It’s never too early to start interacting with your baby and playing together will help make learning fun…

In her first few years, your child learns more about herself, you, the rest of her family and the wider world than at any other time in her life, and play is the most enjoyable and best way of developing that knowledge.

There’s a great deal to learn and your child has, in the main, to learn it for herself but that doesn’t mean you can’t help.  If you provide the right environment in which to play with her and tailor play to her abilities, she will learn more readily.

Child development expert Dorothy Einon, author of several play and development books such as Pre-School Play Book.

Nine reasons why it’s good to play

  1. Helping her to develop emotionally – the bond between you and your baby started developing in the womb when your baby listened to your voice, and playing together will help that bond to strengthen in the months and years ahead. “Every baby needs at least one special person to attach herself to, and more are better,” says child development expert Penelope Leach in Your Baby & Child. “It’s through this first love-relationship that she will learn about herself, other people and the world.”
  2. Building on her physical skills – as your baby gets stronger and starts sitting up, then crawling and walking, she’ll want to test out each new-found skill and will enjoy having safe but interesting spaces in which to practise again and again.
  3. Stimulating her mind – your child’s brain matures dramatically in these first few years and that’s why it makes sense to give her lots of things to think about and do. She’s hungry to learn and will enjoy memorising information, watching and doing things for herself. As her play becomes more complex, it will also increase her powers of concentration and memory.
  4. Making sense of the world around her – there’s so much for your child to learn about how the world ‘works’ and playing together gives you the opportunity to explain basic principles in very simple terms. Even everyday activities – from getting dressed to unpacking the shopping or walking the dog – provide ideal opportunities to play and learn.
  5. Learning to talk – when you play with your baby or toddler, you automatically use lots of verbal and non-verbal communication without realising it, which all goes towards helping your child acquire the skills she’ll need for developing proper ‘adult’ speech into her second and third year. “The simplest baby games, especially those involving turn-taking and exaggeration of facial expressions, are of great importance because they form the basic building blocks of behaviour,” says Dorothy Einon.
  6. Giving her a sense of self – one of the most important emotional milestones for your child in the early years is to come to an understanding that she is a separate being from you, with her own identity, emotions and the power to make things happen. Play gives her lots of opportunities to learn this and move slowly towards towards greater independence from you.
  7.  Preparing for future friendships – although your child will play ‘alongside’ rather than ‘with’ other children until around two years old (known as ‘parallel play’), it’s still important for you to give her plenty of opportunities to be with other young children in a social setting to start off this process.
  8. Growing her confidence – mastering new skills through play helps your child to learn that she can do things for herself and that she is, in some small way at this stage, ‘master’ of her own destiny, still within the safe confines of her loving home environment and your care.
  9. … Last but not least, having FUN! – we all rely on our sense of humour and enjoyment of life to get us through the daily routine and children are no different. “For small children there is no distinction between playing and learning, between the things they do ‘just for fun’ and things that are educational,” says Penelope Leach.