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First 5 Forever | Play to Learn


Even though it may not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, there are a multitude of ways that we, as parents, can encourage learning through interesting and innovative play. Here are a few ideas to keep safe in your parenting toolkit.

Visit First 5 Forever today for some more wonderful tips and ideas for playing with your children!

The Importance of Play for Little Ones

Play is a language that our tiniest tots know all too well. The importance and power of play cannot be understated. It’s about forging cognitive connections, enhancing language and bridging social and emotional gaps. Play represents an opportunity for children to engage in the world around them and it can help them make meaning of everything they do, see, hear and touch.

Play is important! And parents can use play as an educational tool. We often see learning misrepresented as worksheets or rote learning of letters and numbers. There is so much more to it than that, and here are a few brilliant ideas to help play take its rightful place as chief curriculum in your home. The great news is, you don’t need special toys or equipment – just you, and some things you will already have around the home!

Play Ideas for Families

Looking for some easy tips on making play part of your home? Look no further!

building blocks

  • Build a little reading nook old-school cubby house style! Kick it back to how it was when you were a child. Use sheets, blankets, pillows, chairs, pegs, magazines and other assorted household equipment to make a little slice of paradise for you to share. Fill this space with books, colouring and other hands-on activities to kit it out in style.
  • Create characters from favourite books (sharing the story first as a quick refresher, of course) from household items like toilet paper rolls, paddle pop sticks, old socks, pipe cleaners, buttons and more. There are so many opportunities and ways to get creative!
  • It’s mini Olympics time! Build an obstacle course in your home out of pillows, chairs, brooms, mops, cushions and other bits and pieces to create the track of your dreams.
  • For little ones, create tactile activities like threading and sorting using toothpicks, uncooked spaghetti, ribbons and pipe cleaners. You can thread and sort these items through things like colanders and strainers.
  • Stack plastic cups up and knock them down! This is HOURS of fun for tiny ones and is a great way for them to learn about concepts like cause and effect as well as organisation and sorting.
  • On the continued theme of cups, use them to bring some order to the chaos in the playroom. Stack and organise like items together into cups and talk about the process while you are arranging.
  • Keep that language going! When you’re playing, emphasise words that describe what’s happening. On, off, bottom, top, side, under – these are all great words to use to help your child grasp the idea of language in context.
  • Good old-fashioned hide and seek never hurt anyone! You could extend this idea by hiding a particular item in the house and giving your child clues as to where it might be found. Use colour and positioning words as well to enhance language learning.
  • Play with sand and water is a great way to keep tiny fingers and minds busy. Splashing, letting substances run through their fingers, learning about displacement – these are all fantastic play ideas that won’t cost you a cent! (Unless you include your water bill, of course)
  • Organise objects into groups (similar to the cup idea above). Colour, size, shape, texture and use are great categories to get little minds ticking as they try and make sense of the world around them.
  • Reading, of course! Point out pictures in books and ask for your child to identify similarities and differences. This is a great way to further enhance your child’s understanding of the ways that different texts work and it will help pique their interest when it comes to the ins and outs of written and visual language.

More Play to Learn Activities for Little Ones

If there’s a job that must be done, you can always find a way to have a little fun! Make chores around the home more interesting and FUN with these brilliant ideas.

  • Sort out laundry by colour, type and the person it belongs to. Sure, this might make your process take a little longer but your child will be thrilled by not only the opportunity to learn but the chance to ‘help’ around the home. You can teach them simple folding techniques to improve their digit dexterity and they will be tickled pink to be allowed to do such a ‘grown up’ thing.
  • Similar activities to the above include stacking and unstacking the dishwasher, organising the playroom or living room and washing windows. With children, simple soap and water and a cloth can help them be part of the cleaning action – no harsh chemicals to be found here!
  • Gardening is a great way to play and learn. Pulling out small weeds, planting seeds, watering gardens and choosing plants at the gardening centre will help you and your little one play to learn and plan the perfect garden. An added plus? Those tiny children’s gardening gloves are the cutest things ever!

When in doubt? Get some books out! There are so many ways to help your child develop their play to learn capacity. We’d love to hear some further thoughts of yours in the comment section below.

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Visit First 5 Forever for lots of easy, fun ideas and activities. You can also sign up to receive free weekly tips delivered straight to your inbox. They are customised to match the age of your child and are filled with simple ideas to try at home.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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