Play ideas and games

6min read

Play is one of the main ways in which children learn and develop. It helps to build self-worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing.

Key Points:

  • Messy play helps a child to develop their creativity. It can also help their fine motor skills 
  • Playing with clay is great for a child's sensory needs and it helps them be creative as they can make so many things with clay
  • Play ideas for specific age groups can help develop coordination, confidence, help with sharing and  encourages imagination

Messy play

Messy play is a great way for a child to develop their cognitive and creative abilities. It also helps with all aspects of movement whether it is picking up small objects to bigger movements such as rolling around. It also helps a child understand and develop their sensory self. As they explore how things feel, smell and taste, this form of play with help them with their understanding of the world that surrounds them. Read our top play ideas for messy play below. It is important to always supervise your child when they are playing and ensure materials and equipment used is age appropriate.

  • Invest in play sand and get some pots and spoons and let your young child play with the sand. You can add a little water to help the sand become more gloopy which is a great sensory experience. 
  • Garden pots, seeds and soil are a great way to explore the natural world with your child. Allow them to put th compost into the different pots, planting seeds and putting water on them regularly. They will enjoy watching their hard work grow into a plant. 
  • Painting is a great way to help nurture their creativity. Encourage them to do finger and toe painting and make lovely art gifts for friends and family. You can put paint on a tray and lay clingfilm on top for messy pokey play too. Encourage your child to use their fingers to move the paint which will be underneath the clingfilm with swirly movements or whatever they enjoy.
  • Edible messy play is fun too - grab a pack of jelly, make it up and put one of their toys in the middle. They can then use their extraction skills to get the toy out of the jelly. 
  • Oobleck is a mixture of cornflour and water. Add food colouring and you have made yourself home made slimey gloop. This is a great sensory experience for young children.

Exploring clay

Clay is a great material for young children to play and explore. It is a natural material and open to many possibilities. It can be whatever the child wants to make it to be and provides a sensory stimulus too as there is squeezing, squashing, poking and twisting. It can also be dried to form a hard object and a product that your child will be proud of. The Froebel Trust have produced a comprenhensive and informative pamphlet on exploring playing with clay

The following games are designed for pre-school children and develop co-operation, confidence and coordination, whilst stimulating the imagination. Each can be played with a single child, or with a group of children. You do not need any special equipment and they can all be played at home.

Where is my hair? (age – from 18 months)

You will need a piece of cloth (a tea towel for example) for each person playing the game, which should be placed on the players’ heads. 

The Game Parent models the game and begins: I woke up with this lovely hair (touch cloth) I don’t know where it came from (shrug) I closed my eyes and when I looked (close eyes tightly and then open them) My lovely hair was gone! (parent takes the cloth off the child’s head)

Autumn Leaves – an action rhyme (age 2 – 5 years)

Child and parent are in role as autumn leaves although the parent or child may wish to take on the role of the wind who hides in a corner and swoops round the fallen leaf. Sound effects can be made with voices, instruments or even pots and pans! 

The Game See me turning round and round (child turns) Floating gently to the ground (child falls to the floor with controlled movements) The autumn wind blows in the sky (child lies still) Then swoops down low and lifts me high! (child stands up and jumps – small children may be lifted into the air by their parents)

Hide and seek pig (age 3 – 5 years)

Children are in role as one of the three little pigs. Parent in role as the big bad wolf! (Children can also take it in turns to be the wolf). Learn this simple script: Wolf: Little pig, little pig, let me come in Pig: Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin Wolf: Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in! 

The Game The little pig hides in their ‘house’ (behind the sofa/under the bed etc.) and the wolf knocks on the ‘door’ and begins the simple script. Parents should encourage children to remember the script and to use the voice of the wolf or the pig. At the end of the script the wolf tries to blow the house down and the pig runs away to another hiding place. The wolf then has to look for the pig’s house and when they find it the game begins again. Repeat until the pig finds himself a very strong house that the wolf can’t blow down.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to explore their ideas on learning with their young children. The Froebel Trust have some great play resources that you may find helpful that helps children get back to nature and develop their creativity. If you do need some advice or support you can talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. Alternatively, you can speak to your Health Visitor for some guidance. 

You may want to sign up for our free Let's Play online course which is aimed at parents of young children to help them develop play and learning. We have three modules exploring the benefits of play, ideas and games you can use and more. 

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