The importance of play for your childs development and growth

1. The Home Playground

One does not need many expensive or fancy toys to entertain and stimulate a little one. Here are a few simple ideas - with acknowledgements to SMILE Education Systems book "Growing up with a smile" - a book well worth getting your hands on.

  • Hammock - great for rocking
  • Hula hoops - for running and crawling in and out and using as a target for ball games
  • Bubbles - for blowing, chasing and popping
  • Bean bags - light, heavy, filled with sand, plastic chips, pebbles, beans or herbs such as lavender, mint, cinnamon sticks or rosemary. Great for stepping on, balancing on heads and catching games.
  • Punch bag - to develop strength, express emotions and for eye - hand co-ordination
  • Large pieces of cloth - use as a hideaway, a house or a tunnel by draping over a table
  • Mirrors - for body awareness
  • Chalk - for drawing footprints, arrows, shapes and numbers and of course for hopscotch on the patio
  • Board - to use as a ramp or a balance beam. (An old ironing board is ideal) Prop it on a brick or a piece of furniture at a low angle for your child to crawl or walk up and down.
  • Sandpit - combined with a number of old favourites like buckets, spades, sieves, feathers and sea shells can provide hours of entertainment (use course sea salt to sterilize)
  • Balls - heavy, light, big, small.

Provide a sizeable area for free play and give your child a variety of verbal instructions such as bend, jump, move sideways, run, skip, hop, twist and turn, roll.

Movement between, around, across, inside, under and on top of various objects increases body and spatial awareness. Encourage your child to use his body and mind to tackle obstacles, solve problems and make decisions.

Most of all - laugh and have fun with your little one

2. Messy Play

Messy play gives children the opportunity to experience a wide range of sensory experiences. Prepared solutions such as finger-paint, slime and goop give children a wonderful opportunity to experiment with different textures and materials. Messy play helps children: 

  • Relax - it can be a soothing activity that helps release tension and frustration
  • Express their feelings in a creative way
  • Experiment with the properties of materials, e.g. does it hold its shape or pour or run?
  • Learn about colour mixing, patterns, design, texture and rhythm
  • Develop hand-eye coordination and practise the skills of pouring, measuring, mixing, scooping, and beating.

Literacy and Numeracy

Talk with the children about what they are experiencing - use words like slimy, runny, soft, warm, cold, lumpy, wet
Introduce chants, rhymes, songs, or music, if appropriate.

Here are 12 great ideas for Messy Play - Get out an apron and have some fun!

  1. Pasta play - Cook up some pasta, colour with food colouring if you like, allow to cool and play!
  2. Cornflour goop - Mix some cornflour with water until it's of a runny consistency, but it still hardens if you move the spoon quickly! Add colouring if required and pour onto on a tabletop or tray. Use your fingers, or anything you like to play with it. Have fun with its strange consistency. If it gets on the floor wait until it's dry and then sweep/hoover it up. Goop may be re-used after it has dried out. Crumble it to a powder then restore it to the original consistency by adding water, a spoonful at a time.
  3. Jelly play - This is just simply playing with some set jelly in your fingers.
  4. Pudding play - 1 package pudding mix Prepare pudding as directed. Put approximately a 1/2 cup of the pudding on a smooth surface such as a tray. Explore the pudding with hands and fingers, just as if you were finger-painting. Use a popsicle stick, straw or spoon to make designs.
  5. Microwave puff-painting - Encourage your children to be creative with this recipe, which makes a fabulous paint that 'puffs up' when cooked in the microwave. 1 tablespoon self-raising flour 1 tablespoon salt few drops food colouring Mix the ingredients together using enough water to make a smooth paste. Make 3 to 4 different colours - empty yoghurt cups are handy containers. Paint on to thick paper or cardboard, then microwave on high for about 10 seconds or until the paint is dry.
  6. Slime - Dissolve 1 cup of soap flakes in 2 litres of warm water. Add food colouring if desired. Allow the mixture to stand until it becomes thick and slimy. Beat with eggbeater or fork to make it froth. Put slime in a wide, open container or trough. Provide children with eggbeaters, spoons, funnels, cups, sponges, sieves, whisks, etc., for them to experiment with.
  7. Sand sculpture clay - 2 cups fine sand 1 cup cornstarch 1 cup water Put all the above into a pot and heat on the stove. Stir until it thickens and cool with a wet paper towel.
  8. Salt crystal goop - 1 cup flour 1 cup water 1 cup salt food colouring Mix all the above together and put into squeeze bottles. When it dries, the crystals shine. fluffy paint 2/3 cup soap flakes 1/3 cup water powdered paint or food colour Combine all the above and whip until fluffy and paint! Note: Be careful not to get into eyes as it will hurt! Rinse with water or a damp cloth.
  9. Mud dough - 2 cups mud 2 cups sand ½ cup salt Mix all the above together and add enough water to make pliable. sawdust clay 1 cup white paste 2 cups sawdust Mix together to form a ball. Mould as desired. This will harden and can be painted.
  10. Uncooked finger paint - 2 cups corn flour 1 cup cold water 4 cups boiling water (a little more if necessary) ¼ cup soap flakes (optional) Whisk the corn flour and cold water together in a large bowl until all the corn flour is suspended. Pour in four or a little more cups of boiling water while stirring and beat until the mixture sticks together. Continue until the mixture is smooth, thick and translucent. Add the soap flakes if desired and keep stirring. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a little more water. The finger-paint should pour slowly and keep its shape for a short time when moulded or patterned with fingers. Colour can be mixed into the finger paint now.
  11. Cooked finger paint - 2 cups corn flour 5 cups cold water Mix the corn flour to a smooth paste with a little cold water using a large pot. Add 5 cups of cold water and stir over low heat for about ten minutes until the mixture has thickened to a consistency that will pour slowly and keep its shape briefly when moulded or patterned with fingers.
  12. Edible Play Dough - Mix well, play with it, then eat it! 1 cup smooth peanut butter 2/3 cup Rice Krispies 1 cup powdered milk. *Please note that some of these may not be appropriate for young ones that are still putting everything into their mouth, so select your activity appropriately.

3. Play and Your Developing Child

Play develops the whole child – Social, Physical, Intellectual and Emotional Skills are learnt and enhanced through play.

During their first few years, in which time they should be encouraged to play a much as possible, children –develop independence, learn to use language to express themselves and learn to take turns and share.

Learn how their body works, develop their physical skills and use their senses

Discover how the world around them works, explore their creativity, learn to solve problems and begin to understand the relationship between cause and effect.

Learn how to cope with fears and deal with their emotions and develop a positive self image.

Playing with a wide variety of toys helps children to develop to their fullest potential…below, I have listed suggestions of what your child should be playing with at each stage.


  • Toys for little babies 0-6 months: Mobiles, mirrors, soft toys that have textures and sounds, toys that make musical chiming sounds, rattles and toys that encourage focusing of the eyes and stretching of the limbs such as play gyms.
  • Toys for older babies 6 – 12 months: Nesting cups, stacking toys, building blocks, push and pull toys, bath toys, a variety of balls in different colours and sizes, baby gyms, pop up toys, books.
  • Toys for 1 – 2 year olds: Puzzles, finger paints, sand pits with buckets and spades, ride on toys such as black motor bikes, shape sorters, any push/ pull toys such as prams or wheel barrows, musical instruments, pretend toys such as mops and brooms, hammer benches books
  • Toys for 2 - 4 year olds: Threading laces and beads, puzzles, play dough, thick crayons and blunt nosed scissors, fancy dress clothing, dolls, cars, bats and balls, books.

Learn to trust the ages on the toys boxes, one can put a child off a toy by giving them something they are not ready for too soon – either that or you may think that they are bored with it and pack it way – rather wait and you’ll be amazed to see how they suddenly 'get it'!

Written by - Kirsten McIntosh from Sugar & Spice