1. Reading aloud and story sacks

Sharing stories, talking and singing every day helps your child’s development. You’re getting your child familiar with sounds, words, language and, eventually, the value and joy of books. This all builds your child’s early literacy skills and helps him go on to read successfully later in life. Reading stories also stimulates your child’s imagination and helps her learn about the world around her. It’s a great time for you to bond with your child and share time together too. A story sack is a large cloth bag containing a favourite children’s book with supporting materials to further stimulate language activities and make reading an even more memorable and enjoyable experience.

2. Heuristic play/treasure baskets

Heuristic play is a fancy word for offering children an assortment of interesting objects that are not “toys” but are everyday items from around the home. The child is then permitted to explore the objects without adult intervention, which permits the child to make his own discoveries. This activity can be fascinating for kids of all ages, but is especially useful with older babies and young toddlers. who have short attention spans. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘heuristic’ means “helping to find out or discover; proceeding by trial and error. It stems from the same root as Eureka – ‘I found it!’”

3. Make-believe

Make-believe play refers to when children learn that something can stand for something else. It can involve pretending to be the mummy or daddy and role-playing caring for a baby doll, cooking at a pretend stove, cleaning with small brushes and brooms. It can also involve fantasy such as pretending to be a princess, a superhero, an animal, or an alien. While make-believe may seem like simple child’s play, it is actually fundamental to the development of language, intellectual and academic skills along with social and emotional development. Ultimately, make-believe helps kids to make sense of the world and to find ways of coping with scary or challenging experiences. Without such play, kids wouldn’t develop the language and thinking skills they need to live successfully. It also encourages creativity and problem solving, and leaves kids open to wonder and possibility.

4. Creative play (artistic/musical/movement)

Age-appropriate creative arts activities can help children develop critical thinking skills, strengthen problem-solving abilities, stimulate imagination and more. Arts and crafts help build intellectual curiosity in skills such as maths, geometry, measurement and more. The creative process helps them develop their critical thinking skills when they ask themselves questions such as ‘How do I draw this object?’ or ‘What colour should I use for the sun?’ In young children, fine motor skills are developed with actions such as simple art activities like drawing, painting and cutting. Lastly, artistic and creative play allows a positive way for children to express their feelings and therefore helps promote emotional well-being. Music, dance and movement help develop the brain and body in a multitude of ways as well. Simple craft materials focused on the sensory aspects, noise-making instruments and like are good ways to introduce creative arts play.

5. Small-world play

Small world play is when children use miniature items such as toys, found objects, or replicas to act out scenes or ideas from real life, stories, or books. Small worlds often include sensory elements that add even more depth to the experience and create more opportunities for language stimulation and other sorts of learning. Acting out narratives and ideas through the manipulation of small equipment (animals, dolls, Lego people, etc) helps children to reflect on feelings and events in their lives in a safe way. Small world play is also rich in possibilities for learning about spaces and positions, with many opportunities for putting things inside structures, on top, next to and underneath.

6. Messy play

Messy play gives children the opportunity to experience a wide range of sensory experiences. It can be a soothing activity that helps release tension and frustration; express their feelings in a creative way; experiment with the properties of materials, (for example, does it hold its shape or pour or run?); learn about colour mixing, patterns, design, texture and rhythm; and develop hand-eye coordination and practice the skills of pouring, measuring, mixing, scooping, and beating. Children may hesitate in accepting messiness at first and then become more involved and experiment more fully over time. Try not to worry about children getting messy – dress them in old clothes and aprons and be excited that they are learning from their messy experiences. Join in – model that it’s OK to get your hands dirty. Encourage discussion, singing and experimentation and of course supervise younger children to avoid getting materials in eyes, ears, nose or mouth.

7. Sensory play

Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Sensory activities facilitate exploration and encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. Spending time stimulating their senses helps children develop cognitively, linguistically, socially and emotionally, physically and creatively. Sensory activities can be messy but do not have to be.

8. Construction play

Construction toys like blocks might not be as flashy as battery-powered robots or video games, but they are ideally suited to help children learn problem-solving skills, and they also help develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, a capacity for creative, divergent thinking, social skills, and language skills. There is also evidence that complex block-play is linked with advanced maths skills in later life.