More than just child's play


Tips to help children of all abilities learn as they play

Resilience, communication, making friends, social skills, confidence, problem solving - this all develops when children play. Shh! Don’t tell the kids they learn all this during child’s play.

We have turned to the experts to understand more about how play and toys help children with disability learn and here’s a few tips from them.

  • Find what interests your child

A great place to start is finding what interests your child.

Whether it is superheroes, books, dolls, Lego or cars – if your child loves it, you have a better chance of maintaining their interest when you use those toys or games when they play.

Think about what excites and interests them, makes them smile and laugh.


  • Play between children of all abilities helps everyone

Children with disability can learn a lot from their typically developing peers. Children are great teachers of other children. Communication, social skills and appropriate behaviour are all skills that can be learnt effectively from role models like friends and playmates.

Typically developing children also benefit significantly from getting to know children with disability. They learn about diversity. Helping peers who may be finding a task difficult is a great way to boost a child’s self-esteem.

Recent statistics show that one in three adults with disability do not have friends outside their family and carers. This can lead to isolation and loneliness.

When children practise play skills with children of varying abilities, they gain confidence and the ability to make friends, hopefully throughout their lives.

  • Make time for structured and unstructured play

Unstructured play is free play and it is the best type of play for young children.

It is spontaneous and determined by the child’s interest at the time. It also allows children to use their imagination, be creative and move at their own pace.

Dressing up, pretend games, running around the backyard or at a playground are all examples of unstructured play.

Adults usually lead structured play at a fixed time and in a set space.

Think swimming classes, storytelling groups for toddlers, dance, music and drama classes and sport.

Skills developed during these times include listening, turn-taking, working with others and social skills.

  • Take advantage of everyday routines for learning

Word games while you are walking to school, sitting down together to watch television and talk about your favourite characters, doing chores together can all be great opportunities to play and learn.

While folding the laundry you can talk about the different colours and types of clothes you have in the laundry basket. 

  • Playtime is not just for the kids

Parents cannot underestimate the value of their attention and time when it comes to learning through play. A parent who can spare a bit of time regularly to play with their child can provide invaluable support to their learning and development.

Remember to have fun, get down to their level and enjoy each other’s company. Even if it is only for a few minutes every day - quality and not quantity matters.

When you play with your child, you can role model important skills like taking turns, sharing, using manners and appropriate behaviour. Most of all you are building a connection, having fun together and making them feel important.

  • What about toys?


The experts say that “open-ended” toys are great for learning and development. They are toys that can be used in lots of different ways.

Blocks, balls, cardboard boxes, dress-us, crafts are all “open-ended toys”. They encourage children to use their imagination, problem solve and be creative.


Where is the best place to find toys for when you are on a budget?

Many local councils have toy libraries. Most charge a membership fee, but then you can borrow toys free. This is a great way to refresh your toy collection regularly without breaking the budget.

(Sources: and National Guidelines for Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention)


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