Development through play

Children experience different types of development through play, for example:

  • physical development
  • intellectual development
  • social development

Encouraging your child’s development through play - HSE

Physical development

During play, children will learn to move, balance and lift things.

This helps them develop the fundamental movement skills that will help them stay active in later life.

As children get older, physical play will also help them to stay healthy and active.

It also strengthens their bones and muscles.

Read more in the Active Play 0-3 booklet from the HSE (PDF, 578kb, 10 pages).

Intellectual development

Play helps children develop their memory, thinking and reasoning skills. During play, children between 2 and 3 years old will learn how to:

  • use their imagination
  • count
  • tell the difference between different shapes and sizes

Social development

Play helps children to develop their own identity and become more independent.

Through play, children also learn how to make friends and care for people. For example, playing with dolls can help your child to understand and care about other people’s needs.

Stimulate your child's senses

Stimulating your child’s senses during play can encourage learning and development.

Children learn through play, using:

  • sight - seeing colours, movement, sizes and textures
  • smell - familiar smells can comfort your baby
  • sound - for example new noises, music or you reading to them
  • taste
  • touch


All children’s toys should be age appropriate. Young children put things in their mouths to explore textures and tastes 

Help your child develop through play

You can help your child to develop while playing with them, by doing the following:

  • engage with your child’s interests - this lets them know that they are important to you
  • copy how they play - for example if they shake a rattle, you shake a rattle too
  • talk about what they’re doing - for example “you’re pushing the car”
  • be slow and repeat - your child’s brain needs time to learn new skills
  • listen - they will know that you are interested in their ideas, thoughts and feelings

Most importantly, have fun together.

Watch a video on following your child’s lead in play

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 23 January 2019
Next review due: 23 January 2022