Playing isn’t just fun: it’s also the best way for young children to learn. By playing, children can practise all the skills they’ll need as they grow up.

To grow and develop, children need time and attention from someone who’s happy to play with them.

Parents should make the time to play with a first or only child. And while brothers and sisters are natural playmates, parents can also play an active role in siblings’ games.

But it can be hard to find the time to play with your child, especially when there are many other things you need to do. Gradually, children learn to entertain themselves for some of the time.

If you’re pressed for time as a parent, it’s a good idea to find ways to involve your child in what you’re doing – even the housework.

Children learn from everything they do and everything that’s going on around them.

Get your child involved in everyday activities

When you’re washing up, let your child join in – for example, by washing the saucepan lids. When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.

Getting them involved in the things you do will teach them about taking turns to help and being independent. They’ll also learn by copying what you do.

Sometimes things have to happen at certain times, and it’s important that your child learns this. But when you’re together, try not to have a strict timetable. Your child is unlikely to fit in with it and you’ll both get frustrated.

There’s no rule that says clearing up has to be done before you go to the playground, especially if the sun’s shining and your child’s bursting with energy.

As far as you can, move things around to suit both your and your child’s mood.

Tips for playing with young children

  • Get together lots of different things for your child to look at, think about and do.
  • By making what you’re doing fun and interesting for your child, you can get your household jobs done while they’re learning.
  • Have times when you focus completely on your child. Talk about anything and everything, even what to put on the shopping list. By sharing as much as possible, your child will pick up lots of new words. Give your child plenty of opportunities to use their body by running, jumping and climbing, especially if you don’t have much room at home.
  • Find other people who can spend time with your child when you really need to focus on something else.

More on play and child development

All childcare settings including childminders, pre-schools and nurseries follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This provides a structure of play based learning, care and development for children from birth to five years. The EYFS guide tells you more about how your child is learning and developing during their first five years.

Finding childcare providers

All early years settings follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This provides a structure of play based learning and care for children from birth to five years. There is free entitlement for 2 year olds, 3 and 4 year olds, 30 hours funded childcare and childcare vouchers, tax credits and child benefit:

Where can my child attend?

Early years settings include childminders, nurseries and preschools. The type of setting you choose depends entirely on your personal preference and what you think is best for your child.

To find an Ofsted inspection report for any childcare setting go to Ofsted.