Pre-school play

Play is more than fun for babies and children. It’s how they learn and develop. While children do need time to play alone and with other children research shows that playtime with a close adult is one of the most important things you can do.

See below for some ideas of fun experiences to share with your child.

Please note: Some ingredients used in sensory/craft experiences could trigger an allergic response. For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in activities to make sure they will not affect your child. Also remember to never leave young children unattended whilst they are exploring sensory/craft experiences.

Why not go outside and explore the falling autumn leaves? Enjoy scooping up the leaves and let them fall to the ground, throw them, kick them, create a big pile of leaves and jump in them and collect some! Why not use the leaves you have collected to make a leaf crown. Cut a strip of card long enough to fit round your child’s head, use cellotape to join both ends together and decorate by sticking on the leaves you have collected.

Autumn time is such a vibrant time of the year.  There is so much to see and do outdoors whether this is in your garden, a local walk or even a trip to a wood.  Go for a walk collecting natural materials you find on the way, leaves, acorns, conkers, fir cones etc.

When you get home, make pictures using the things you have collected.  You can create your picture either on the ground or provide your child with a large piece of card or perhaps a carpet tile on which to arrange their picture. How many different pictures can you make?  Take some photographs of your child’s creation to keep and talk about together, maybe you would like to share your creations on our Facebook page - we would love to see them.

 

Still enjoying searching for autumn treasures?  Want some more autumn play ideas?

If the leaves are dry you could lay down in them and play hide and seek. Why not sort your autumn treasures according to colours?  Why not practise counting how many leaves, conkers, fir cones you have found. Perhaps you could put all your autumn treasures in a box or a tray to create an autumn wood small world scene for your child to play with their small world people and animal figures.  For more autumn small world ideas see the Imagination Tree website.

Why not make a bird cake with your child? This will attract the birds to come into your garden and make life easier for them during the winter. This is a good exploratory craft experience which will further develop your child’s physical and communication skills.

For a recipe and instructions visit the activity village website

Notes of caution!
Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response. For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child. Remember to never leave your child unattended whilst creating your bird cake.

Go for a walk with your child, look up at the trees; can you spot any bird nests? Collect some leaves, twigs, grass and other natural materials and build a nest together. Playing in this way provides the chance to support your child’s creativity, understanding of the world, problem solving skills and communication development, have fun!!

Boxes - Young children love to play with boxes! Find a large cardboard box to play in (if you don’t have boxes ask at your local shop they will usually be happy to give them away free). Boxes are great for sitting in and climbing in and out of. Talk to your child about what their box could be; it could be a car, castle or even a space rocket! You could decorate your box together or add further objects to make it come to life. This experience is great for developing your child’s imagination! The possibilities are endless, have fun playing!

Young children find the texture of foam fascinating!  Whisking baby safe/tear free bubble bath in warm water makes plenty of foam which can be scooped off the top and put into a tray for your child to play with.  Why not add a little food colouring?  Your child will enjoy exploring the foam, but to add to the fun add spoons and pots to scoop up the bubbles or some of your child’s favourite small world toys such as animals or cars.  Remember to use baby safe bubble bath as it might well be tasted!  This is a good exploratory play experience to offer at home, this play will further develop your child’s communication, exploratory skills and physical skills which will aid early writing.

More bubble foam ideas

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response.  For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Children love to play with and explore bubbles, why not try to blow bubbles of different sizes, catch bubbles and pop bubbles.  As well as being lots of fun, bubble play promotes children’s physical development.  If you run out of bubble mix why not make your own using washing up liquid, glycerine and water.

Why not make your own bubble wand? You’ll only need two basic supplies that you probably already have in your home: straws and rubber bands.
  • Take a bunch of straws and attach them together by wrapping them with a rubber band. If you don’t have rubber bands, use some masking tape or sticky tape to join the straws together
  • You can also cut the straws to different lengths and explore the effect different sized wands have
  • Then place them in bubble mixture and have fun with the results

Building a den is great for encouraging children’s imagination and reinforces their sense of self. For children, a den is a place to sit and observe the world or a place to escape. Children use dens to be alone, and to be with one another.

For outdoor den ideas and others visit the Woodland Trust’s website

Pinterest also has lots of examples of dens for children indoors and out.

Did you know you can start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they start to come through? Use a baby toothbrush with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste. Don’t worry if you don’t manage to brush much at first. The important thing is to get your baby used to brushing their teeth as part of their daily routine. You can help your child to recognise the importance of looking after their teeth by you setting a good example and letting them see you brushing your own teeth. 

For more information visit NHS dental health.

Why not cook some eggs in boiling water until hard boiled, once cooked leave them to cool. Once the eggs are cold decorate them with your child using paint, felt tips or stickers, you could create patterns, people’s faces or animals. This is a great creative experience which will help your child to learn new words by talking about the feel of the egg and the decorations they add.

Notes of caution!
Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response. For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child. Remember to never leave young children unattended whilst they are involved in creative experiences.

Why not use your decorated eggs to have an egg and spoon race! Balance an egg on spoon or a spade and practise walking with it, you could even try running or jumping with it!!! This experience is great for developing your child’s co-ordination.

Another good Easter activity to play with your child using their decorated eggs is an egg hunt!! Hide the eggs inside your home, in the garden or around your local area, then search for them! Take it in turns with your child to be the hider of the eggs and the searcher of them. To support language development hunt for the eggs together repeating “Is there one under here, oh dear!”

How about exploring rolling with your decorated eggs down a hill or slope! Why not have an egg rolling competition to see whose or which egg rolls the fastest or slowest! Help your child to learn new words by talking about the races which egg is fastest, slowest, first, second, third?

Do you often wonder what you could do with those empty cordial bottles?  They can be used in so many ways which will bring your child lots of enjoyment, and it doesn’t cost a penny.

Five ideas to do with a cordial bottle:

  • Provide a washing up bowl of water along with some clean empty plastic bottles. Children love to tip, pour, stir and shake
  • Make a sensory bottle using a range of different materials eg coloured water and glitter, foil wrappings, sand and stones. Visit The Imagination Tree for more ideas.
  • Create an under the sea scene in a bottle using shells, plastic fishes, glitter
  • Make some musical instruments.  Bottles make great shakers – fill with rice, pasta, stones, gravel.
  • Bottles can make a great set of skittles for playing with in the garden.  Fill with different coloured water. Who can knock the most down?

Remember to supervise your child at all times when doing these activities.

Did you know there are countless benefits to being outdoors? The outdoors is a natural environment where children enjoy playing and learning about the world around them. It also helps your child to be healthy and feel good about themselves, so why not wrap up warm and explore the winter environment?

Look at the RSPB website for free ideas you can do with your child to explore the natural world further.

You will need:

  • One cup of corn flour
  • Water

Method:

  • Put the corn flour in a tray/bowl, let your child explore the corn flour before adding the water, talk about the texture and feel of it
  • Slowly add water until runny and malleable, maybe add food colouring, peppermint or vanilla essence to create an interesting colour or smell
  • Have fun exploring and talking about the texture, feel and smell of the gloop
  • Create patterns in it using fingers, tracks of feet using small world people, animals and vehicles

This play will later support their ability to make scribbles and patterns (early mark-making) which aids early writing.

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response.  For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Children love to explore water! How about giving them some sponges, flannels and brushes with a bowl of soapy water so they can wash their own toys! This active learning experience will help to develop your child’s sense of responsibility and pride whilst supporting their muscle control which will help with their early writing development.

Young children will love learning about all the different ways animals go to sleep and that some sleep all winter:
Why not make a bed for a cuddly toy, perhaps using a shoebox – talk about where animals might sleep during winter; bears in caves, bees in the ground, woodland animals in holes in trees or underground. 

Play a game of hide and seek at home, using a favourite toy. To support language development hunt for the toy together repeating “Is … under here, oh dear!”

Children love to explore the effects of ice melting. Try putting a plastic/rubber animal into a container and then fill it with water, and put it into the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, take out of freezer and tip into washing up bowl, or something similar and watch as the ice slowly melts, revealing the animal.

This is a good exploratory play experience to offer at home, this play will further develop your child’s communication and understanding of cause and effect. It is advisable that you leave the ice at room temperature for a little while before your child begins to explore it and that your child wears gloves!

Go on a journey around your garden, down the road or through the park and see what treasures you can find.

Cover a medium sized stick in double sized sticky tape and stick on the interesting things you find along the way.

When you get back home you can look at and remember your journey and things you saw and collected.

Alternatively…..cover a piece of card and stick the objects you find on the card.  These could then be laminated and used as a book mark!

Everyday fun materials can be used to encourage your child to explore. Watch them play and discover for themselves:

Posting boxes – allows children to discover that what they do has an effect – cause and effect relationship “I post something and it appears in the box”!

Empty boxes – has endless possibilities. Small ones are great for putting items in and rattling about.  Larger ones can become a fabulous den or vehicle.

These experiences can provide your child with an opportunity to explore using their senses and to problem solve. 

Getting outside and flying a kite in the breeze is a wonderful experience.  Actually seeing your own kite flying is very rewarding. 

Try a tried and tested easy way to make an A3 sheet of paper fly.  You and your child can enjoy making, decorating and flying this together

Remember to never leave your child unattended when kite flying.

Hide a favourite toy in an empty box and give your child clues about who or what is hiding inside. Clues such as "It lives in a sty, it goes oink,oink" will encourage your child to listen to you, think about what they know, and successfully guess what's inside.

Ask your child to close their eyes – what can they hear?
  • Talk about the different noises they hear- traffic, voices, music, birds singing
  • Ask your child to describe the noises they hear - are the noises loud or quiet? Do they like the noises? Do any of the noises make them feel happy, worried?
  • A sound they hear may remind them of a familiar or recent event which will provide you with a good opportunity to revisit, talk about this event and share photos
This activity can be done anywhere -inside your house, in the garden, in the park, even in the supermarket.

Young children are often able to recite the number names and love to do so.  Understanding how a number name applies to a collection of objects takes much longer.  Providing opportunities to count and use numbers during play will help your child to develop a concrete understanding of numbers.

Playing with Small World creates lots of opportunities. For example: separate the farm pigs, play with them and arrange them in different ways. Count them pointing at each one in turn, "one, two, three….we have three pigs on our farm."

There are more ideas you can explore on the Imagination Tree website

Why not make a bird feeder with your child this will encourage birds to come closer and make life easier for them as the weather starts to change.

Why not make a boat with your child to play with. All you need is some empty food packages, paper, cellotape, glue etc.  Your child will enjoy testing their boats out in a bowl of water.

Thinking of safety, remember toddlers need to be watched even with a little bowl of water. This is a good exploratory play experience to offer at home, this play will further develop your child’s communication, imagination and physical skills which will aid early writing.

There are some good ideas to get  you started on Pinterest.

A good way to interest young children in reading books is to make books about their families, routines and events. It’s a keepsake for you and a helpful way to encourage communication and language skills. It’s also a low cost way to help your child learn to love books. 

Tips on making a book with your child
Here’s a great wintry play idea - why not make a frozen icecap play zone to use as a base to play with small world animals and figures? This is a good play experience to offer at home, this play will further develop your child’s communication, develop their imagination and understanding of cause and effect. It is advisable that you leave the ice at room temperature for a little while before your child begins to explore it and that your child wears gloves!



Mark making is an important developmental milestone and starts children on their journey to becoming a writer.  Children like to make their mark but pencils and paper are not always a favourite particularly with boys and younger children.  Offering experiences which are outside give children the chance to make marks on a larger scale.  A simple way to do this is to give your child a pot of water, selection of brushes and rollers and let them experiment with make their mark on the ground, fence or wall.  They can make as much mess as they like, there’s little to clear up and it’s exciting to see how magically the marks will just disappear!”

Get outside - for more ideas to encourage your child to get outside and make their mark download the Chalk it Up leaflet.

Mashed Potato Play - What can you and your child find to play together with mashed potato!!?

Use leftover mashed potato or instant mashed potato mix! If using instant mash, support your child to mix it together with cold water, maybe you could add food colouring to make it more interesting!

  • Have fun exploring and talking about the texture
  • Create patterns in it using fingers
  • Use toy vehicles to create tracks
  • Create hills, roads and rivers to provide a base for small world play with little people or animals

This play will later support their ability to make scribbles and patterns (early mark-making) which aids early writing. Have fun together!

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response.  For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Young children are naturally curious about the world around them. They will be fascinated to find some of the creatures which can easily be found under pieces of wood and on leaves just outside the door. Whilst looking for creatures your child will enjoy learning about the world around them. Being in the outdoor environment also helps your child to be healthy and feel good about themselves.

There are some good ideas on the Nature Detectives website.

Children love to explore mud and water! Mud kitchens provide the much loved cooking element of children’s play with being outside. Have you thought about creating a mud kitchen? All you need is mud, water, old saucepans, containers, utensils, and other natural resources such as leaves and sticks. Playing outdoors in this way provides the chance to support your child’s creativity, role play and communication development, so get exploring together with your child and have some muddy fun! Please note for health reasons it is important that the soil you use has not been contaminated by animal faeces.

Remember to never leave your child unattended whilst experiencing mud kitchen play.

Here’s a recipe for No-Cook Play Dough along with some ideas to play and learn. Good if you’re stuck indoors!

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response.  For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Did you know the British Heart Foundation recommends that children should participate in 3 hours physical activity every day? Physical activity brings benefits including helping children to be happy, sleep well and reduce stress. The Outdoors and Active project team have tested a variety of ways to get children active in the home, with ideas to encourage children to be more physical outside using some fun active games to play and share with your child. To find out more, go to the Early Education website.

Jasmine Pasch ‘BoingWhooshRolyPoly’ approach to developing balance provides different ideas to encourage your children to be active and move. Go to the Early Education website to see some great ideas.

Older babies and young children love to explore the texture, taste and smell of things and sensory play starts to appeal. Here is an idea of a safe to taste exploratory experience to share with your child. Give them a tray of cold cooked pasta/spaghetti to explore, you could add vegetable oil or a flavouring such as raspberry/lemon juice and spoons, sieves and pots to add to the sensory experience. This is a good exploratory play experience which will further develop your child’s physical and communication skills.

Caution
This sensory activity is suitable for babies older than six months who are able to both sit unaided and are eating soluble food (in case it gets tasted!). Remember to never leave your baby unattended when playing with sensory experiences.

Some products used in sensory activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response. For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Young children love picnics! It could be in your garden, at a friend’s, in the park or even if the weather is typically British, (and it rains), then have an indoor picnic! Your child may even like to invite some of their favourite toys to attend. Having a picnic fosters the imagination and allows children to experiment and role play.

How many different pictures can you create using buttons, leaves and sticks? Take some photographs of your child’s creation to keep and talk about together. This is a good creative experience to offer at home, it will further develop your child’s communication and physical skills which will aid early writing.

You can share your creations on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/NorfolkFIS - we would love to see them. Take a look at stimulating learning for further ideas for making pictures and patterns from buttons, leaves and sticks etc.

Even very young children can make discoveries on their own. Try not to rush in when your child is looking for a toy, or when they are finding it hard to push their cart up a hill on their own. Give them time to think about why the brick/puzzle piece won’t connect straight away. By not rushing in and solving young children’s minor problems, adults can help infants to develop confidence and increase thinking ability.

Mix 2 cups of corn flour, 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 3-4 tablespoons of silver glitter (optional).

  • Have fun exploring and talking about the texture, feel and smell of the snow dough.
  • Place it in the bottom of a tray or bowl and use it as a great base to use with small world characters in a wintry scene!
  • Create patterns in the snow dough using fingers, tracks of feet using small world people, animals and vehicles.
  • Snow dough can also be moulded to create, hills, mountains, snowmen etc.

This is a good exploratory play experience to offer at home, this play will further develop your child’s communication and physical skills which will aid early writing.

For further snow dough ideas follow this link

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response.  For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.

Singing songs and rhymes with your child is really important because rhythms and repetitive language make it easier for children to learn language skills. Share rhymes with your child and watch the learning begin.

Words For Life
 has some popular songs and nursery rhymes, with some mp3 versions to listen and sing along to as well.

When sharing rhymes with your child, help them to move their arms and legs to the rhythm, keep in time to the beat, it doesn’t matter what movements you use. With an older child you can try clapping and marching to the beat. Find more information about learning with nursery rhymes.

 

Supports the development of fine motor skills, concentration and hand-eye coordination. For helpful ideas, hints and tips visit threading with pipe cleaners and beads

Manipulating objects supports the use of the small muscles in the hand vital for holding a pencil, cutting and fastening.  For very young children threading small beads is too tricky.

Some more ideas:

Do you have a clothes basket full of washing to do? Jobs like sorting the washing can be fun for you and your child to do together! Your child will enjoy matching items – pairs of socks, clothes the same colour, things the same size, Mummy’s clothes, Daddy’s clothes etc.

Help your child to learn new words by talking about the feel of fabrics - soft, smooth, rough. Talk about the different steps of washing, drying, folding, ironing and putting away. Involve your child to load the washing machine, take the clothes out, pass you the pegs, fold the clothes, put the clothes in a pile, pass you the next item as you iron, or if they have their own pretend child iron and ironing board give them small items to iron themselves.

 

Water is an unbeatable learning resource for children age 0 upwards. It is always available and allows endless opportunities for play and learning. Changing the water to make it warm, coloured or bubbly can create a totally new experience. You child will love exploring the water and filling containers such as yogurt pots, bottles, sieves, etc. Water play strengthens your child’s exploratory, physical and communication skills. Always ensure your child is supervised at all times when playing with water of any depth. View some great water play ideas on the Nurture Store website.
Children love things that move and turn, this is why they enjoy playing with cars and vehicles of all kinds. Add to the fun by making bridges, tunnels, ramps and roadways, using other toys, masking tape and junk finds from around the house or garden. Help language development by talking about places to go, chatting and commenting using phrases such as “round the corner…, down the hill…, under…, over…, faster…, slower…, brmm brmm….”

To make a quick and easy vehicle take two CDs and the card tube from a kitchen roll.  Flatten and tightly roll the card tube lengthwise, so each end fits into the holes of the CDs.  Make several in different sizes, decorate them, and have races – don’t forget to let the children win sometimes!

Children love things that move and turn, this is why they enjoy playing with cars and vehicles of all kinds. How about having some races or exploring the speed of their vehicles along a path, down a slope or even through a tube! Why not have a competition to see whose or which car travels the furthest, fastest or slowest! Help your child to learn new words by talking about the speed of the vehicle and races, which car is the fastest, slowest, first, second, third? This play will further develop your child’s communication and understanding of cause and effect.

How about creating a Winter Wonderland scene for your child to explore with their favourite small world toys? This scene can be easily created using flour on a tray, you could add further items to contribute to the affect such as cotton wool balls and fir cones. Add your child’s favourite small world figures such as dinosaurs, people, farm play figures and accessories and watch your child’s imagination unfold as you play together. This is a good exploratory play experience to offer at home, and will further develop your child’s imagination and communication skills.

Some products used in craft activities can contain ingredients that could trigger an allergic response. For this reason, please check the suitability of materials used in this activity to make sure they will not affect your child.