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10 ways to play with your child this Christmas

Experts from the HSE's MyChild.ie pick out 10 ways to play with your child this Christmas, from building blocks to tummy time and arts and crafts.

Published: 6 December 2019

Child and parent playing
Playing with your child can help their development

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of buying the perfect present for your child at Christmas. But the truth is, the best gift you can give them is taking the time to play with them.

Your child uses a lot of brain and muscle power during play time. This helps develop their social, intellectual, language and problem-solving skills.

Playing with your child will also strengthen that special bond between you.

Check out these 10 ways to play with your child this Christmas, depending on what age and stage they're at.

Tummy time

Tummy time is placing your baby on their tummy for play or activity while they're awake. It's important for your baby for the first 6 months. It helps build their upper body strength. It encourages your baby to move and experiment with rolling and crawling.

Start with short sessions of about 30 seconds a few times a day. You can then slowly increase the amount of time. At first, babies can do tummy time on your lap while you wind them after a feed.

At 6 months, floor-based play is very important for learning how to move, sit up and crawl. It can be a good idea to get on floor with them to guide and move them to a seated position.

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Tummy time to strengthen your baby's muscles

Cuddling, singing and soft toys

Cuddling your baby and singing songs and nursery rhymes to them can help to stimulate senses. It can awaken their curiosity and help your baby to feel relaxed and secure.

Try rubbing soft toys on their cheeks and hands to see if they like feeling new sensations. All these things help your baby to learn and develop.

As they get bigger, singing and dancing to educational songs are great ways to play with your child.

Peekaboo and clap handies

Babies love to play simple games, like peekaboo and clap handies. They watch what you are doing and mimic your actions.

Playing these simple games with your baby is great for their development. They use muscle control, fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination for these skills.

They're also a great way to encourage your baby’s communication and concentration.

Related topic

Helping your child's communication development

Bath time

This is a great chance for play time. Most babies enjoy the water. But never leave them unattended.

Older children enjoy the sensory experience of pouring water from different containers. These don’t have to be shop-bought items – there are lots of things around the house - plastic jugs, buckets, plastic bottles, whisks, sieves and empty yogurt pots.

Always watch your child around water.

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Bathing your baby

Building blocks

By 6 months, babies might enjoy banging blocks together or putting blocks into a cup.

As they get bigger, they might start to stack up the blocks and knock them down again. Toddlers might become budding builders of towers and skyscrapers.

If you don’t have blocks, try stacking plastic cups or old containers in your cupboard. Join in and play alongside your child. This will add to the fun and help your child feel special.

Child and parent reading
Children enjoy books with simple stories

Reading books

Reading is great for helping to support language development.

For babies, try snuggling up and sharing a picture book. Allow your baby to hold the book.

Notice what your baby is interested in. Talk about that. For example, “You see the monkey!” Make funny faces and animal sounds. Have fun with your child. At this stage, this is more important than reading the words in the book.

Toddlers enjoy books with simple stories or about their favourite characters. Encourage them to join in for repetitive lines of the story.

Follow your toddler’s interest in the book. This may involve describing the pictures instead of reading the story. Its a good idea to join your local library. It is free to do and books for all ages are available to loan.

Playing ball

Include toys that encourage movement, such as balls, in your gifts for your child. The physical activity will be good for them.

These games are also very good for the development of their balance and coordination.

From one year, you can gently roll a soft ball to your baby and encourage them to roll it back to you. As they get bigger, they might be able to chase the ball and kick it to you.

Jigsaws and card games

For toddlers and older children, jigsaws and card games, such as snap, can help to develop their problem-solving skills.

They can find out for themselves where the jigsaw fits or what cards match each other. You can help them if they need it.

These games also allow you to interact and talk with them. This helps to support their growing speech and language development.

Girl with play dough at Christmas
Children love to get creative with arts and crafts

Arts and crafts

Most toddlers and older children love to get messy and creative, especially if you are there to notice their great ideas and enjoy their works of art! They can do this with non-toxic paint, colourful crayons and paper.

Let them loose with a paintbrush or help them use a stencil pattern. This can help your child draw and discover different shapes, and how to create them.

Finger paints are also great for allowing your child to feel the textures of the paint on the page.

Role playing and family board games

Children love to pretend and use their imagination. There are lots of costumes in shops. Your child might be just as happy to dress up in an old t-shirt of yours and a funny hat.

Encourage them to use their communication and language skills. Do this by explaining what they are doing and what they ‘see’ around them.

For older kids, it is a good idea to get some board games. Limit screen time if you can. This can be hard, particularly during the colder months. Classic games, like Twister, can be fun for the whole family.

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Your child learning through play