Pregnancy and baby

Why play is important

How much can a new baby understand?

Media last reviewed: 20/04/2012

Next review due: 20/04/2014

We all know that playing is fun. It's also the most effective way for young children to learn. By playing, children can practise all the skills they'll need as they grow up.

To grow and develop, children need time and attention from someone who's happy to play with them. Parents should make the time to play with a first or only child. And while brothers and sisters are natural playmates, parents can also play an active role in siblings' games.

But it can be hard to find the time to play with your child, especially when there are many other things you need to do. Gradually, children learn to entertain themselves for some of the time. 

If you're pressed for time as a parent, it's a good idea to find ways to involve your child in what you're doing, even the housework. Children learn from everything they do and everything that's going on around them.  

Get your child involved

When you're washing up, let your child join in, for example by washing the saucepan lids. When you cook, show them what you're doing and talk to them as you're working.

Getting them involved in the things you do will teach them about taking turns to help and being independent. They'll also learn by copying what you do.

Sometimes things have to happen at certain times and it's important that your child learns this. But when you're together, try not to have a strict timetable. Your child is unlikely to fit in with it and you'll both get frustrated.

There's no rule that says the washing-up has to be done before you go to the playground, especially if the sun's shining and your child's bursting with energy.

As far as you can, move things around to suit both your and your child's mood.

Tips for playing with young children

  • Get together lots of different things for your child to look at, think about and do.
  • By making what you're doing fun and interesting for your child, you can get your household jobs done while they're learning.
  • Have times when you focus completely on your child. Talk about anything and everything, even the washing-up or what to put on the shopping list. By sharing as much as possible, your child will pick up lots of new words.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities to use their body by running, jumping and climbing, especially if you don't have much room at home.
  • Find other people who can spend time with your child when you really need to focus on something else.

See more

Page last reviewed: 10/01/2014

Next review due: 10/01/2016

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Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015