From hide-n-seek and peek-a-boo to puppet shows and tea parties, play is not only a natural part of development for babies, toddlers, and children; it’s an essential part. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights even recognizes play as a right of every child due to its importance in the emotional, cognitive and social development of a child1.
Why Playing is Important for Children
In a recent clinical finding, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports the following proven benefits of play in the development of a child2. Research shows that play “plays” a role in a healthy developing young child:
- “[develop] their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength”
- “is important to healthy brain development”
- allows children to “create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles”
- “develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency” for future challenges help children “learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills”
- “practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue”
- “build active, healthy bodies”
- “[is] essential to developing social and emotional ties… [and] helps to build bonds within the family.”
And that’s all from pretend police chases, tossing balls, doll houses, building block towers and playing vet!
What About Playing with Babies?
Even though babies can turn nearly anything into a toy or game for self-entertainment, early-age play doesn’t always come easy for parents. It can be especially difficult for parents of young children who cannot communicate how, where or what they want to play.
Overcoming Your Adult Hang-ups
There can be lots of reasons a parent feels less than adept at engaging in play. Any of these sound familiar?
- I don’t know what to do.
- I feel silly.
- It seems like a waste of time.
- I don’t know what my child will enjoy.
- I don’t know how to start.
- I don’t know how to join in when my child is playing.
Keep in mind that there is no right way to play, no grade for playing, and besides for your child, there’s a good chance no one else else watching. So let go of your worries! Shake off your fear of being silly! And remember that every game or activity you do with your child is helping him or her grow up happier and healthier.
Need inspiration? Here are 20 games and activities to help you jump into playtime with your little one.
Great Ways To Play With an Infant
1. Roll a ball back and forth.
2. Hide a ball or toy under a cup and have your baby find it.
3. Count things around you such as blankets, leaves, books or windows.
4. Play peek-a-boo.
5. Find things around the house that shake, rattle, squeak, pop or crinkle.
6. Build with blocks, dominoes, cereal boxes or diapers and knock them down.
7. Practice making funny faces towards your baby or together in a mirror.
8. Go outside and blow bubbles.
9. Gather different kinds of sticks, leaves, or flowers and let your child explore.
10. Make your own fingerpaint:
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons liquid hand soap
¾ cup water
mix the flour, liquid soap, and water until the mixture is a thick paste. Add food coloring, one drop at a time, until the paint is the color you want.
11. Give stuffed animal voices.
12. Set up various plastic or metal kitchen containers and drum on them with a wooden spoon.
13. Try on hats, sunglasses, or scarves.
14. Turn on the music and have a dance party.
15. Squish, roll and create with playdough. (I love this DIY recipe)
16. Read a book.
17. Sing songs. Try childhood favorites like “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle Twinkle”.
18. Make paper airplanes and throw them around the room. (Don’t know how? See how to make 50 different planes!)
19. Play with light. Experiment with light switches, dimmers, or flashlights.
20. Blanket fun. Put it on your head, their head or turn it into a fort.
See toys designed for early development
1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of November 20, 1989. Available at: www.un.org/documents/ga/res/44/a44r025.htm. Accessed January 6, 2013.
2. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media. Clinical Report: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty. Pediatrics 2012; 129 Available at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/1/e204.full#xref-ref-1-1. Accessed January 6, 2013.