By Professor Julie Green, Executive Director at raisingchildren.net.au
Play is an important part of a child’s development in the first 1000 days of their life, and sets the foundations for lifelong health and wellbeing. Until your bambino is two years old, play is the main way they learn – it stimulates their social, emotional, cultural and physical development and helps them build confidence, learn about the world around them and how to interact with others.
Did you know there are two different types of play? The first is more organised and structured, as it takes place regularly as part of a child’s routine and is often led by an adult, like a parent or educator. This could be activities like water familiarisation, storytelling groups or dance, music and drama classes. The second type is free-flowing and child-led like creative play, imaginative games, and exploring spaces like backyards or playgrounds. This type of play supports creative thinking and lets children use their imaginations and move at their own pace.
How play changes
The way children play changes over time as they grow and their brain develops during this important time. Young children get more creative and experiment more with toys, games and ideas as they grow. You’ll notice they move through different forms of play such as playing alone, playing alongside other children and playing interactively with other children. Understanding this help parents and carers to support children’s learning and development.
Newborns and babies
Through play, your newborn learns about the world around them and how they can interact with it. New play experiences also help parts of your newborn’s brain connect and grow. And play that gets your newborn moving builds muscle strength as well as gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Playing with your newborn helps them to learn to talk and understand words. You might not always have time to stop everything and play, but you can still chat to your newborn about what’s going on – for example, while cooking dinner, driving or shopping. Playing together helps you and your newborn get to know each other. That’s because play can tell you a lot about your newborn’s personality. Rough-and-tumble, such as rolling around, and silly or quiet and calm, you’ll soon know what your newborn likes.
For babies, the best toy is you. Just looking at your face and hearing your voice is play for your new baby, especially if you’re smiling.
6 play ideas for babies
1 // Music, songs, gentle tapping on your baby’s tummy while you sing, or bells: these activities develop hearing and movement.
2 // Peekaboo: this is great for your baby’s social and emotional development.
3 // Gentle tickles, or objects with different textures, like feathers, mud, metal or foam: these develop the sense of touch.
4 // Objects of different sizes, colours and shapes: these can encourage your child to reach and grasp.
5 // Sturdy furniture, balls, toys or boxes: these can get your child crawling, standing and walking.
6 // Regular tummy time and floor play are very important. Tummy time helps your baby develop muscle strength and control. It also lets your baby see and experience the world from a different perspective.
6 play ideas for toddlers
When your child plays, it gives them lots of different ways and times to learn. Play also helps your child build confidence, feel loved, happy and safe, develop physical and social skills, language and communication, learn about caring for others and the environment.
1 // Big and light things like cardboard boxes, buckets or blow-up balls can encourage your child to run, build, push or drag.
2 // Chalk, rope, music or containers can encourage jumping, kicking, stomping, stepping and running.
3 // Hoops, boxes, large rocks or pillows are good for climbing on, balancing, twisting, swaying or rolling.
4 // Dress-up games with scarves, hats and so on are good for imagination and creativity.
5 // Hills, tunnels or nooks can encourage physical activities like crawling and exploring.
6 // If you put on some favourite music while your toddler plays, they can also experiment with different sounds and rhythms. You might also like to sing, dance and clap along to music with your child.
Check out more info about the importance of a child’s first 1000 days.