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Play: the best thing you can do for your child

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Play: the best thing you can do for your child

Why playing with your child is great for both of you

Reading time: about 2 ½ minutes

There really is a magic elixir for raising a happy, healthy child: Play.

Be it rough and tumble; mess and giggles; books and balls or just ‘hanging out’, playing is the single most beneficial thing you can do for, and with, your child, much more than big outings or special trips. This is all according to hundreds of studies into childhood bonding, emotional, physical and sensory development, self-esteem, self-confidence, fine motor, gross motor – you name it, good old-fashioned play is the key.  

Ok, so what actually constitutes play for a baby or toddler? I remember trying to ‘play’ with my 6-month old nephew and being completely stumped. He had just learnt to sit. I sat down next to him, surrounded by toys. Now what? I rattled a few things, sang a few songs and then we both just sat there staring at each other. I will admit it now: I was bored and I am pretty sure he was too.

For babies, play is a more about being with you than it is about doing something with you. So, play ideas include:

  • lying your baby on her tummy opposite you and pulling funny faces;
  • exploring the house or garden, tickle her face with a flower or leaf, let her sit or lie in the sand or on the grass, look in mirrors, turn lights on and off, point out pictures, plants, animals and talking about everything you see;
  • playing airplanes – lifting and swaying your child above your head;
  • putting on some music and dancing together; or
  • playing peekaboo (but do NOT start this with the child sitting in front of you on a long-distance journey: the parents may be eternally grateful, but you will be ‘peekabooing’ your way across the world!).

For toddlers, everything is an opportunity for play:

  • going for a walk outside to collect stones, leaves, jump in puddles or kick up the sand;
  • doing the washing-up, by filling the sink or a bucket outside with plastic plates, some spoons and a sieve;
  • doing the gardening together: digging, watering, throwing grass clippings or autumn leaves around , them raking them back into piles;
  • water painting with a cup of water and paint brush, out your toddler into his swimming costume and let him paint the outside walls or patio;
  • going for a ride in a cardboard packing box, or letting him take his bear for ride, or riding on you;
  • set up an art station - or even just a table outside with crayons, paints and scrap paper
  • making an obstacle course with a box to climb in, a bucket to jump over, a pot plant to run around or a garden chair to crawl under: whatever you can think of;
  • setting up and eating lunch in a tent;
  • letting your toddler pull everything out of your sock drawer and then stuff it back in again, or throw socks at each other – the sillier the better.

The idea is to have fun and let go. playendland.org.uk says that play is, ‘what children do when they are not being told what to by adults’ – so basically children know what they want to do and for the most part, we just need to let them get on with it, join in and have fun!