Play is the way to learn all day

Young girl playing with play dough
Early years Birth to 5 years

Did you know those hours spent with friends playing in the backyard are teaching valuable social skills and fostering creativity?

Playtime is a vital part of a child’s development. It’s about cognitive, social, physical and emotional learning.

Right from birth, children respond to play. Babies will be stimulated from something as simple as a noisy rattle and as they grow, peek-a-boo will be one of the first games they learn with its element of surprise.

Toddlers begin with parallel play, which means they play side-by-side with toys and not with each other. As they get older, that play will become associative play, which means the child is interested in what others are doing.

As children grow and become interested in the world around them, they may pick play activities of a fantasy nature, such as dress-ups. This is creative play.

Just before they start school, children might start participating in cooperative play. This means they are assigned a role in a game and they learn self-identification and a sense of group identity.

You don’t have to invest in expensive toys to support these types of play. For instance, a toddler can spend hours engrossed in dropping a cotton wool ball through an empty cardboard toilet roll, or a superhero’s cape can be made by tying or pinning a beach towel to a T-shirt with a couple of safety pins. Let the child’s imagination take over.

Playtime can be turned into valuable learning time just by interacting with your child.

Matching and sorting

If your child is playing with toy cars, suggest they look for cars with similar attributes. For instance, you might tell them to put all the blue cars together, or to sort the cars into piles of big and little.

Rhyming

Start a fun word game with your child about the toy they’re playing with. For instance, ‘Your dolly wants a lolly and she eats it in the trolley’.

Story time

Encourage your child to talk about the toy they’re playing with to increase their language and social skills, for instance, ‘Tell me about the building you are making with your blocks. Who lives there?’

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