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Baby and toddler play ideas

Ideas to help your child play and learn

You can give your child lots of different opportunities to play, and it does not need to be difficult or expensive.

For example, you can:

  • look at books and sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child – it's fun and will help them develop language and communication skills
  • use things that you've already got lying around the house
  • get involved yourself – your child will learn more from you than they will from any toy

Play ideas at any age

Playing with water

Babies, toddlers and young children love playing with water – in the bath, paddling pool or just using the sink or a plastic bowl.

Use plastic bottles for pouring and squirting each other, plastic tubing, a sponge, a colander, straws, a funnel, spoons and anything else that's unbreakable.

Never leave a young child alone in the bath or playing with water. A baby or young child can drown in less than 5 centimetres (2 inches) of water.

Reading to your baby

You can start looking at books with your baby from an early age – it will help them with their future learning. The time spent sharing books with your baby also allows you to bond with them and is good for emotional wellbeing.

Even before babies learn to speak, they will enjoy hearing you read to them. Listening to you will give them a feel for the sounds, rhythms and rhymes of language. Even small babies like looking at picture books.

Local libraries usually have a good range of children's books. Some run story sessions for young children. Even if it's for just 10 minutes a day, looking at books with your child will help them build important skills and encourage their interest in reading.

Booktrust offers free Bookstart book packs to every child at 2 key ages before they start school. The aim is to help families enjoy reading together every day and get your child off to a flying start.

You will get a Bookstart Baby pack in your baby's first year, usually from your health visitor or other health professional. Your child will also get a Bookstart Treasure pack when they are 3 or 4 years old from their nursery, playgroup or other early years setting.

Visit the Bookstart website to enjoy interactive storybooks and games, and to find out about events at your local library. You'll also find plenty of other book recommendations.

You could also visit Words for Life for reading tips and ideas.

Play ideas from 4 months

Talk and sing to your baby cheerfully while holding them. You can also put toys near your baby so they can reach for them. Read and look at baby books together.

Play ideas from 18 months

Drawing and painting

Use crayons, felt tips or powder paint.

Firstly, show your child how to hold the crayon or paintbrush. If you do not have paper, you can use the insides of cereal boxes or old envelopes that have been cut open.

Sock puppets

Use socks and envelopes to make hand puppets. Draw faces on them or stick things on to make your own characters. Get the puppets to "talk" to each other, or to you and your child.


Encourage your child to walk with you (you may want to use reins for safety) as soon as they are able to. It might slow you down, but it's a great way for both of you to get some exercise.

Play ideas from 24 months

Dressing up

Collect old hats, bags, gloves, scarves, nighties, lengths of material, tea towels and curtains. Ask friends and relatives or try jumble sales.

Make sure there are no loose cords, strings or ribbons that could wrap around your child's neck or trip them (or you) up.

Paper plates or cut-up cereal packets make good masks. Cut slits for the eyes and attach them to your face with string or elastic.

TV and screen time

It's best to limit your child's daily screen time.

Always know what your child is watching. Watch with your child, so that you can talk together about what you're watching.

Play ideas from 30 months

Junk modelling

Collect cardboard boxes, cartons, yoghurt pots , milk bottle tops and anything else you can think of. Buy some children's glue (the type that comes with a brush is easiest to use) and help them to make whatever they like.

Toy safety

When buying toys, look for the British Standard kitemark, lion mark or CE mark, which show that the toy meets safety standards. 

Take care when buying secondhand toys or toys from market stalls, as they may not meet safety standards and could be dangerous.

Toys usually have age warnings on them. If a toy is marked as "Not suitable for children under 36 months", do not give it to a baby or toddler under 3. Check toys for sharp edges or small parts that your child could swallow.

Button battery warning

Some electrical toys contain small, round batteries called button batteries. As well as being a choking hazard, these can cause severe internal burns if swallowed or lodged in your child's ear or nose.

Keep button batteries well away from your child and make sure that battery compartments on toys are properly secured with a screw. 

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, take them to A&E straight away or call 999.

Toys for children with special needs

Toys for children with special needs should match their developmental age and ability.

If your child is using a toy intended for a younger age group, make sure that it's strong enough and will not get broken.

Children with a visual impairment will need toys with different textures to explore with their hands and mouth.

Children with impaired hearing will need toys to stimulate language, such as toys that encourage them to explore and discover how it relates to their environment.

Video: How can I help my baby learn and develop?

In this video, a health visitor talks about how parents can help a baby's development through play.

Media last reviewed: 25 January 2023
Media review due: 25 January 2026

Page last reviewed: 29 October 2021
Next review due: 29 October 2024