There are many ways to have fun playing. There are ideas for busy, active play and for quiet, chilled out time together. Be led by your child on what interests them and what mood they are in.
Playing does not need expensive toys or days out. You can collect things that will interest your child without spending money; boxes, interesting shaped stones, fabrics, pots and cardboard tubes can all fire up imaginative play and making.
Things that can seem a bit ‘dull’ as a grown up can become exciting when you have a child with you who is experiencing new things all the time. Going outside and finding ‘treasures’ together or seeing what new physical skills your child can manage is fun, keeping you both active and healthy. Play can happen on the walk to nursery, the shops, or an outing to the park, the woods or the beach.
Children enjoy playing with different textures and shapes and dried pasta is a good for this. For babies and smaller children, put pasta in a plastic bottle with a tight lid for some noisy rattling.
Toddlers can use it for pretend cooking, threading on string, or making pasta shape pictures with some glue. As they get older they could paint it and make ‘jewellery’ for the whole family!
Make sure you are close by when your child is playing with pasta in case any bits break off or small children put it in their mouths.
Having fun with your child can be so simple. Here is Harry and his Mum blowing kisses to each other. Harry is copying his Mum and taking turns. He is feeling proud of himself. He gets praise from his Mum and will want to try this again.
Singing with your baby and toddler is very good for them and has been shown to help their brain development. It is an important building block for early speech and language. The tunes, rhythms, rhymes and repetitions in songs help babies and children tune in to sounds and words.
The good news is you don’t even need to be able to sing well. Parents and carers always sound good to their children.
It doesn’t matter what you sing - it could be nursery rhymes, pop songs or something silly you make up. You can choose different songs for different times of day – exciting action songs in the day and gentle lullabies at bed time.
Mealtimes are a great opportunity to be with your child. Harry really enjoys a song as he finishes his tea. He has heard it before and is ready for the next actions. Harry is learning that mealtimes are a time for fun and communication with his family, as they eat together.
Singing With Dad
Made up songs and musical instruments are fun. Jemima and her dad are using their song as a way to talk about what is going to be happening that day. Songs can be about anything and no singing skills are required!
Jemima let’s her dad know when the singing is finished, telling him it’s ‘all done’! Children are very good at letting you know what is interesting them - just follow their lead.
Fun Activities To Add To Your Routine
Ideas On The Go
Copying & Learning
Children love to copy you. From the time they are born they are watching you and learning from you. Harry is really watching his Mum and working hard to copy the ‘moo’ sound. She repeats the sound and then gives him time to have a try. He is getting lots of praise and encouragement from his Mum and that encourages him to keep trying hard.
Boxes are great toys! Big and small they can be so many things when a child is free to use their imagination.
Young babies enjoy opening them and putting things in and out. Older children can use them in make believe play. They can be;
Your child may come up with some ideas themselves or you can make some suggestions. Collect boxes from your shopping or ask around at local shops for bigger ones. A good selection of shapes and sizes give so many play opportunities.
Children love to copy the things they see grown ups or older children doing. Every day experiences like going to the shop can be practiced and understood during make believe play.
You could use a few boxes and packets and maybe some apples and your child can play pretend shops. They can think and remember what they want on pretend lists and practice asking for things. They can count what the items they have bought and talk with you about money too.
Make believe play is a lot of fun for children. Annabel is looking after her poorly doll. She is making sense of what can happen when you are ill; even acting as a doctor to make her doll better. She is trying out words and situations and her mum is making some suggestions – but Annabel is definitely in charge of what happens next in the game.
Treasure baskets are a lovely way to let your child explore and play with a collection of things that might be new to them.
The ‘basket’ can be any container which has enough room and lets the little explorer reach in easily to put things in and out. You could try;
Choose items with different shapes, texture, materials and sounds. You can choose things from around the house. Charity shops and car boots are also good places to find ‘treasure’.
Remember the things you put in a treasure basket are not proper toys and so not safety checked in the same way. Always be with your child when they are playing with a treasure basket and make sure the things you put in are strong and too big to be swallowed.
Dexter's Treasure Basket
Dexter’s Mum placed him near the basket so that he can see and reach everything. His Mum sits close by to watch him. He is using his hands, eyes and mouth to explore. This stimulates his brain development.
Mum sits close so she can encourage him with a smile, or talk to him about what he is doing.
Playing like this can build concentration spans. Dexter played like this for 30 minutes! He had freedom to choose what he played with. He had the chance to use his fingers and hands as well as building muscles as he sits, reaches and balances.
Exploring a Treasure Basket Together
Dexter shares the basket with his neighbour Lily and his Mum, Kerry. This time Dexter is most interested in watching the others.
Later he watches his Mum making sounds by banging together two metal bowls. He has a go himself. He is really proud when he realises that he is making the noise by himself.
Play can happen anywhere. Giving your child as many different experiences as you can helps them grow in confidence and begin to understand the world around them.
Getting out of the house is good for children and grown ups it helps with mood, fitness and makes you feel a part of your local community.
Taking your children out does not have to be expensive. Take a walk to the shop, or park, or a trip to the bus station to watch the buses coming and going.
Getting out and about does not have to be a big effort but is a great opportunity to be with your child as they explore their world.
Messy & Sensory Play
Playing with Oats
There are many things around the house that you and your child can use to play with.
Put some porridge oats on a tray, plate or cut down cardboard box and you have a building site, a jungle, a farm or a zoo to play with. Once you are finished, any stray bits will hoover up until next time!
Your child will have more fun and learn more from their play if you get down on the floor with them. It doesn’t have to be for hours. Having you join in, comment on their play ‘you have buried the elephant’ and make suggestions ‘I wonder if you can make a mountain?’ builds their confidence, self esteem and concentration span. It was also help them to hear more words and share their thoughts and ideas.
Playing in the Mud
Playing outside and getting dirty is popular with most children! Some parents and carers are not so sure!! Choose some old clothes, maybe some wellies and be prepared to get dirty!
Playing with mud lets children understand different textures and uses their senses of touch, sight and smell. They can learn about how their actions make a difference as they add water and make the soil gloopy. It is a cheap and fun way to spend time outside. They can dig, make mud pies, bury stones or stomp in the mud.
They can wash off their toys afterwards in a bucket or with the hose (always be with young children when they are playing with water). They can learn the importance of washing their hands well after outside play as they clean the mud off with your help.
Remember to choose a patch of mud where it is less likely any pets go to the toilet.
Visit The Library
Libraries are a great place for children and families to spend time together.
Libraries are fun and FREE places where children and families are welcome to visit and enjoy themselves. There is no need to keep quiet! Libraries are full of noise and play these days.
You could take your children along to story sessions, or the organised arts and crafts that are held there. There are reading challenges and book clubs for older children too.
There are books to suit all ages and all interests and ages. You can look at books together and if you decide to become a member you can borrow some to take home. If you are not sure what might suit your child the staff will be happy to help you find the right thing.
Libraries understand that children’s books might sometimes get dribble, dinner and bite marks added. This is a sign a book has been ‘loved’ and you shouldn’t worry about it. Just let the team know when you bring it back. There are no late fees for children’s books, but it is helpful if you bring them back on time whenever you can - so everyone can share them… and it means you can choose some new ones too.
Remember you can join the adult library for free too. Reading is a great way to relax when you have a few quiet minutes. We know that children who see their parents and carers reading are more likely to enjoy books themselves.
Children love to explore and make connections between what they hear and what they see. Norfolk libraries are able to loan out story sacks to members of the children’s library.
A story sack will have selection of books on a subject – so you can choose something that you know interests your little one. Or try something completely different. Alongside the books there are toys that connect with the stories.
You can read and play and spend time getting to know the characters. You can use lots of different words and actions together. This really encourages little imaginations, who may have some great ideas about what happens next in the story.
Once you are finished you can take it back to the library and start a new adventure with a new story sack!
It takes children time to learn how to take turns. By the time they start school being able to take turns will make it easier for them to settle in, make friends and follow rules.
You can help them practice turn taking even when babies are very little. Talk to your baby and ‘leave a space’ for them to take their turn to answer you in ‘baby talk’.
Once they can sit up and play. They will enjoy passing a toy backwards and forwards between you both. They begin to understand sharing is a fun game and start to understand that they get the toy back when it is their turn.
As they get bigger you can carry on helping them practice. This can be by taking turns in games, pretend play, when you are baking together, or taking turns to splash in a puddle.
Give your child plenty of chances to be around other children with family and friends and/or at baby and toddler groups. Children don’t really understand sharing until they are about three and it takes much longer for it to come easily to them. Giving them time with other children lets them practice this skill. It is good to have a supportive grown up nearby to help out if it goes wrong.
Fun With Everyday Activities
Your children love to spend time with you, helping with jobs around the house. It means you can get on with some chores and keep them entertained at the same time. There are chances for learning too.
Hanging The Washing
Jemima is enjoying helping her Great Grandma put out the washing. She counts out the pegs and practices pegging out some clothes. She feels very involved and enjoys being helpful.
Helping With The Washing Up
Children love to play with water. They can do so safely when a grown up is close by. She even has an apron so she won’t get too wet. Jemima is really concentrating on her job as she wants to get it right. Her Grandma is talking with her about what she is doing.
It is a chance to listen to words she might not have heard before like ‘squeezing’ and ‘rinsing’. Jemima is practicing listening to instructions, being careful and doing as she is asked – all whilst having fun.
Tidying Can Be Fun
Tidy up time’ can be good fun for your child. Try and pick a time when they are not concentrating on a toy or game or let your child know it will soon be time to tidy away. Setting an alarm on your phone or using an egg timer can help make the move from playtime to tidy time easier.
Little ones will need your help to tidy away. Get them involved by singing a song or playing some music as you put things away together. Race to see who can put the most books in a pile. Give you child lots of praise – describe what you see 'well done – you have put all the books on the shelf’.
It is a good chance to build on the words they know ‘can you put the white lorry in the bag please?’. You could do some counting – bricks into bags or cars into their box.
Your child won’t see tidying as a chore but as a fun time with you. At the same time they are learning to look after their things – and you get a tidy living room (until next time!!).
Making Achievements Fun!
Learning new skills is hard work. Sometimes it can be tempting to give up. Libby has her mum and dad cheering her on. Libby is getting lots of eye contact and encouraging words. Her Mum steps in when she is getting frustrated. The whole family share the in the fun (even the cat) and Libby is the centre of attention.
You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.
You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. There are so many ways to enjoy play time with your children. You will find ideas that are special for you and your family. Why not share the things that work well for you, or ask others for suggestions.