BABY AND TODDLER PLAY IDEAS


Playing with water

Babies, toddlers and young children love playing with water – in the bath, the paddling pool or just playing in the sink.

Use plastic bottles for pouring and squirting at each other, plastic tubing, a sponge, straws, a funnel, spoons and anything else that's unbreakable.

Never leave a young child alone with water. A baby or young child can drown in just 5 centimetres (2 inches) of water.

Reading to your baby

You can start looking at books with your baby from an early age – it will help them with their future learning. The time spent sharing books with your baby also allows you to bond with them and is good for emotional wellbeing.

Even before babies learn to speak, they will enjoy hearing you read to them. Listening to you will give them a feel for the sounds, rhythms and rhymes of language.

Local libraries usually have a good range of children's books. Some run story sessions for young children. Even if it's for just 10 minutes a day, looking at books with your child will help them build important skills and encourage their interest in reading.

Play ideas from 4 months

Rattles
Rattles can help to teach babies many new skills. When parents shake the rattle from one side to the other, babies learn to visually track, or coordinate their eyes to watch the moving toy.

The sounds rattles make can also alert babies to noise. If they hear the sound of a rattle, babies will eventually turn their heads towards the sound.

At first, babies will hold their rattles tightly with a strong grasp reflex. As their fine motor skills develop, they will learn to hold and shake their rattle in the air. They will play by bringing their rattle to their mouth and explore the toy with the fine detail of their tongue and mouth. Many rattles also have textured surfaces that allow them to also double as great teethers. When your baby chews and gnaws on the rattle, it helps to soothe their gums when they cut new teeth.

We Are Bubba sells rattles that have moving parts that can be twisted, turned and spun, which can help further develop a baby's attention span and fine motor skills.

Play ideas from 18 months

Pretend cooking
Use a bowl and spoons to measure small quantities of "real" ingredients (flour, lentils, rice, sugar, custard powder). You and your child can mix them up with water in bowls or egg cups.

Drawing and painting
Use crayons, felt tips or powder paint. Encourage your child to draw the world they see growing up around them.

Sock puppets
Use socks and envelopes to make hand puppets. Draw faces on them or stick things on to make your own characters. Get the puppets to "talk" to each other.

Walking
Encourage your child to walk with you as soon as they are able to. It's a great way for both of you to get some exercise.

Play ideas from 24 months

Dressing up
Collect old hats, bags, gloves, scarves, lengths of material, tea towels and curtains. Ask friends and relatives for old clothes.

Make sure there are no loose strings or ribbons that could wrap around your child's neck or trip them up. And loose buttons can be a choking hazard.

Paper plates or cut-up cereal packets make good masks. Cut slits for the eyes and attach them to your face with string or elastic.

TV
It's best to limit your child's daily TV time to no more than half an hour for under-2s and an hour for 3 to 5 year olds. YouTube should be no different.

TV can entertain your child and give you a bit of time to do other things. Try not to have it on all the time, though. Always know what your child is watching. When possible, watch with your child, so that you can talk together about what you're watching.

Play ideas from 30 months

Junk modelling
Collect cardboard boxes, cartons, yoghurt pots, milk bottle tops and anything else you can think of. Buy some children's glue (the type that comes with a brush is easiest to use) and help them to make whatever they like.

Toy Safety
Toys usually have age warnings on them. If a toy is marked as "Not suitable for children under 36 months", don't give it to a baby or toddler under 3. Check toys for sharp edges or small parts that your child could swallow.

Button battery warning
Some electrical toys contain small, round batteries called button batteries. As well as being a choking hazard, these can cause severe internal burns if swallowed or lodged in your child's ear or nose.

Keep button batteries well away from your child and make sure that battery compartments on toys are properly secured with a screw.

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, take them to the doctor straight away.

Toys for children with special needs

Toys for children with special needs should match their developmental age and ability.

If your child is using a toy intended for a younger age group, make sure that it's strong enough and won't get broken.

Children with a visual impairment will need toys with different textures to explore with their hands and mouth.

Children with impaired hearing will need toys to stimulate language, such as puzzles that involve matching "finger-spelled" letters to appropriate pictures.