life, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you.

Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

You can play on your own or with a pet, but for greater benefits, play should involve at least one other person, away from the sensory-overload of electronic gadgets.

Even adults like to play. You only have to look at the vast computing gaming industry, or the paintball arenas that are so popular to see that even adults enjoy playing.

Where does it start?

During the first six months a baby is very reliant on his or her caregivers. There is such a lot to learn. The best way to help with the learning process at the beginning of the journey is to create secure attachments. Give your baby consistent, warm and loving care. This will help them develop into confident adults. Smile and play 'peek-a-boo' games. Make funny faces. Touch, feel, cuddle and don't forget to chat.

During the first year of a child's life, they develop faster than at any other time. As they grow they begin to develop their own ways of learning. Give your child lots of opportunities to play and they will continue to develop and grow.

After that first year the learning continues - but we still need to have fun while we're learning.

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Play - 

If you could ask a child what is most important in their life and they will say playing. Playing could mean playing on their own, or it could mean playing with their friends. But play is important to them. Play is having fun --- but it's not just that. Play develops a child's social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development. Play is what we do to learn how to be adults.

So what does 'playing' actually mean?

The definition of play - Well if you looked up the word in a dictionary you would find many different ways of describing what play is. Here are just some of them:

  • Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

  • Engage in (a game or activity) for enjoyment.

  • Amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense.

  • The action or manner of engaging in a sport or game.

  • When you play, especially as a child, you spend time doing an enjoyable and/or entertaining activity.

And the list goes on. 

But play is just children using their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.  ... It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play is important to healthy brain development.

Research shows that play has many benefits for children, families, and the wider community, as well as improving health and quality of life. Children need time and space to play and the opportunity to socialize with their friends.

Children’s right to play is a human right

On 1 February 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a

General Comment that clarifies for governments worldwide the meaning and importance of

Article 31 of the Convention on the Right of the Child. 

How does play help with learning?

Play can help

  • increase self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect

  • improve and maintain physical and mental health

  • give opportunities to mix with other children

  • allow an increase of confidence through developing new skills

  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity

  • offer opportunities for children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together

  • provide opportunities for developing social skills and learning

  • build resilience through risk-taking and challenge, problem-solving, and dealing with new and novel situations

  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

JUST a few ideas of PLAY at different ages...

0-2 - Play with your baby - newborns love to be touched. Play gently by tickling their faces, play, Peek - a - boo is always fun as well as making silly faces, Count their fingers and toes. Repeat sounds your baby makes. Listen and point out to your baby sounds that are around you. This links with the importance of talking. Play is one of the main ways that babies and toddlers learn about the world – it’s also one of the most effective ways they learn. When a child plays they refine learning skills that continue to develop during childhood and beyond.
As a parent, you are your child’s best playmate so try to spend time every day playing together. As your baby gets older, don’t try to teach them anything during play. They will learn best if they choose what to play and you follow their lead.

Toys With Wheels -

Even before your baby can move around on their own, they will love toys on wheels. Moving toys fire up your child's imagination. When they're toddling around on their own they will enjoy pushing and pulling toys ( a good lead to forces much later in their learning ). They will enjoy copying what they see adults do like pushing a buggy or a shopping trolley, Having a race with two-wheeled toys is also great fun. Pushing and pulling toys helps your child develop more control over their movements.

Fun With Water -

Water is magic and babies and toddlers just love it. If the weather is warm enough, fill up a plastic container (or paddling pool if you have one) with some warm water and let your child have a good splash about. Add a couple of toys like wooden spoons and tubs and jugs and things that float and watch the fun. Of course, you have to watch your child, even small amounts of water can be dangerous - and the chances are you will get wet yourself but it's worth it. If the weather not too good there is always the bath - even if it's not bath-time.

Copy Me - Copy You -

Imitation is one of the most important ways your baby learns. Babies just love copying your actions and you can make it into a game. Your child will want to copy what you do. Let your toddler have some pots and pans and some wooden spoons and they will copy what you do in the kitchen. Make a game of copying by clapping out rhythms and encourage them to copy how many times you have clapped.  Always remember to set a good example for your child to copy.

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3 - 4

What's the time Mr. Wolf? -

Do you remember playing this as a child? It's a game that never gets old and children love it. In case you don't remember it here's a quick reminder.

"What's the time Mr. Wolf?" is a chasing game for a group of children that involves a bit of counting and talk of time of day.  
1) Let the kids decide which child is Mr. Wolf, and that child stands at one end with their back to the other children.

2) The other children stand at the opposite end and shout "What's the time Mr. Wolf?"
3) Mr. Wolf answers with different times - "one o'clock" or "eight o'clock" for instance.

4) The children take that number of steps toward Mr. Wolf - eight steps for eight o'clock, and so on.

5) The children ask again, "What's the time Mr. Wolf?" and take the right number of steps again, always getting closer to Mr. Wolf.

6) When Mr. Wolf feels like it, he (or she) answers "dinnertime" and starts chasing the other children.

7) The first to be caught becomes the next Mr. Wolf.

Role Play and Dressing Up -

You don't need to go out and buy costumes, although they are good fun. Save your old handbags and rucksacks - add a hat and some explorers equipment and your child will set off onto an adventure. Explorers equipment might include binoculars made of two toilet rolls taped together, a note-pad and pencil, a toy phone, a map that you have made with your child, and any other bits and pieces that your child thinks they might need on their travels. This kind of game really encourages imagination and storytelling.

Puzzles - Throwing and Catching - Hop Scotch - Disco Dance Off and Singing - Puddle Jumping - Football and Basketball - Park Visits - Bug Hunting - Cooking - Playdough - Tick Tack Toe, and so many more ways to interact with your child...  How many more can you think of?

2 +

Camping -

Children love enclosed spaces - their own little kingdom. You can help making a tent with your child with very little equipment. Inside you can put a sheet over the chairs - outside you can drape a sheet or blanket over some washing line. You can even buy small pop-up tents from camping shops for not too much expense.

Next, fill your tent with cushions and favourite soft toys.

Board Games -

Children do not play as many board games as we did,. There are just too many other distractions. Board games are so good for learning. Most board games involve elements of maths and planning next moves and card games require some degree of skill. Start with a really simple game. Then move onto games like snakes and ladders or ludo. Don't forget dominoes or draughts, then move onto the more complex games like chess and scrabble

Of course - there is always arts and crafts for all ages from 3 onwards. A great way to play and encourage skills such as planning and designing.

As your child grows they will not want to play with you so much - so you're going to miss out on the fun.

Areas of Child Development (Early Learning Goals):


Listening & Attention

  • Children listen attentively in a range of situations.

  • They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions.

  • They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.


  • Children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs.

  • They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future.

  • They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.


  • Listens and responds to ideas expressed by others in conversation or discussion.

  • Children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions.

  • They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events.


Making Relationships

  • Children play cooperatively, taking turns with others.

  • They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity.

  • They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.

Self Confidence & Self Awareness

  • Children are confident to try new activities, and say why they like some activities more than others.

  • They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities.

  • They say when they do or don’t need

Managing Feelings and Behaviour

  • Children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable.

  • They work as part of a group or class, and understand and follow the rules.

  • They adjust their behaviour to different situations, and take changes of routine in their stride.


Moving & Handling

  • Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements.

  • They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space.

  • They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.

Health & Self Care

  • Children know the importance for good health of physical exercise, and a healthy diet, and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe.

  • They manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.



  • Children read and understand simple sentences.

  • They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately.

  • They also read some common irregular words.

  • They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.


  • Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds.

  • They also write some irregular common words.

  • They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.

  • Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.



  • Children count reliably with numbers from one to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number.

  • Using quantities and objects, they add and subtract two single-digit numbers and count on or back to find the answer.

  • They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.

Shapes and Measure

  • Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems

  • They recognise, create and describe patterns.

  • They explore characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.


People & Communities

  • Children talk about past and present events in their own lives and in the lives of family members.

  • They know that other children don’t always enjoy the same things, and are sensitive to this.

  • They know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions.

The World

  • Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things.

  • They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another.

  • They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.


  • Children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools.

  • They select and use technology for particular purposes.


Exploring & Using Media & Materials

  • Children sing songs, make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them.

  • They safely use and explore a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and function.

Being Imaginative

  • Children use what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes.

  • They represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings through design and technology, art, music, dance, role play and stories.