Time to play!

Right from birth, children respond to play. Babies will be stimulated from something as simple as a noisy rattle. As they grow, peek-a-boo will be one of the first games they learn with its element of surprise.

Toddlers begin with parallel play, which means they play side-by-side with toys and not with each other. As they get older, that play will become associative play, which means the child is interested in what others are doing.

As children grow they become interested in the world around them. They may pick play activities of a fantasy nature, such as dress-ups. This is creative play.

Just before they start school, children might start participating in cooperative play. This means they are assigned a role in a game and they learn self-identification and a sense of group identity.

You do not have to invest in expensive toys to support these types of play. For instance, a toddler can spend hours engrossed in dropping a cotton wool ball through an empty cardboard toilet roll, or a superhero’s cape can be made by tying or pinning a beach towel to a T-shirt with a couple of safety pins. Let the child’s imagination take over.

Fun play ideas for you to try at home

  • Tell stories and read books.
  • Chalk drawing
  • Bubbles
  • Playdough
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes.
  • Make time for outdoor play in safe spaces that give your child freedom and time to explore.
  • Collect old boxes, containers, cardboard, straws, paper and blocks to create all types of fun with your children.
  • Take the time to rest and dream. Lie on your backs together and look at the clouds and the sky. Imagine what the various shapes could be.
  • Make a ‘busy box’ for your child, full of things like paddle pop sticks, coloured papers, string, glue and other recyclables like cardboard boxes and plastic bottles. It can also include natural items found outdoors like twigs, petals, stones or feathers. These are great for craft projects.
  • Set up a messy play area with sand, clay, playdough, paints, water or mud. You can also take a trip to the beach or river bed to play in the sand and clay.
  • Listen to music or make musical instruments from everyday objects like empty milk cartons filled with uncooked rice or pebbles, or rubber bands stretched over an opened box.
  • Show your child how to stuff old stockings with paper or material scraps to make creatures like a snake or caterpillar.
  • Make sock puppets using old socks. Sew on buttons or paste other bits of material for eyes, nose and hair.
  • Fill a box with clean, old clothes for dressing up.
  • Visit and explore favourite or new places in your home, like the saucepan drawer or container cupboard.
  • Fold newspaper into a pirate’s or magician’s hat.
  • Visit the local park or a friend’s house, or just take a walk in your local neighbourhood. These are all sources of adventure and fun for your child.
  • Tape some scrap paper together to make a simple book. Let your child create the story and decorate the pages either by drawing the characters or cutting and pasting them out of old magazines.

Shaving foam play

Shaving foam is a messy, sensory experience that uses all five senses of touch, sight, smell, sound and even taste (though tasting is not encouraged!). It is a textual wonderland that changes and reforms in your hands. Adding colour enables swirls and patterns to form and burying and hiding toys in the foam adds to the sense of discovery and play. Shaving foam encourages children to manipulate and mould materials, building their fine motor skills.

What you need:

  • Shaving foam (brands for sensitive skin are gentle for little hands)
  • Food colouring
  • Water tray/trough
  • Dinosaurs (or other rubber or plastic toys)
  • A paint brush
  • Dry towels for clean-up

What to do:

  1. Spray shaving foam around the bottom of a tray.
  2. Mix through a few drops of food colouring.
  3. Draw in the shaving foam with a paintbrush.
  4. Add dinosaurs or rubber/plastic toys to the clouds of foam.
  5. Enjoy the swirly, gooey fun of exploring through the foam.

Tip! Encourage the children to mix the colours together and see what happens.

Uncooked playdough 

Playdough can really spark your child’s imagination and creativity.

As your child shapes the playdough into a ball or a snake, they’re thinking creatively. The squeezing, pinching and pulling movements also strengthen your child’s hand muscles and develop fine motor skills. Your child can play with playdough anywhere, but it’s best to sit your child at a table. This gives your child a good work surface and can stop things from getting too messy.

What you need:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup cooking salt
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Food colouring

What to do:

  1. Place all the ingredients except the food colouring into a bowl
  2. Add enough water to mix to firm dough.
  3. Add a few drops of food colouring to colour.

Note: Uncooked dough can be stored in a plastic bag or in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.
Tip! Playdough can be used with a rolling pin and cookie cutters, assorted plastic lids, a butter knife for cutting segments, a muffin tray, a garlic press, plastic bottle tops and whatever you have handy at home.

Box Construction

A box is never just a box, it is a source for many happy hours of creative play!

Did you know that box construction provides a myriad of learning possibilities for:

  • Imagining and pretending as children use boxes to build cubbies, caves, a dragons den, spacecraft, cars, buses, trains and planes, houses, offices, shops, a knights shield, a robot, a suit of armour, a dolls bed, a, puppet theatre, a roadway (flattened box), a boat, a car ramp, a stage just to name a few.
  • Exploring mathematical and scientific thinking as children combine boxes and other materials to create 3D structures.
  • Discovering that boxes can be stacked but that a big box won’t balance for long if placed on a smaller one.
  • Solving problems, 'When does glue work best?' 'How can I join two boxes together, will I need sticky tape or masking tape?' 'Do I need something stronger like metal clips, string, wool, a stapler or elastic bands?'
  • Making discoveries, for example, 'How tall can I make this building before it falls?' 'If I join some boxes together I can make a train for my toys'.
  • Planning and making decisions about what to build, which materials are needed, and how the creation should look when finished.
  • Co-operating with others and negotiating roles and responsibilities Dealing with challenges and coping when things don’t go according to plan.

Invisible letters

Children are learning that they are able to produce marks, writing and drawings that can be seen by themselves and others. They begin to understand that they can share a message or tell a story.

What you need:

  • Paper
  • White crayon or candle
  • Watercolour paint (or water mixed with acrylic paint, or food colouring)
  • Paint brush

What to do:

  1. Using the crayon or a candle, write a letter on a piece of paper (the first letter of your child’s name is a good place to start).
  2. Encourage your child to paint a square over the "invisible letter" with the paint.
  3. As the paint dries, the invisible letter will be revealed. Talk about its shape, sound, and words that start with the letter.

Tip! If you feel your child is ready you might like to incorporate uppercase and lowercase letters into the activity.

Dancing to music

Very early in their life, children will start to identify rhythm and even move to the beats of music. After all, music is meant to touch our souls! Besides that, music provides cognitive benefits that support children’s early development. Any day is a good day to enjoy some music with your children.

What you need:

  • Music
  • A cleared space (for example, move the furniture back in the living room)
  • A torch or phone with a light (optional)

What to do:

  1. Put on different styles of music.
  2. Explore moving to the beat and the rhythm.
  3. Close the curtains and use torches to move to the music.

Tip! Create your own musical instruments out of household items and play along with the music. All it takes is some rice inside a container to make a shaker, or an ice cream tub for a drum.

Dress up box

Dressing up lets your child act out different roles, explore ideas about the real world and develop their imagination. Dress-up games and pretend play also allow your child to explore and express emotions in a safe way. Children are able to develop skills such as imagination, creativity and storytelling.

What you need:

Collect a box of clothes and other things your child can use for dress-up. Your collection might include:

  • Clothes
  • Hats
  • Scarves
  • Jewellery
  • Toys

What to do:

  1. Create a dress up box using items of clothing, scarves and hats.
  2. Step back and let your child take the lead.  Creating an outfit and a character is part of the fun for your child.
  3. Get into the moment with your child by asking them if you can play too. Ask about who they are and what they might be doing.

Tip! Give your child a mirror so they can see themselves dressed up as another character.


Collage is a simple craft activity that involves pasting items like leaves or photographs onto a sheet of paper. Making a collage helps your child build fine motor skills. It’s also a fun way to encourage your child’s awareness of colour and texture. And if you talk with your child about his collage, it helps his language development too.

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • A collection of collage items

Collage items are anything that will stick to your paper! You could try:

  • pictures cut out of magazines or catalogues
  • scraps of paper, ribbon or fabric
  • dried pasta, cereal or rice
  • sequins, glitter, tinsel or foil
  • natural objects like leaves, feathers and sand
  • pipe-cleaners, paperclips, ice-cream sticks or buttons.

What to do:

  1. Work at a table, and keep the collage items in plastic tubs or on a tray. This can help you keep any mess under control.
  2. Follow your child’s lead. They might want to make a picture with the collage – sticking down leaves and paper to make a forest, for example. Or they might just want to stick down the items in a pretty pattern. Let them choose, and give them lots of praise.
  3. Sit with your child while they create. Talk about what your child is doing, and ask questions. You might even want to make a collage of your own.

Adapting collage for children of different ages:

Your younger child might manage to stick on only a few items to make their collage. They probably will not be able to use scissors, and they might need help with glue. Praise all their efforts. Their attention span might be short, so put everything away when they looks like they have had enough.

Tip! Many well-known artists use collage. Why not search online for images of collage artworks to inspire your older child?

Bowled over

This fun activity creates a bowling alley with empty plastic bottles or plastic cups. The rolling of the ball towards the bottle encourages hand-eye coordination.

What you need:

  • Ten empty plastic bottles or plastic cups
  • A small ball (such as a tennis ball or small soccer ball)

What to do:

  1. Place the bottles in a triangular shape
  2. Ask your child to roll the ball to knock the bottles/cups over.
  3. Show your child how many bottles were knocked over and how many remained standing. The person who knocks over the most bottles wins!

Tip! Decorate the outside of your pins with paint, coloured paper, newspaper, glue and glitter.

Messy Music play

This activity is a fun, messy and creative piece of process art that children will love. Drum painting helps to develop creative expression and fine and gross motor movement.  Drumming can also provide a healthy way to channel strong feelings, with the repetitive rhythms having a calming effect.

What you need:

  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Chopsticks or paddle pop sticks as ‘drumsticks’

What to do:

  1. Listen to the music
  2. Paint with 'drumsticks' on the paper while music is being played in the background.
  3. Have fun making a musical messy masterpiece!

Tip! Put some plastic under the piece of paper to contain the paint splashes.    

Books to read

Reserve these physical items and collect from your local library:

View the help guide for reserving items. Libraries will alert you when an item is ready for collection. If you are not member, join online.

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