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Information for Parents and Child Care Providers

Learning Through Play: Making the Most of Playtime

Playtime is a very special time for young children. Not only is play fun, it is essential for a child’s healthy development. There is so much more to play than meets the eye, for it is through play that children learn about the world around them. Some consider play a child’s “work.”  Through the discovery of their relation to the world, infants and toddlers use their imaginations, test out new skills, learn about relationships with those around them, and explore their creativity. To a young child, any activity can be a time for play - whether it is rolling a ball, dumping a toy bin, or watching you while you feed them.

As families and early educators, you are the child’s first playmates and biggest supporters of their learning. By incorporating play throughout the day, you are promoting their language, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. So, how can you make the most of playtime for the child?

First, follow the child’s lead; present a toy, object, or activity to the infant or toddler and observe what they do. Keep in mind it is okay if the child does not use the object or move through an activity in a way that one might consider the “right way.” Let the child show you her way to engage with an item or activity, one that piques her interest and allows her to use her imagination.

Naturally, we want to show a child how a toy works, but holding off on doing so is important. By giving the child time to explore and discover things on her own, you are encouraging the child to be creative and resourceful. By providing just enough assistance to minimize frustration will motivate the child to learn new skills.

Reading a child’s signals is critical; keep in mind the child might not have the words to communicate when they have had enough or have become discouraged. A child will display her feelings with sounds, gestures, or facial expressions. Being able to read the signs preceding a tantrum will assist you in knowing when it’s time to step in or switch to a new activity or toy. You will also learn what activities and materials the child prefers.

Look at the space and environment. Is it child-friendly and child-safe? Are there too many distractions or too much noise? Taking variables such as lighting, sound, and environment into consideration can help determine if it is a good place for the chosen activity or materials. Checking the space beforehand can prevent accidents, over stimulation, or tantrums.

We have all heard children say, “Again! Again!”  Adults do not usually have the desire to do the same thing over again, but repetition is very exciting for young children. This continuous action is providing time for the child to practice and master a challenge or new skill. They gain a strong sense of confidence, that they can do it! The more opportunity provided to master a new skill, the more likely the child will take on more challenges. Through these experiences, learning continues and the cycle starts again. It’s important to remember, repetition plays a fundamental role in child development.

For more information on play please contact Jenny Spampinato, Infant Toddler Specialist: 845-425-0009 x419,

Tips on Playing with Babies and Toddlers.ZERO TO THREE, Parenting Resource, 18 Apr. 2016,
Bongiorno, Laurel. “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play.” NAEYC,