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Playing to learn

Playing with your child is a great way for them to learn. Your time and attention will help your child to play and learn.

Play also:

  • helps children to understand their world
  • helps to develop their imagination
  • helps children make friends and develop social skills
  • does not need expensive toys but it does need you
  • helps children understand rules and boundaries
  • allows children to practice new skills


Children, if they’re happy, will spend most of their time playing. It is their ‘work’. Any situation can lead to play, so long as it’s fun, children will play for hours. Don’t worry if your child likes to repeat the same games and activities a number of times; they know practice makes perfect!


Does play require toys?

Babies start playing and communicating from the minute they are born.

Babies’ play doesn’t need many toys; they will find people the most interesting playmate and will love to have your time and attention. They learn most when you are talking with them, telling them what you are doing or what is going to happen. They love simple games such as ‘peepo’ or tickling.

Young children don’t need lots of expensive toys - the packaging of the toys often make the most interesting playthings: a cardboard box can become a car, a spaceship, all manner of interesting things.

Recognise what your child is interested in and to follow their lead. Play is an ideal opportunity for your child to learn to focus his attention, imitate actions, take turns, anticipate what comes next, understand and say new words.

The best kinds of play are sometimes the messiest!

They get to experiment and explore, helping them to learn lots of new things about the world.


How to help children play by themselves

When your child is able to play by themselves, you can still help them to learn. Get down to their level and talk about what they are doing. Don’t tell them what to do, but give a ‘running commentary’, like a sports commentator. By describing their play you can add words which will help their vocabulary grow. When trying to decide what toys to get your child it may be useful to think about what skills they will help your child develop.

Certain toys will help develop certain skills. For example, a bike will help develop co-ordination and balance and a jigsaw puzzle will help develop motor control, thinking/observation and concentration. A tea set will help develop social skills, turn taking and sharing, as you enjoy the tea party together.

Whatever toys you choose, your child will learn more if you share them together. Parents are important partners in a child’s world of play. Sometimes children don’t want to play with their parents. You might try just sitting near your child watching them play. Your child values your positive attention.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s learning, speech or language development, you could contact your Health Visitor or your local Children’s Centre.