You asked

How does play help my child to develop, and what can I do to help?

Play is one of the most important factors in your child’s development. Through play, your child learns how his or her body, and the world works. It helps to develop cognitive, social, emotional and physical growth, and it should be encouraged from early on.

When your child plays with a toy, they aren’t just playing. They’re experiencing textures, learning about movement, colours and sounds. When they are having a ‘physical’ play session, they’re learning how their bodies and the world around them work. That’s why scientists are so fond of saying that playing is ‘child’s work’.

You will notice that different ages come with different types of play. Newborns will bat a dangling toy and stare at themselves in a mirror, for instance, while toddlers may start learning to share, and to play with their peers, by sharing toys.

You can help to develop your child’s abilities by playing age appropriate games with them, for instance, play games that help to develop social skills, like peek a boo.  Or give your infant toys that encourages him or her to taste, feel, smell, throw or otherwise interact. Soft toys, rattles and other toys designed for infants are perfect.

Later on, at around one year old, children start to mimic adults in their play. A toy lawnmower or computer at this age is perfect, as it allows your child to do what mummy and daddy do! You may even notice that your child uses items in imaginary play – using a calculator to ‘make a phone call’ for instance.

By two years old, your child will start to play symbolically – using household items, and imagining them as something else, and by three, you will notice that your child has started to role play – he or she will pretend to be a doctor, a fireman or something else.

More questions

By the time your baby is three to six months old, they’re ready for more interactive developmental games.
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Sandpits are fun, as long as your child is supervised, but they’re not without their risks, so exercise a little caution.
While it may seem that young infants can swim, this is actually an involuntary reaction.  Your child actually does not know how to swim.
Babies of nine months to one year old are on the brink of toddler hood. Play games with your toddler to be to encourage development.
Six to nine month olds are on the brink of learning to cruise or walk, and they’re likely to be very mobile, and gaining dexterity. There are plenty of games that encourage those skills.
Play is how your child learns about the world, and it’s one of the most important things he or she will do throughout early childhood.
Reading to your child is possibly the most important thing you can do for his or her linguistic development.
Since music affects your child’s mood, what you play, and when you play it, can have an impact.
There has, as yet, not been any concrete proof made for this question, but the positive effects of music have been proven in other areas.