Child's Play - Why It's Good to Play

When I ask my eldest child what he enjoyed most about his day he inevitably starts his sentence with "Playing with.." To him play is extremely important and he can't wait to do it. Little does he realise that play is also vital to the development of his language skills and gives him real-life situations to apply his new found skills by encouraging problem solving and creative thinking.

At birth babies have roughly 100 billion brain cells which they will carry into their adulthood. In the first three years of life, the baby's five senses will constantly send information to their brain about their relationships, experiences and surroundings. This information will spark an exponential number of connections and result in the baby's brain growing to 90% of an adult size brain. These connections map the pathways between nerve cells and will change as the brain learns new things and experiences the milestones and events of life.

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Educators and researchers have found strong evidence for the many benefits of play-based learning especially through unstructured child-led play. Risk taking usually has negative connotations, but applied during free-play it helps to foster a child's a ability to self-regulate the behaviour which sets the child up for future success as life-long learners in school academics through to adulthood in a professional work environment.

As parents, what can we do to foster and encourage this crucial time of growth and development?

Like adults, children learn at different rates and have different learning styles so furnishing them with experiences and toys at school and at home makes play a more meaningful learning experience.

An environment that is loving and secure, promotes healthy habits with nutritious food gives them opportunities to explore play. Neural pathways are created when your child's five senses are stimulated and strengthened when your child discovers their world by interacting through play.

A guiding principle is: Is your child's imagination powering their play or are batteries?


Even before birth, fetuses can smell. Immediately after delivery newborns are drawn to the smell of breast milk. By the time they are 2 weeks babies can tell the difference between the scent of their own mother's breast milk and another mum's milk.

Research shows that odor is a much more effective cue than the other senses as a reminder of the past. Odor-evoked autobiographical memory” (or the Proust phenomenon, named after French writer Marcel Proust) was associated with stronger feelings and tended to be older memories from the first ten years of life, whereas memories evoked by sight and sound were from early adulthood.

Play With Your Child: Food aside, toys made from natural materials like wood, will have its own poignant smell. The toy that sends us all back to childhood is that rubbery plastic "other-worldly" smell when you open a fresh tub of green Play-Doh.

The mold-ability of Play-Doh helps develop fine motor skills by encouraging children to roll "snakes" and shape them into letters and numbers. The 'pincer grip' a child users to pinch a clump into shapes is required for everyday tasks such as picking up and holding small objects and handwriting.

Engage Your Child: Use descriptive language to ask your child about different smells - pleasant, smelly, flowery, fruity. Can they tell you what the smell is? If not can they describe what it smells like? Ask if they remember a particular smell from a past event or from another place, for example, "do you remember what the white rose smelled like in nanny's garden?"


Touch is one of the first senses to develop in an infant. A parent's touch is crucial for a child's development. Babies not touched right after they are born can suffer cognitive, emotional, developmental and behavioral implications. Research has shown touch deprivation can not only affect immune system development but also the child becoming socially integrated with the people.

It’s no surprise that we all crave the touch of other people and a single touch can affect us in multiple and powerful ways.

Times have changed since the parenting manuals of the 1950s which advised parents not to touch their children too much or give too many hugs and kisses instead just a "pat on the head" if they were well behaved and a kiss on the forehead to say good night. If you were feeling rather affectionate, perhaps a "hand-shake" in the morning.

The more research that is done about touch, the more we realise just how vital it is to our lives. Subsequently  of touch from womb into old age becomes evident.

Play With Your Child: Sand is one of the more sensual materials to touch. Who hasn't buried their feet in the sand at the beach and wriggled their toes. While you can now buy "magic sand" or Kinetic Sand, which is a great idea to minimise mess if you live in an apartment, there are natural benefits to the tactile sensation of beach sand.

Engage Your Child: Explore the difference between wet and dry sand. Make sand castles and add varying amounts of water. What happens when you add one drop of water or a whole cup? Touch your child's hands and feet etc with sandy hands, wet hands, muddy hands. Use descriptive language to ask your child how it feels – soft, smooth, hard, scratchy, rough, wet, dry.

Toy Wooden Cartoon Animal Mini Bowling
Toy Wooden Cartoon Animal Mini Bowling


The ability to apperceive flavours begins in utero. The development and early functioning of the gustatory and olfactory systems means the baby begins learning about flavours in foods in the womb because the amniotic fluid contains molecules derived from the mother's diet.

Young infants experience the undertones of their mother's food via the breast milk. As they grow, the child's likes and dislikes are influenced by these antecedent preferences, but are modifiable.

This early experience sets the foundation for a child's food preferences. As the child develops he will be continually shaped by the interplay of biological, social, and environmental factors for the rest of their lives.

Play With Your Child: Let them play with their food! Food for children, as well as adults, is a sensory experience. They will not only experience the texture and temperature as they handle the food, but also as they taste and masticate their food.

Engage Your Child: The most pleasurable side of food is of course the taste. You can intensify a child's experience with food by helping them describe the texture, the look, and the sounds different foods make. Crunchy carrot sticks and mushy pea mash. Feed them and let them feed you. As the child gets older engage them with grocery shopping (all better if you have a vegie garden or fruit trees) and food preparation.


The inner ear is fully developed by about 20 weeks of pregnancy, so your newborn entered the world with fully developed hearing apparatus. However, the middle ear of a newborn is full of fluid which impairs hearing to a small extent. The newborn can hear fairly well and may have heard the higher pitches from the squeals of delight and pain in the delivery room.

Play With Your Child:  Musical instruments are ideal for play and sensory stimulation. A firm shake of hand bells will make a louder sound than a gentle shake. Vary the loudness of a tambourine with a soft tap or a hard hit. As your child develops and can grasp objects, they will naturally discover that beating a pot with a wooden spoon makes for a great impromptu drum kit as does dropping their sippee cup on the kitchen's tiled floor... 14 times

Toy Wooden Musical Rattles Handbell
Toy Wooden Musical Rattles Handbell

Engage Your Child:
Birth to 6 Months Old
When a 2-month-old’s their mum's voice he will head turn toward her. They are excited by lively, higher-pitched voices and are soothed by lower, quieter ones. Whether you are the mum or dad, singing in or out of tune, will encourage development.

6 to 12 Months Old
Babies love to listen to animated speech. They have yet to understand the concept of object-permanence, so will have trouble understanding conversations about people and objects that not present and cannot see. This is the age when the simple game of "peek-a-boo" becomes exhilarating. Also, if you intend on raising a bilingual child, this is the time to teach words for an object in both languages.

12 to 18 Months Old
Baby (or by this time, toddler) has developed a listening vocabulary of 50 words or more. They may not be able to say the words, but can point, look at or show agreement or negativity to words. Speak naturally to the baby in full sentences and use tone and inflection to emphasise the keywords that you are teaching.

Toy Wooden Tree Marble Ball Run Track Game
Toy Wooden Tree Marble Ball Run Track Game


Your babies sight develops gradually over 6 to 8 months. The ability to focus their eyes, move, accurately track people and objects and use both eyes together must be learned. The newborn's eyes are physically capable of seeing just at birth but they need to learn how to use the visual information the eyes send to their brain in order to understand the world around them and interact with it appropriately.

As the brain develops, so does the baby's ability to see clearly, giving it the tools needed to understand and manage its environment. Not surprisingly studies show that babies prefer human faces, especially mum and dad's, to all other objects, patterns or colours.

Play With Your Child:   Paint is a great sensory toy. During play time treating your child’s growing brain with bright colours, movement and light can all attribute towards learning and discovery. Dip different shaped balls, sponges or even food in paint and roll them across paper to see the effect it creates! Sensory play can be messy but that is half the fun!

Engage Your Child: As your baby grows add words to describe objects they can see. You may just start with the word "ball" for an infant. As they develop add "small ball" and later "small red ball." Contrast and compare with a "big blue ball" or "shiny big red ball."

Birth to 4 Months Old
They can focus on objects 20-30cms from their face or the distance to parent's face. Your baby's eyes are not well coordinated and may appear to wander or to be crossed. They begin to track objects with their eyes and start their tentative attempts to reach for things at around three months of age. As you enter the baby's field of view, see if they track your face across the room.
5 to 8 Months Old
During these months, your babies control of eye movements continue to improve. Eye-body coordination skills become stronger. They can judge the three-dimensional world and begin to see in depth. By about five months they have good colour vision, although not as fully developed as an adult. Show them similar object in different colours. Red ball... green ball after many many attempts they should be able to distinguish between the two.

9 to 12 Months Old
Babies can now judge distances fairly well. The crawlers will begin to reach out and up on furniture to pull themselves up. They can throw things with precision and intention.
12 to 24 Months Old
By this age your child's eye-hand coordination and depth perception should be well developed. They explore and navigate their environment. They can recognise familiar objects in their surroundings and identify similar object in books. When reading picture books to them ask if they can see a flower, car, the sun, or clouds.

We must remember that children are sensory learners. They will not only understand, develop and retain concepts that are taught in a way that engages multiple senses (smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight).
Toy Wooden Musical Rattle 4 Styles Educational Percussion Instrument
Toy Wooden Musical Rattle 4 Styles Educational Percussion Instrument

Wooden toys are multi-sensory. They promote discovery and encourage your child through active engagement of their senses. Quality educational toys, such as can be purchased from Wooden Toys for Milki, will delight your child and inspire a lifetime of learning and joy

About the Author: TuiSiong Hie

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  1. Really got a useful blog to read today. Its very informative, keep posting more like this.
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