Play Ideas

Play Ideas

Here are simple ideas for games for babies and children

Click the ideas listed on the right

Kitchen games

A mother spends a lot of time in the kitchen and pre-school age children are often right under her feet.  Here are kitchen play ideas that children will love. They may even benefit you.

·   Washing up.  You need unbreakable kitchen gear e.g. metal or plastic.  Run warm water into the sink, add a little detergent.  Let your child stand on a chair.  A toddler will happily use the dish mop for ages washing kitchen items.  Result, rarely used items in the cupboards get rinsed clean.

· Mop the floor.  If the washing up water has splashed onto the floor, your little helpers will love to sop it up with mop or cloths.

 · Shopping.  A perfect game for two or three pre-schoolers.  They will need baskets or bags, a couple of coffee tables or cartons. 

Allow kids to take all the tins and packets out of one shelf of the cupboard and sell them to each other or to you.  You can wipe down the shelf while it is empty.  Kids help you stack the items back in the cupboard at the end of the game.  Result, one clean shelf. 

·Children love to play with cards, sorting them, counting them, studying the pictures,   

Make some sets of cards with a Christmas theme.  Cut symbols from Christmas gift paper and stick them on cardboard to make your cards.  To make them last longer, cover with contact paper.

· Let children use old Christmas cards to make a Christmas book.  They will love cutting and pasting the cards onto folded pages that can be tied together with wool. 

·Find a small bare branch of a tree.  The children might find their own branch.  Stand it in a bucket or flower pot filled with sand or stones. Let the children decorate it with strips of coloured paper, foil, and Christmas cards threaded onto string or wool.  They can have the tree wherever they want to play.

·Take the children to the park and look for cones or unusual seeds from trees.  These make wonderful decorations if painted or sprayed with paint.  Sprinkle on silver or gold glitter while the paint is wet.Games for baby

·Let children decorate butcher’s paper with painted designs, handprints or vegetable prints.  Use non toxic paint.  Use the paper to wrap gifts for Christmas.

·Buy nasturtium seeds or Sweet Alice.  Let children plant the seeds and care for them.  There is time yet for these to grow into nice plants for gifts for friends or relatives.

·Fold paper to fit into envelopes and get the children to draw or paint a picture on each to make a Christmas card.  Most people love to receive a hand made card.  Some sparkle sprinkled onto wet glue will make the pictures look special and delight the child too.

·Supervise the children while they make chocolate crackles.  These make a wonderful gift.

· Help children to make a needle or pin holder for Mum or Grandma.  Cut two pieces of felt 20cms ( 8ins) x 10cms (4 ins.)  Fold felt in half and stitch together with a couple of stitches to make a little book.  Cut a triangle for the roof.  Let child stick or stitch the triangle in place also a door and window of different colour felt.  Pins and needles will stick easily into the felt house.  This pin and needle holder will last for many years.


Moss and Ice

As I was walking this morning, I noticed a lot of moss and lichen growing in stones by the roadside. I’d already noticed the greenness and abundance of moss near my back steps. I remember the pleasure moss gave me as a child and my five year old granddaughter also loves it. Give your child a magnifying glass to look at the moss. Look at lichen too if there is some in your garden. It will help the child to see the plants at different stages.

Along the roadside there are plenty of puddles following rain earlier in the week, and the shallow puddles are covered in ice.  If there isn’t ice near your place, the children could leave water out in a shallow dish in a cold, exposed spot and check for ice on it early in the morning. They might even make a small moss garden with a metal lid containing water in it in the hope that there will be a miniature ice rink there in the morning for fairies or goblins. Another idea is to fill a bottle with water and set it up in a cold area outside so that it drips slowly. With low enough temperatures, there will be an icicle under the drip in the morning. Older children may check the coldness of exposed water with a thermometer.


Balls have delighted children since the dawn of time.  There are so many games to play with them. 

We can use balls to:

  •  roll

  • catch

  • throw

  • bounce

  • kick

  • bat

  • hit a target

  • tag someone

  • shoot or strike at goals

Balls appear in cultures everywhere.  There is an enormous variety available from nuts and seeds, to soft fabric balls.  From ping-pong 

to giant beach-balls; from soccer to exercise balls. 

Whatever their size, they remain stimulating and satisfying play things. 

Choose a ball that suits your child’s stage of development.  Here are some things to consider:

  • size.  Make sure a ball will not fit into a baby’s mouth

  • small balls are hard for little hands to catch

  • fabric - a hard ball may hurt a child’s face 

  • balls are easy to make - stuff socks or net fruit-bags with paper or fabric

  • golf  and cricket balls are unsuitable for pre-schoolers

  • some games require protective gear in ball games, e.g., shin pads, helmets

  • families can play ball together

Today’s children have sophisticated games and equipment but balls remain popular. As children learn ball-skills, their hands and arms will grow stronger.  Ball games provide exercise for many muscles and give mental stimulation.  People of all ages and levels of mobility love balls.

Make or buy a ball for your family today.


At my house we’ve had a big cleanup and sent a lot of strong boxes to the recycling centre.  Boxes make wonderful play things and cost nothing.  A box can become a boat, train, car, aeroplane, table, chair, bed, cupboard and countless other things. 

Boxes can:

·stimulate the imagination

· encourage manipulative skills (using fingers and hands to open and close, balance etc.)

·encourage gross motor skills (climbing, lifting, carrying)

·teach concepts (size, shape, position e.g., under, in, on top, behind)

·provide useful for storage

Before you throw away a box, think about its potential as a plaything in your house or yard.  You’ll be amazed what your child can do with a box or two.



A toddler between 15 and 18 months of age has good hand control and is at an ideal age to watch older children and adults draw.  They will love to have a turn.  Thick, stubby, non-toxic crayons are ideal for little hands to hold.  Crayons are very satisfying because they mark without the child pressing hard.  At first the child will only make strokes on the page. 

Here are some hints:

·Cheap books or pads of blank page or even newsprint are good for the toddler to learn on

·Teach your child to draw only on the paper, not on other books or furniture

·Have a special place to keep paper and drawings

·Put the crayons away after drawing time

·Use fridge magnets to display a picture regularly on the fridge

·Praise your child’s efforts

·Draw for your children but remember they won’t be able to copy your art.  Scribble is a necessary part of learning to draw and paint

·Make a special time for drawing, maybe before bed or before mealtime.

Even in the age of computers, drawing and writing are skills kids will need throughout life.  Encourage these skills early and help them to enjoy creative art.


Listening games
Listening is necessary for communication and is a big part of learning to read and write.  Playing listening games is fun and will help your child.

·You need several soft toy animals or plastic farm or zoo animals.  Take turns with your child to make an animal speak, asking for something e.g., food.  Listen to the sound then pick up the appropriate animal.  This listening game can become a storytelling game as each animal is moved about.

·You need several sound makers e.g. rattle, drum, blocks to clap together, bell, squeaking toy.  The listener turns his/her back or hides eyes while the other person uses one sound maker.  The listener then finds the item that made the sound and has a turn making the sound.

·You need a small bellTake the bell and hide in another room.  Ring the bell until the child finds you by following the sound.  The child then hides in a different place while you seek.

For these games you don’t need instruments.  Many household items can be used from paper to stones, saucepans to scrubbing brushes.  Experiment with making many sounds for your child to hear.


Music and Your Baby

Even before birth babies respond to music.  Quiet, rhythmic music will soothe, and loud stirring music will stimulate movement in the foetus.  My firstborn was so excited by the sound track of the film Ben Hur, that I went into labour and he was born a month early.

Music can be an aid to settling baby to sleep, especially when used as part of a routine.  Research proves that babies respond best to high pitched voices so if you are using taped or CD music, lullabies sung by females are a good choice. 

From birth, my daughter used soft recorded music every time she put her baby back to bed after a feed.  The effect was excellent.  The baby grew to know the music meant sleep time. In fact, before she was walking, she lay down on the floor and shut her eyes when I put on the tape for her one day. 

Music stimulates the brain and helps listening skills, language development, memory, and muscle coordination.  However, silence is important too.  There should not be continual music in anyone’s life and loud music can damage the hearing.

 Here are some musical activities

  1. sing lullabies to baby
  2. sing nursery rhymes at nappy changing time
  3. place baby’s bassinet near wind chimes
  4. hang tinkly bells where baby’s movement will activate them
  5. give baby a rattle to shake.  Choose one with a pleasant sound
  6. find toys that play a tune when the cord is pulled
  7. toddlers love busy boxes that make a variety of sounds
give baby things to strike to make sounds

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Autumn games

Here are some leaf ideas you can use with your child

  • Take your child to the park and collect leaves

  • Play sorting games using the leaves-sort in sizes, shapes, colours

  • Count the leaves

  • Use an iron to press some leaves between sheets of waxed lunch paper

  • Draw a simple tree shape and help your child to stick on autumn leaves using tape or glue

  • Float autumn leaves in the water at bath time

  • Cut sprays of leaves to put in vases

  • Allow kids to stick leaves on sheets of paper to make a collage

  • Let kids rake up piles of leaves

  • Lie on the grass and let kids cover you with leaves, or cover your child’s body this way

  • Rake leaves and jump on the pile

  • Kids put leaves in barrow and take to garden or compost heap – good exercise and a learning activity

  • Put a leaf under paper then scribble on the paper, to reveal the leaf shape and veins

  • Arrange leaves on contact plastic and cover with more contact.  This will make a pretty picture to hang up or to give as a gift.


Games for the car

When I was a small child, the parents of only one of my friends had a car.  There were never cars lined up outside the school.  Children traveled to school by foot or bus and went by train for holidays.  How different it is today. There are millions of cars on the road in holiday time. Many families have more than one car and busy working mothers or carers collect children by car and ferry them to after school activities or home. 

It is very distracting to have fighting or crying children in the car. This happens even on short drives when children are tired, hungry, or need the adult’s attention.  Avoid these situations by providing some simple activities.  It is important each child has something to do or is involved in the chosen family game.  Choose games to suit the ages of the children

  • Provide a baby with things to watch or hold

  • Make sure baby toys can’t be dropped out of reach

  • Keep small puzzles in the glove box.  These are only for use when driving

  • Let each child have a car bag with a variety of small toys that are regularly changed

  • Play a tape of children’s songs, and encourage kids to sing along

  • Encourage kids take turns to recite rhymes

  • Help Pre-schoolers can learn to recognize traffic signs

  • Ask kids to look for their name letter on cars, shops, street signs

  • Get them to look for their age number on letterboxes

  • Tell the children some interesting news or fact that you have discovered during the day

  • Ask kids to suggest solutions to an imaginary situation e.g. What would you do if a wild animal got into our house?


Bean Bags

Throw a bean bag:

  •  at a target

  • different distances

  • underarm and overarm

  • up high

  • over a rope or chair

Catch bean bag:

  •   with the right hand 

  • with the left hand


Flexible, hands and fingers strong arms and good eye-hand coordination are important by the time children reach school age. 

Writing, reading and maths skills will all benefit if a child has good manipulative skills.  How can this be?  Nimble fingers help a child to control their pencils, turn page and sort objects. 

Maths in the early years includes sorting small objects, as well as using pencils to record results. 

Bean bag games can help strengthen fingers and improve eye-hand coordination.

Bean bags are easy to make.  Sew together two 15 or 16 cms squares of material (5or 6 inches).  Leave a small opening until the bag has been partly filled with rice, split peas, or dried seeds of some kind.  The bag, should still be floppy floppy and feel comfortable to clasp.  Bean bags are ideal for children to catch as they will not hurt the child’s face or fingers.  Here are some bean bag games to play:

An adult throws bean bags around the room.  Child sees how many bean bags he/she can collect and put in a bucket, before a timer goes off. Make your bean bags from brightly coloured material and use them for colour recognition and counting games as well.



Have you heard of Goop?  It is cheap and easy to make, not very messy and is calming to use.  It is just the right play material to calm a child down after some exciting physically active games. And children love it. Make it by slowly adding a cup full of water to a packet of cornflour. Use it white or colour with food colouring. Present it to your child in a baking dish. The goop feels hard at first then as your fingers clutch it the goop becomes silky and smooth.  Let if fall in strings or loops, squiggles and hoops onto paper or cardboard or just onto a laminated table top or the kitchen bench. It can be re-used if you use a kitchen spatula to scrape it back into the dish. Store it as it is in the fridge or let the water dry off and break up the solid cornflour to mix with water again.

Windy weather games

Where I live, Spring is often very windy.  Feathers, bubbles and streamers are fun to use on a windy day, and it is an ideal time to fly a kite.  The simplest kite is a piece of paper with a string attached. Provide a sheet of paper with  paint or colours or scraps of paper to paste on, as decorations.  Tie a piece of string to a corner of the kite.  Do not make the string very long because of safety issues.  

Give your a child a stick on which you have tied a bunch of coloured paper streamers. It is fun to wave in the wind, listening to the sound it makes. Tie some streamers on a fence or a tree.  These games will help your child learn about the wind.



Summer will soon be here and getting wet and dirty will be something most kids enjoy.  Clay is a wonderful medium for kids to explore and they can be strengthening their arms and hands, and learning about pottery at the same time.  Buy a lump of potter’s clay from your hobby shop or artist’s supply store.  Cut the clay into lumps that can be easily handled by children.  Show them how to remove any air pockets in the clay by thumping their clay on a solid table or bench.  Children really love thumping clay, as usually they are being told to be careful or quiet.  An outside table under a tree is an ideal place to set up as any mess will be easy to clean up. Have a bowl of water within reach so everyone can keep their hands moist.  After a good thumping it is time to shape the clay.  It can be squeezed, rolled, patted, poked, pinched, broken up and more.  Objects can be poked into the clay.  Paddle pop sticks and matchsticks and shells can be used to make impressions or can be embedded in the clay. 

If you are lucky, you will be able to find a potter who will show children how clay pots of different types are made.  If not, demonstrate yourself.  At the end of clay time, scrape the clay from the table and kids can help wedge the clay again into a lump.  Make a good sized dent in it and fill this with water.  This will keep the clay moist if you pop it into a plastic bag and store in a plastic container as well. 

Children may want to paint and keep their sculptures or items.  They will harden well if dried in the sun.  Some centres will know a potter who will fire items for the children and these make wonderful Christmas gifts.



Sand is one of the most loved natural play mediums available to children.  Whether it is wet or dry there is lots that kids can do with it, even if only a small amount is available.  Sand play is wonderful exercise for hands, feet, and the whole body. It can be used to introduce new vocabulary, and early maths and science concepts. For example:

Buried treasure: Maths

  • Hide small plastic animals or toys in the sand. 

  • How many did you hide?

  • How many have you found

  • Bury the treasure in a deep or shallow hole.   

  • How many holes will we need to bury these toys? (One to one concept)

Use sieves, sand and seeds: Thinking

  • What goes through the sieve

  • What stays in the sieve?

  • Why?

Science: Sand castles and moats

  • Make ditches in wet sand and pour in water.

  • What happens to the water? 

  • Why?

  • Can we find the water again?

  • How long does it take for the sand to dry out?

Patterns in the sand: Experimenting, observing

In wet and dry sand use:

  • Rakes, sticks, kitchen implements feet, hands, cones anything that is lying about, to make impressions 

  • Make a matching game – what made this mark? 

  • Compare the marks made in wet and dry sand.

Art and sand:

Spread glue on paper or cardboard.  Child sprinkles dry sand over the paper using fingers or a very small funnel.  Leave to dry then shake off excess sand leaving a sand picture on the paper.

Talk to your child about the sand games.  Remember to protect the sand from animals so that it remains clean.


Nature's Treasures

Holiday time is a good time to collect things from nature.  Whether you are at the beach, out in the bush, at a park, walking along a suburban street, or in the back yard, there are natural things to be collected. You might find

  • a crab’s claw

  • a cicada shell

  • an interesting bit of driftwood

  • small bits of seaweed

  • a feather

  • a few pebbles

  • seed pods

  • flowers

  • moss

  • leaves

  • snail shells

  • grasses

Show your child how to arrange the treasures on a piece of cardboard cut from a cereal packet.  Provide glue so pieces can be kept in place. Allow child to keep this picture on a desk or dressing table. Talk about each piece - colour, feel, size, shape, smell, where it has been found, discuss how  it got there.



At Christmas we received some wonderful wind chimes to hang near the front door. The special feature of these chimes is that they are tuned to the pentatonic scale so that whenever the breeze blows it is as if someone is playing a pleasant tune on them. Wind chimes we’ve had in the past, refused to make any sound at all even when the wind blew.

Children love playing chimes too. Help them to make a set of hanging sounds in the garden. Bits of scrap metal, a terracotta pot hung by threading strong, knotted twine through the drainage hole, old saucepan lids, plastic pipes, bamboo of different lengths and many other scrap items can be hung up for children to rattle together or strike with a rod or ruler. Add some cardboard rolls that can be blown through like didgeridoos, and some plastic bottles containing pebbles to use as shakers, and the children will spend loads of time playing the instruments and singing along with their band. This music won’t be as tuneful as my new chimes but if you hang them well away from the house, the sound won’t worry you and will give the children such pleasure.


Tiny things for tiny hands

My little grand daughter, Estelle, loves to handle tiny things. When her father has his tools out, she takes all the small nails, screws and other interesting items out of the box and plays with them. When playing with older children, she is often given small toys and she particularly likes to put them into small boxes or cups. Estelle also likes to play with my reels of cotton, scraps of material and shells. Many children under three put things in their mouths or noses or even ears, so close supervision is always needed.

When I taught in a child care centre, I found that pre-schoolers loved to sort colourful things such as pencils, feathers, the lids from texta colours, cards of paint colours, paper clips, and stones, as well as commercially made cards and toys. Children would sort in different ways such as  colour, size, shape or construction material. Not only does this help concentration, and cognitive understanding, but also gives good practise in finger/hand control. When babies first begin to pick up items they use their whole hand  (the palmer grip). By the time they are toddling, they use finger and thumb (pincer grip) for small items. Watch a young child measuring something in a spoon, trying to use scissors or to do up buttons and they seem very clumsy. It takes a great deal of practice for fingers to do little tasks easily.

Look around your home and see what interesting, free small items you can find. Put them in some containers and let your child explore them. Help your child to develop clever fingers by giving him/ her lots of interesting finger tasks.



Cars are timeless toys that are popular from babies to grandparents. Given opportunity and encouragement, they are as popular with girls as with boys. Sometimes special areas at a centre or special times need to be set aside for girls to engage in car play, for boys tend to dominate or insist the cars belong to them. The same applies to boys with doll play. Boys need the opportunity and encouragement to use dolls and the items in the doll or home corner. It is not a place exclusively for girls.

With so much of a child’s life centred on cars from birth, it is no wonder that by age three children know about seatbelts, baby capsules, tyres, brakes, gears, petrol, servicing, parking, traffic signs and much more.

Big cars are expensive but small toy cars are cheap, easy to store and can be a great way for kids to learn about their community. When you are buying new cars for them, buy vehicles with different uses – farm vehicles, emergency vehicles, vans, tow-trucks, horse floats, police car, taxis etc. Talk about who would drive each vehicle and help your child to make games and simple stories involving them. Blocks, boxes, cylinders and pieces of cardboard are great things to use in car play. They can be used to construct bridges, garages, roads, buildings, hoists, tunnels and your child will find other uses for them.

Look in the Open Road and in Sunday newspaper magazine pages for great coloured pictures of cars. Four year olds will love to cut them out. They can also be used in mix and match games and are useful to encourage conversation between children and adults. Ask open ended questions such as 'who do you think drives this car? How much petrol will you buy today? What do you think this driver has in the car-boot?'

You’ll be surprised what your child knows. Try out a car game today.


Fun with feet

Babies examine things with eyes, mouth, hands and feet. As they grow we encourage children to taste only food and to examine other things by looking and touching. In our society it isn’t long before most children are wearing shoes and the part of the environment that they feel with their feet, is restricted. Our toes, that have so much potential, are not taught many skills.

This month why not encourage your children to have some fun with feet. Prepare different mats to stand on such as cardboard, crepe paper, cellophane, carpet, coir matting, sandpaper, crumpled newspaper, corrugated iron or corrugated plastic sheeting, etc. Each mat should be about the size of one of those foot mats for the car.  Get everyone in the family to stand on each mat in turn and wriggle their toes around. When the family has tried out the mats and talked about how they feel under the bare feet, alter the positions of the mats and try walking along them blindfold. Can everyone name them? This is a great game for using in childcare centres too.


Ideas for Turn it off Week

When you turn off the TV, DVDs and computer games, make it fun for all the family by planning special activities. Here are some ideas

  • Go riding. Bikes, scooters and tricycles are fun to ride. Perhaps there is a bike track in your town where the whole family can go riding after work.

  • Go walking. Take the dog and go for a family walk early morning or after work.

  • Have a treasure hunt.

  • Plant something in the garden.

  • Star watch with the naked eye and then with a telescope.

  • Light candles instead of putting on the lights and the TV for an hour after dark, and tell stories instead of reading a book or watching a DVD.

  • Go for a picnic tea and sit around a camp fire and sing songs.


Games for babies

Even a new born baby takes an interest in the surroundings, so do make the environment interesting. Hang pictures at the sides or across  the pram, cot or bassinett. A baby of only a few hours old will focus his/her eyes on objects. They particularly like black and white patterns or a simple face drawn in black and white. Within a few weeks baby will enjoy bright colours. There are many soft, colourful toys for parents to choose from when decorating the baby’s environment but hang them so that the interesting parts are seen by baby while he/she is lying.

Remember to hang something near the changing table too. By four months baby can reach out to grab things so make sure that all toys within reach are safe for him/her to hold, pull at and put in the mouth.

Changing time is an opportunity to play tickling games and to talk to and smile at your baby. Pat baby’s knees, feet, hands, touch his nose and ears. Touching teaches baby about his body. Learn some simple rhymes to say or make up some of your own using your baby’s name. e.g.

Jason has tiny toes,

Jason has a tiny nose.

Clap your little hands like this

And  give your Mummy a little kiss.

A walk down the road in the pram or a drive in the car often works like magic on an unsettled baby. I remember reading about a baby who was taken each night by his mother on a donkey ride after which he slept soundly.


Hand games

Between three and four months of age babies discover their hands and feet. If the carer hangs bells so that they jingle when baby kicks, almost at once the infant will discover that kicking produces the jingling sound and will get much pleasure from this cause and effect game. You can also make simple bracelets with bells attached to fit onto your baby’s ankles. The type of bells that are used for children in percussion instruments, are suitable and easy to sew on securely.  Baby will be fascinated by his/her fingers and toes and spend a lot of time watching hands and reaching out to grab the feet.

Encourage baby to use hands by

  • clapping them together gently in your hands while singing or chanting ‘clap handies’…
  • giving baby a rattle to hold and helping her to shake it. Choose a rattle with a pleasant sound, not too loud.
  • Rubbing baby’s hands gently over a variety of surfaces e.g. fur, silk, wool, cotton, carpet, velvet, plastic, bubble wrap. 

Remember to talk to your baby as you play games, saying appropriate words such as ‘shake the rattle,’ or use words to describe the feel of different textures such as soft, warm, crinkly etc. Repeat the games daily at nappy changing times or after bath time. Soon baby will expect to hear the words and to play the games.


Hula hoops

Hoola hoops can be used in many fun ways and provide excellent exercise. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Spin the hoop around your waist or arms

  • run with it as it rolls along the ground

  • roll it with right hand or left hand

  • roll it along a narrow board

  • roll it around an obstacle course

  • use a hoop to skip with instead of a rope

  • lay several hoops on the ground and hop or jump from one to another

  • put hoops inside a circle and play music while children run outside the circle. When music stops, they must jump into a hoop

  • play over and under with hoops – pass the first hoop over head to the person behind and pass the next hoop under your feet

  • throw balls through a hoop

  • do somersaults through hoops.

  • Invent new games with your children.


Making puppets

Puppets are great fun for children to make and use. They can be made out of a variety of recycled materials such as paper cups, egg cartons, paper plates, used envelopes and the empty boxes we discard every week from our kitchen. Children need only some glue and scissors and some paint or texta colours to make a wonderful collection of puppets. Coloured paper to decorate the boxes can be cut from magazines or from the glossy ads that come in the mail box.

As well as using the above recycled materials, other objects around the home can be used. Kitchen objects such as spoons and sieves, brushes, dish mops and pegs can encourage imaginative play. Potatoes, carrots, onions and zucchinis can become people or animals while you are preparing the food. Look at your pantry supplies in a new way this week and see how many different kinds of puppets you and your children can make.


Imaginative play in spring

For the first time in ten years all of New South Wales is out of drought. Everywhere we look there is greenery springing out of the earth and water in abundance. Many areas of Australia country wide are also blessed. Here are some ideas to get the children appreciating the changes from winter and drought to spring and growth.

  • Use plastic animals in farm scenes set up on tables, water trolley, or on the floor inside. Arrange the animals around logs, rocks, water in a dish for a dam. Use pieces from gum trees, wattle trees or any deciduous tree that is sprouting buds or leaves.

  • Outside provide farm animals for the sand pit and add leaves, rocks and water.

  • Help children make a miniature National park with ducks and birds. Add native animals and model insects such as beetles, lizards and spiders.

  • Talk about camouflage, safety in the bush, nests and burrows.

  • Provide nature books, magnifying glasses.

  • Provide camping gear such as tents or large blocks, with fabric that can be draped over to make a shelter.

  • Go on an excursion to a bush area to see rock art or just to see and photograph birds and flowering plants.

  • Provide materials and encourage children to draw birds.

  • Provide feathers, leaves, bark and glue to encourage collage pictures.



Stimulating creativity

I have recently seen two re-furbished play spaces that are stimulating the children who play there, into new kinds of active play. The centres have bridges and rocks, winding paths, sand, and small spaces that encourage groups of children to work together. The children are very busy. Also, I have found a great website about children’s play. It shows children who have been inspired by young teachers at a centre in Melbourne, Australia, to create wonderful objects and to explore their environment in a very hands-on way. The link is . The week I looked, the children were creating time machines from bits of old clocks, tins, plastic junk, in fact a myriad of objects. They were using glue guns to put their machines. together. This may sound frightening to many of us, but the children have learnt to use these safely over a period of time and are supervised well. Montessori centres have always believed in children doing things with real objects such as irons. There is minimal danger if the children learn the correct procedure. When you visit the site, go to the about us link, and click on the mini machine sculptures to see the fabulous machines I’m talking about. I greatly admire these dedicated teachers who not only plan and carry out an amazing program, but find the time to put their ideas on the web so others can be inspired too.


A holiday calendar

Make a holiday calendar that will provide an activity for every day. The ideas can be written on strips of paper put in separate envelopes, and one can be opened each day the same way the advent calendar works. Here are a few suggestions but I’m sure the kids will have some great ideas.

  •   Paint everybody's toenails in holiday colours.

  • Go out to look at the town lights after dark.  

  • Look at the stars through binoculars or a telescope.

  • Sit outside in the dark listening to the night noises

  • Hold a family disco.

  • Make icy-poles or slushies.

  • Make a peg doll.

  • Choose a colour for every day and dress in it.  

  • Learn a rhyme or poem and recite it to the family before breakfast.

  •    See how much everyone can tidy up in five minutes – choose a section of the house or garden where everyone works together.

  •  Go to the library and look for books on a hobby.


Water games

At last it is truly summery where I live. There is nothing as satisfying as playing with water in hot weather, so get out the water games. Most babies quickly learn to relax and love their bathtime and the fascination of water continues on. Provide water in a lot of different settings and provide different kinds of water play every day. Kids will love the following:

  • water and sand

  • water and earth to make mud

  • water and a bucket or a watering can

  • bowls to catch, pour, tip and measure water

  • water and dishes to wash

  • water and sponges to squeeze

  • water and clothes and soap suds

  • water and dolls to be bathed

  • water and bubble pipes

  • water and paint brushes to use on cement or wood

  • water and things that float or sink

  • water and boats of different kinds, water and paper

  • water and toy animals

  • water and stones or pebbles

  • Let the kids play under the hose sprinkler or help you water the garden.


Eco- cubbies

Have you heard of eco-cubbies? I heard about the concept from ABC radio’s By Design program on Saturday morning while I was driving, and decided I must look into the project further. It is a project in Victoria, Australia, to encourage sustainable living ideas in schools. This morning I clicked onto and found that there is one pre-school – Olive Phillips Kindergarten- that is currently part of the program. Architect Barnaby Chiverton visits the kinder regularly to talk to the children and encourage them to design features they would like in a cubby. On his first visit, Barnaby had read, Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, to introduce the idea of architecture to the children. Since then the children have designed nests and drawn many buildings incorporating ideas they would like in their cubbies. If you go to there is a link through to photos of some of the children’s work and also you can listen to a reading of Iggy Peck Architect.

While a similar project may not be possible in your town, this site will give you ideas to begin in your own centre or home, using recycled materials as well as string, glue and natural materials. If you want to get inspired, this is the place to go.


Games with numbers

I remember going back to school when I was in 2nd class after an illness and finding that my friends knew how to do ‘take away sums’. It was a mystery to me and I never regained my confidence with numbers. Nowadays there are all kinds of marvellous aids to teach children mathematics with hands on materials. It is however, never too early to start number games. Here are some ideas:

Having just reviewed the Tall Man and the Twelve Babies, I would have to recommend lots of counting games involving babies. The book certainly encourages that activity. However, here are some more ideas.

Sorting and counting animals, butterflies or flowers: buy  cards or  stickers, of animals, flowers, or butterflies. Give each child a coloured paper square that is divided into four ‘paddocks or gardens’.  Ask your child to stick three animals in each paddock or five butterflies, or six flowers. Write the number in each paddock garden or paddock. Vary the game by using different coloured squares and different shaped papers. Vary the number of stickers to be put on each paper.

 Daffodil Day and Daffodil week

  • Daffodil week is 19th to 27th August.  Cut out daffodils and let the children paste them on paper with the number written beside them.
  • Make a daffodil garden for cancer week by sticking cut out daffodils onto craft sticks and placing them in a garden or a large pot near your gate.


Using torches.

Kids love to have a torch to use. Using a torch can be fun and make the child feel important. Here are some ideas using dark spaces.

  • In a shoe box or cereal box, put a picture or small object for child to see when shining a torch through a peep hole.

  • Ask child to look into the back corner of a low cupboard and name the items there.

  • Put things under a low bed where it is dark and allow child to use a torch to find items.

  • Have a number of plastic animals hidden in a poorly lit corner  under a chair. Children will take turns with the torch to go and bring back the named animal.

  • Set up a small tent in a room where the window has been covered over with black cardboard or a dark curtain. Provide sleeping bags or rugs and a torch and allow the children to play camping there.


Playing with sticks

Having heard the story of Stick Man children will have ideas for using sticks. Some people may think that sticks are not good play things but safety measures can be taught. They are certainly a wonderful natural material and come in different sizes, shapes and textures – some are bendy, some brittle, others stiff and strong with bark of different types also.

Small sticks, (natural ones or paddle-pop sticks and match sticks), are great in the sandpit as fences, flag poles, bridges and trees. Larger sticks tied together for can be tee-pees or tent frames, They are useful for drawing with, measuring and counting, Kids will use sticks to stir pots of pretend food, or as drum sticks, or in games of jumping, fishing and camping.  Painted, chunky ones make good clicking sticks for music time. A family of sticks can be used to tell your own Stick Family story.


Feathers and things that float

Searching for feathers and seeds that float on a breeze can be fun. What can we do with these things?  Dandelion seeds are often caught and wished upon before blowing them away. Other seeds come on the wind too. Look for them in autumn as well as spring. Feathers are delightful sensory things to handle. Here are some ideas to get children started.

  • Compare them for size, colour, pattern
  • Blow them, throw them
  • Use them in collage or the sandpit
  • Dip points of large feathers in paint and write with them
  • Change their colour
  • Stick feathers on cardboard to make headbands
  • Use feathers on the end of kites
  • Float feathers and seeds on water
  • Tie feathers onto ribbons and use in movement and dance
  • Collect seeds and store to plant in spring.


Play spaces are important

There is growing concern in our communities about how climate change will affect us all. In response, Early Childhood Educators are including many ideas about recycling, sustainable living and care for the natural environment in their programs. It is pleasing to see so many opportunities for play with sand, water, rocks, sticks, clay, and plants in the centres I visit each week.

On the world wide web there are wonderful examples of especially created environments for children in exciting play spaces using trees and many natural elements. In my town all the child care centres now have vegetable gardens in which the children are actively involved. Several centres also have animals such as hens, guinea pigs, or rabbits and the children have a routine to gather the eggs and feed the animals, and talk about them. One centre has tadpoles in a small sheltered pool and a blue tongue lizard is regularly seen sunning itself in the garden. Are parents at home also creating interesting playspaces for their children? Are they following up with what our Early Childhood Educators are doing?

It isn’t possible for children to see native animals in their natural environment very often. Recently a travelling reptile specialist visited showing reptiles and explaining facts about them. Many of our bush creatures, such as koalas, and birds, are under threat from housing developments and busy roads. Children can help. They can adopt a koala in a wildlife sanctuary or plant a tree online, or buy stickers or a T shirt to support work done by wildlife organizations. To see how your children can help, look at these websites: and .


Favourite toys over the years

In the USA there is a Toy Hall of Fame What a great idea. On the website I discovered how Play-Doh was invented and the fact that kids have used 700 million pounds of it since 1955. Teddy bears also began in the US back in 1902. They have become the most popular stuffed toys in history.

I got thinking about my own favourite toys – my teddy bear, dolls and a dolls house and my tricycle. Those types of toys were also favourites of my children and my grandchildren’s play life also began with similar things. The grandchildren and their contemporaries have progressed to toys using modern technology. My seven year old granddaughter was captivated by a basket of six plush puppies recently and proudly took them home and invented games using them, but she also loves to play computer games. Outside she is keen to skip and climb trees. 

Having a variety of toys is wonderful for all children. Bikes or tricycles to use those large muscles, balls and digging implements, prams and barrows have been around for many years and are still as popular as ever. They are great at child care centres for kids who live in flats or apartments and don’t have places to use such toys at home. Another important group of toys is made by children from scrap materials. Make sure there are empty boxes, timber off-cuts, rugs, scarves and other fabric to inspire your children to create.


Treasure hunts

Hunting for treasures are fun both inside and outside the home or childcare centre. Treasures can be items that are hidden deliberately for kids to find in the sandpit or amongst plants. You can draw clues for kids who can’t read. Hide shells, cars, plastic animals, small toys etc. When you are hiding the toys you could have a story in mind such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For this story you would hide plastic food items mentioned in the story plus a caterpillar and the butterfly. You may also need to use number cards in the game. When everything is found the children can help you tell the story.

Another enjoyable treasure hunt is to bring out a box or drawer full of long neglected items. This could be buttons, old jewellery, broken toy parts, books, hats, scarves, old board games, photos, pencils, paints etc.  Kids will love to sort through them and find uses for pieces or just talk with you about each thing.  


Making games with the kids

I’ve always been interested in making toys through recycling, and I recently found an excellent site that has lots of suggestions for simple toys. You can find Joel on Twitter or Facebook or by Googling his name. He makes simple things for his kids to play with and they are also involved in the creation. His simple wooden catapults will be fun for girls and boys. They can launch lego figures into space or land them onto dinosaur island. Instead of wooden pieces as catapults, wooden rulers supported by a small block would work. It is like a see-saw but the support is closer to the end instead of in the middle. The figure to be launched is on the low end of the catapult. These could be used inside, but I like the idea of outside play where the kids could make a lunar or dinosaur landscape first, and even a cardboard rocket to launch. Place the astronaut or rocket on the end of the ruler and bring down your fist on the other end of the catapult. How high can you make the figure fly?


National Play Space Design Awards

These awards have been announced for pre-schools, schools and public play spaces. The awards look at safety as well as innovation and creativity, and the participants have also been encouraged to involve children in planning and making the play spaces. I have looked at the available photos on the web but would have liked to see more. One that particularly caught my eye was a tactile mural at Levvis Place in Five Dock NSW. And another idea at a kindergarten where plants have been put in big old tree stumps. Vegetable gardens were praised at other centres and the use of native plants. The use of natural materials and retention of trees in public play spaces was inspiring and there was challenge for older children as well as structures that young children could use to run, swing, balance and climb, depending on their abilities. Here is the link to the award page from where you can go to the different category winners.

Several of my local child care centres have very creative play spaces that I feel are equal to the national winners. Not every centre has entered the competition. So viewing these pictures will both give you ideas for your town and your own yard, as well as giving you satisfaction for what has already been achieved. The has many interesting and useful sections in it as well as the award pages.


Creative and dramatic play

Creative and dramatic play can be a great way of dealing with kids after trauma. At child care centres building materials and plastic figures can be used in small groups or individually for children to represent natural catastropes and what happened after.  Sticks, twigs, cars, trucks, model people and water, are useful for sandpit games along the same lines. Painting, drawing, clay, music and storytelling are all effective ways of letting the kids show their feelings and explaining their understanding of the events.  


Block Play

What do you think of when you see the term block play? Do you think of big blocks or small ones, plastic or wooden ones? If you work in the Early Childhood industry, you will probably think about a special area in your centre that is designated for children to use wooden unit blocks. If you are a parent, you may think of Duplo or Lego blocks, or you may think of the mess blocks can be when they are all over the floor and you are trying to tidy up in a hurry. Sometimes they are a nuisance. I’m thinking at this minute of the Duplo ones my granddaughter uses as people and to build trains, ships, bridges and houses on the floor of my current bedroom. She is disappointed if they are out of order when she returns to play there. But she is learning so much through them in imaginative and cognitive activities that I gladly suffer any inconvenience. In fact I think blocks are worth their weight in gold.

As March came to an end, I read that it is 100 years since Caroline Pratt invented the unit block. Caroline was an American educator (1867 -1954) who founded a school in New York where the emphasis was on play based learning. Although she had begun training as a Kindergarten teacher, she changed to Manual training and that is where her ideas for hands on learning and unit blocks began. The unit blocks are designed so that a number of small ones can exactly measure the bigger ones, curves go together to make circles; arches fit together and patterns and symmetry are natural outcomes as a child builds. Small unit blocks fit well into a child’s hands and the bigger ones are easy to carry and satisfying to use as within a minute there is a vertical or horizontal construction under way. As I researched Caroline and her unit blocks I saw videos that perfectly demonstrate the values of her invention. The children using the blocks were totally involved, co-operating, inventing, talking, using their imaginations, and learning mathematical concepts naturally. These blocks were enabling them to make sense of the world. Here is a link to the videos. It takes quite a while to watch the series of videos but I hope you will as they are fascinating and the comments of the presenters are well worth hearing. They remind us of the importance of block play.

I remember one of my early childhood teachers encouraging children at the Sydney Kindergarten College to make amazing structures. These structures were often allowed to stay overnight or for several days as she could see what a big disappointment it was for a child to work and create only to have it all pulled down at the end of a play session as if it was worthless. I can see there is a need to keep space organized and nowadays photos are often used to record block play.  Perhaps, however, some compromise can be made from time to time to let structures stay in place to be admired by all who see them?


Sounds from Nature

I often think up an idea while I’m taking an early morning walk where most of the sounds I hear are from nature. The last Sunday of April I found myself walking down a country road through farmland with cows, horses, alpacas, and a gurgling creek with ducks. A brisk breeze through the tall trees that lined the roadside added to my feeling that all was right with the world. I began to count up all the sound sources that children could investigate there. There were pebbles, stones, leaves, twigs, sticks, bark, and cones as well as water. Each group could be used in a variety of ways.

Children could

  • Stir or hit the water with a stick or bark
  • Plop stones into water individually or throw handfuls of pebbles in
  • Flick leafy twigs across the surface of the water
  • Float leaves of different sizes, shapes, colours on the water’s surface
  • Float bark and sticks on water, race stick and leaf boats down the stream
  • Scratch or strike bark with sticks
  • Use cones as clapping sticks
  • Drop cones into water
  • Strike stones together

With such a variety of natural items, each child could choose two things and demonstrate a way of making a sound. This could be made into a guessing game with the person making the sound out of sight – what was used to make that sound and how was the sound made?

After an investigation of many different sounds made from the natural items, combine the sounds in patterns to make music or to accompany singing.


Circus games

Winter weather is often cold and wet or frosty and freezing but if the kids have to stay indoors for days at a time they’ll get bored without some new activities. Have you thought of circus games?

  • Set up an area where they can climb, jump and roll. You will need a stool or chair to leap from and a small mattress to leap onto to do somersaults.
  • Have small bean bags or scarves to practise juggling and a some kind of target ( maybe a box) for balls too.
  • Make some stilts from empty tinned fruit cans with string or tape for your child to hold onto.
  • Encourage kids to practise skipping, and hoola-hoop games with big and small hoops,.
  • The kids might even have animals at their circus with soft toys jumping through hoops and hobby horses galloping around the ring.
  • Help your child to put on make up for a clown face and then get ready with the camera to take shots of clown tricks.


Making a play scene

In winter time a lot of trees have bare branches. Prune off a piece that will look like a little tree with branches of its own. This tree can be stuck in a flower pot, bucket, or other small container or in the sand pit. Fill the container with rocks, gravel, sand or playdough to hold the branch firmly upright. Now it is ready for decorations. Here is a list of things the children might hang on it.

·         Strips of crepe paper

·         Pipe cleaners

·         Foil

·         Buttons threaded onto wool

·         Cup cake papers with a hole punched in to hang them

·         Cotton wool balls if they want a winter tree and snow.

If the tree is small, it might be part of a scene. Spread a white sheet or towel to make the snow scene. Make a snow man out of plain dough or stand a cardboard snow man there. Put plastic animals down and make a farm scene or a park with little people, shiny rocks, a path with shells or buttons along the edge. Make playdough figures to stand there, or combine the tree with zoo animals  with pipe cleaner monkeys up the tree.

Once started, you and your children will find tons of ideas so that you might use the tree in a different way every day.


Games in the pool.

Babies, toddlers and preschoolers can quickly become confident in the water if games are used. Here are some ideas for playing in the pool:

·         hold baby close and bounce up and down

·         support baby under the arms and pull her towards you

·         sit baby on the edge of the pool and say the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme then jump her into the pool as Humpty falls

·         sing rhymes and make up actions in the water of move baby to the rhythm in the water.

·         encourage toddlers and preschoolers to blow bubbles in the water, hold their breath and put their faces under water

·         hand onto the side and kick

·         hang onto a kicking board and kick

·         duck right under water

·         play with a water pistol in the pool

 jump into the pool to make a splash

·         throw things that float into the pool and try to catch them

·         throw in things that sink and duck under to retrieve them

·         have bouncing races across the pool or from the edge to an adult

·         see how fast they can walk in the pool

·         use swimming noodles to catch, float with and sit on. 


Music games for toddlers

Toddlers love listening and moving to music. Scarves and streamers can be used in many different ways.

  • Choose a CD with lively music on it. Have paddlepop sticks ready with a 20 cm piece of streamer taped on one end.
  • Use a drum or saucepan to beat a marching rhythm and show your toddler how to march and wave the streamer or scarf as a flag  
  • Toddlers can run while holding the stick high, or drag it across the ground
  • Whirl and twirl around with the streamer or the scarf
  • Play boats by sitting on a scarf and waving the streamer for the sail
  • Put the scarf over his/her head and move to slow music.


Using Junk materials outside

While writing about healthy living, I explored some websites for the use of junk materials outdoors. I was amazed at what I saw especially the innovative ideas people have come up with in their gardens using everything from old dustpans, tyres, lightshades, cracked crockery bicycle wheels, funnels and much more.  This is the type of creation that kids excel at. Give them some strong glue, some thin, bendable wire or rope to tie things together and they’ll have a great time and amaze you too. Go through the shed and see what junk both large and small that you have there, and invite the kids to help you make something. Look at to get your mind thinking creatively.



Copyright 2008/2012/20014








Car games
Bean bags


Windy weather games



Nature's treasures


Tiny things for tiny hands


Fun with feet

More play ideas

Ideas for turn it off week

Games for babies
Hand games
More ideas
Hula hoops
Making puppets

Moss and Ice

Imaginative Play in spring
Stimulating creativity
A holiday calendar
Water games


Games with numbers
Using torches
Playing with sticks
Feathers and things that float
Play spaces
Favourite toys
Treasure Hunts
Making games with the kids
Play spac e awards
Creative and dramatic play
Block play
Sounds from nature
Circus games
Making a play scene
Games in the pool
Music games for toddlers
Using junk materials outside
Copyright Helen Evans 2006