VIDEO: Be creative – play ideas by age

You can give your child lots of different opportunities to play and it doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive.

Content supplied by NHS Choices

Ideas to help your child play and learn

  • Look at books and sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child. It’s fun and will help them develop language and communication skills.
  • Get involved yourself. Your child will learn more from you than they will from any toy.
  • Use things you’ve already got around the house. Try some of the ideas below.

Play ideas by age of baby

  1. Any age
  2. From 4 months
  3. From 18 months
  4. From 24 months
  5. From 30 months

1. Any age

Playing with water

Babies, toddlers and young children love playing with water, in the bath, paddling pool or just using the sink or a plastic bowl.

Use plastic bottles for pouring and squirting each other, plastic tubing, a sponge, a colander, straws, a funnel, spoons and anything else that’s unbreakable. You’ll probably both get wet so cover your clothes.

Never leave a young child alone with water. A baby or young child can drown in only five centimetres (two inches) of water.


You can start looking at books with your baby from an early age. You don’t have to read the words; just talk about what you can see. Even small babies like looking at picture books.

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

2. From four months


Wash out a plastic screw-top bottle and put dried lentils or beans inside. Shake it around in front of your child and they will learn how to make a noise with it.

As some dried beans are poisonous and young children can choke on small objects, it’s best to glue the top securely so it won’t come off.

3. From 18 months

Play dough

You can make your own play dough. Put one cup of water, one cup of plain flour, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, half a cup of salt, one tablespoon of cooking oil and some food colouring or powder paint in a saucepan.

Stir over a medium heat until it forms a dough. Once dough has cooled down, show your child how to make different shapes. Keep it in a plastic box in the fridge so you can use it again.

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. You can make powder paint thicker by adding washing-up liquid as well as water.

At first, show your child how to hold the crayon or paintbrush. If you don’t have paper, you can use old envelopes cut open and the insides of cereal boxes.

Paper bag or envelope puppets

Use old paper bags 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 or to you and your child.


Encourage your child to walk with you (you may want to use reins for safety) as soon as they can. It might slow you down, but it’s a great way for both of you to get some exercise.

4. From 24 months

Dressing up

Collect old hats, bags, gloves, scarves, nighties, lengths of material, tea towels and curtains. Ask friends and relatives or try jumble sales.

Make sure there are no loose cords, strings or ribbons that could wrap around your child’s neck or trip them (or you) up.

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


Consider limiting your child’s TV viewing to less than two hours a day from two years old and ideally no TV viewing before the age of two. 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’s watching. Watch with your child when possible so you can talk together about what you’re watching.

TV is not recommended for children under two years old.

5. 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.


NHS Choices

Published Date 2010-12-15

Last Review Date 2009-07-28


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