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Children Need Motor Play Early

Healthy Habits Start Early

Play time

Good activity habits begin early in your child’s life. As early as infancy, you can help your child grow lifelong healthy play habits. Your child learns from you, so while you help him be active, try to do the same activities!

How Play Changes and Develops As Your Child Grows

As your child grows, the way he plays will change – he’ll get more creative and experiment more with toys, games and ideas. This might mean he needs more space and time to play.

Also, children move through different forms of play as they grow. This includes playing alone, playing alongside other children and playing interactively with other children.

The first year of life typically involves sensory play. At this stage, children also develop an understanding of cause and effect and begin to grow their social skills through imitation.


Play in the second year of life often involves pretend play with a toy and parallel—but not collaborative—play with other children.


In the third year of life, play expands their social and motor skills. Play now often includes turntaking and cooperative play.


From three to five years of life, play becomes more complex: children coordinate many physical actions, imagination, and rules in coordinated social play with others.

Newborns and babies play ideas to encourage development

For babies, the best toy is you. Just looking at your face and hearing your voice is play for your new baby, especially if you’re smiling.

You might like to try the following play ideas and activities with your little one:

  • Music, songs, gentle tapping on your baby’s tummy while you sing, or bells: these activities develop hearing and movement.

  • Peekaboo: this is great for your baby’s social and emotional development.

  • Gentle tickles, or objects with different textures, like feathers, mud, metal or foam: these develop the sense of touch.

  • Objects of different sizes, colours and shapes: these can encourage your child to reach and grasp.

  • Sturdy furniture, balls, toys or boxes: these can get your child crawling, standing and walking.

  • Keep your baby active with tummy time and time spent out of the swing or bouncy chair. This will give him plenty of chances to stretch, reach, and kick so he can reach important milestones like crawling and sitting up.

  • Avoid putting a TV in your baby’s room. The more YOU talk to and play with your baby, the more likely he is to be healthy as he grows.

For Your Toddler

  • Even very active toddlers need physical activity. Keep moving by dancing, jumping, and walking together.

  • Try to limit screen time to 2 hours or less a day. Children who have lots of active play time outside and indoors are more likely to stay healthy and active as they grow up.

For Your Preschooler

  • Help your child to stay active and learn at the same time by spending time outdoors.

  • Try to limit TV, video games, and computer time to 2 hours or less a day. Children who watch more than 2 hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight as they get older.


For Yourself and Your Family

  • When you spend time being active, your child learns healthy habits from you.

  • Set playtime, mealtime, and bedtime routines to make daily life easier to handle.

  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician, early care and education staff, and other parents to get ideas for making playtime active time.

 Office of Head Start, by the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning


Brown, Stuart, and Christopher Vaughan. 2009. Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: The Penguin Group.

Elkind, David. 2007. The power of play: How spontaneous, imaginative activities lead to happier, healthier children. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Gerber, Magda, and Allison Johnson. 1998. Your self-confident baby: How to encourage your child’s natural abilities—from the very start. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R. 2007. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent–child bonds. Pediatrics 119(1): 182–91.

Hughes, Fergus P. 2010. Children, play, and development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Lieberman, Alicia F. 1993. The emotional life of the toddler. New York: The Free Press.

National Association for Sports and Physical Education. 2002. “Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years,” American Alliance for Health Physical Education Recreation and Dance.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1990. Conventions of the Rights of the Child.

Shonkoff, Jack P., & Deborah A. Phillips, eds. 2000. From neurons to neighborhood: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Zigler, Edward F., Dorothy G. Singer, Sandra Bishop-Josef, ed. 2004. Children’s play: The roots of reading. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE Press.

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