Plunket's 30 Days of Play offers some great ideas to help develop young minds and keep children learning - both inside and outdoors.
We hope you like these and take inspiration from the activities that are posted.* We have suggested a minimum age bracket for 30 days of play as some of the suggested items and play ideas may be too advanced for younger children. All activities require involvement from an adult and supervision.
The changes in seasons are a wonderful time. For example, in Autumn outside the leaves change colour and fall. This can provide a great opportunity to stock your magical place with found items.
Create a magical place for your child to experiment with drawing, painting, cutting and gluing. If space permits, give them their own desk and/or set of shelves. Recycle containers and label or illustrate on the outside what is in the container. Support your child to learn that there are limits and boundaries when using the materials. You can tape a line around the area to show them that the paper, pens etc stay within this area. Materials that need supervision can be stored on higher shelves.
Some of the things they are learning are: the effects their actions have on materials; fine motor skill development; arm movement; hand/eye co-ordination; to focus their attention; creativity. The freedom to choose when they play and how they play encourages children to explore and experiment in a way that is meaningful to them. Having their own special place helps children to feel special and develops their self-esteem.
Wrap up warm and head outside to collect from your garden or your local park leaves, twigs, stones, pine cones etc. Be aware of hazardous items such as berries and anything that could be a choking hazard. A trip to the beach can provide shells, small pieces of driftwood and sand. Other objects that are fun for collage are milk bottle tops, wool, paper, fabric scraps, cereal packets, old magazines etc. And don’t forget the necessary bought items -sticky tape and glue.
Going out and about to find objects for the collection provides an opportunity to explore together and extend children’s language and experiences. Take the time to marvel at the beauty of nature, taking in the sights, sounds and textures as you explore. Children learn about nature, develop their language skills and in exercising their bodies are developing all of their motor skills.
Support your child’s play and offer them the opportunity to master new skills by offering them the freedom to explore with paper, tin foil and other items.
Some children love to wrap up items from their toy box and pretend they are presents. Sometimes they just love the process of wrapping up and will use anything at their fingertips to do this e.g. a small blanket, wrapping and unwrapping items over and over. If you notice your child going through this phase – keep a stack of paper (recycling old gift wrap works well, as does tin foil) and some sticky tape to support their exploration.
Encourage older children to use scissors with supervision. Hold the paper firm for them and encourage with words or a song “Open shut them, open shut them, give a little snip.” Children will often use two hands at first before mastering the idea of the thumb and fingers working together.
If they are into dressing up and make believe, help them to make a paper hat (visit our Pinterest page for a ‘how-to’)
Supporting children in play that is interesting them at the time and have the opportunity to master new skills builds children’s self-esteem. Paper and scissor play also helps children’s fine motor skills.
Explore your child’s creativity by creating collages from inexpensive, found items. It is a great way to spend an afternoon. The only limitation when making a collage is your imagination!
Experimenting with glue and different materials from your collection, children learn how much glue is needed for different types of materials and also for the paper or card they are sticking objects to. As they get older children will enjoy making pictures and books from old magazines and junk mail.
Collage can also be stuck to pieces of wood (untreated) and bark. Experiment with using a sand cement with natural resources and bark.
Sand cement Recipe: Mix one part sand to one part flour and add 1-2 cups of water until a thick paste that can be thickly smeared onto the surface. Stick objects into the sand cement and leave to set in a sunny spot.
Sensory experiences can be relaxing and soothing, helping your child’s emotional development while also developing their fine motor and creativity skills.
The garden no matter how small provides lots of opportunity for children to play and learn about the world. Remember to be sunsmart while outside and wrap up wamly as the weather starts to cool.
Have a small watering can or put the hose onto a trickle and offer the opportunity to water the plants. Look for insects together – take the time to notice the colour, shape and movement of the insects. Smell the flowers or herbs, find same shaped leaves, or same coloured flowers! Lie on the grass and stare up at the trees or clouds.
Children are learning about the world around them, using their bodies and getting fresh air. Being parents little helper in the garden builds their self-esteem and develop an understanding of the things they see their parents do such as watering the garden.
Creating a treasure hunt in a bottle is an easy and fun project that can be made with items found around the house. This is a fun discovery activity to do together.
Inside a large plastic soft drink bottle insert small objects such as cut up straws, pegs, buttons, bells, little piece of sponge cloth (can be rolled up to insert) and a special object for example a miniature car, teddy or animal. Pour into the bottle dry sand to cover the objects (about 2/3rds full). Screw lid on tightly and tape up securely. Shake the bottle to distribute the objects and encourage the turning of the bottle to find the hidden objects camouflaged by the sand!
This is a fun activity to do together providing an opportunity for shared attention and language development. You could make multiple, themed bottles and create your own educational activities such as rhyming words, types of animals or a seasonal theme.
Science is a way of exploring, understanding and investigating the world around us. Nurture your child’s natural curiosity, which is at the heart and foundation of all scientific work.
Simple experiments such as freezing water and watching it go from liquid to frozen and then back to liquid are great fun. Extend this by adding leaves or flowers, using different shapes, colours, thawing in the sun or out of the sun, or thawing in water. Keep the curiosity alive by helping children to wonder and hypothesise. There are lots of simple science experiments for kids online, including this great video with Grover from Sesame street.
Scientific experiments nurtures a child’s language and thinking skills. Children learn to think ‘what if’ and test their theories out.
Painting activities for kids range from the simplest painting with a brush or hands to using items such as stones, sticks and other ‘found’ items.
Paint is easily adaptable to a wide variety of kids’ art activities. If you don’t have an easel/chalkboard, try taping paper to an outside wall or tree that can be hosed down after. Have a range of brush sizes – generally big brushes for younger children, finer brushes are great once they have gained more control.
Older children might enjoy putting dollops of paint onto the middle of some paper then fold in half to create a butterfly effect! They may want to repeat this over and over!
Remember painting is about experimenting with the tools and colours – it is a process between the child and the materials. They are developing their fine motor skills, learning about colour mixing and how different tools make different marks.
Creating fun and safe environments for children to participate in active play will help them understand that physical activity can be fun.
Children need equipment and activities that give them opportunities to practise and extend their skills. A great game to play with young children is balloon tennis. All you need is a blown up balloon, wool or string to hang it, and a magazine. Roll up the magazine into a tube and tape it to make a bat. Hold the balloon by the wool tie, and encourage your child to hit the balloon or if you have a hook in the ceiling tie the balloon to that.
If doing this activity outside, suspend the balloon from a tree branch. Always ensure the play space is safe and supportive of your child’s development.
As they play children will develop increasing agility, coorindation and balance. Balloon tennis is also a great release for pent up energy!
The natural world is full of wonder and a treasure trove to explore. Spend some time with your little one exploring your garden, the local park and so on.
Take a small bag and make a collection of special things you find. Create a mini monocular from a cut down paper tube – this helps to draw our attention to the small details of what is around. Take paper and crayons and do rubbings on different surfaces e.g. the bark of a tree, the wooden fence, the concrete path. Find a ‘pet rock’. Throw pebbles into water and watch the the water ripple out.
These experiences help children learn about the world around them, cause and effect, developing their whole body, keeping alive their natural ability to wonder, helps children to calm and regulate emotions.
Water is fascinating and fun! Children can spend hours playing with it. Water play is a unique activity for children because it’s always available and provides many learning experiences.
From washing the car with dad to washing dishes in a sink of warm soapy water. Water play can be a soothing start to the day or calm a tired young child at the end of the day. Whether water play is at a sink, outside, in a bowl, or in the bath, you can extend the play with simple equipment from around the home – measure cups, funnels, sieves or colanders, tubing to blow through etc. Add colour and bubbles.
Always supervise water play!
Water play provides opportunities for children to experiment with science and maths concepts such as empty/full, heavy/light, more/less, shallow/deep etc. Being alongside your child you can enhance language development and it is one of the most soothing play activities which grows all areas of your child’s development.
Dress-up play is an essential part of a child’s development. It helps grow their imagination, learn about the world around them and experience what it is like to be another person.
Find an old suitcase and raid your wardrobe for any unused items such as scarves, shawls, gloves, handbags with short straps, old nighties, short dresses, suit jackets and vests, braces, low heeled shoes, etc. Check out second hand shops for other bits such as hats and old lacy/net curtains. From around the house add in old keys on a key ring, an old purse, apron, old mobile phone if you have one. From the toy box you might have some play money and other accessories that can be used in dress up play. Make optional extras such as animal tails by stuffing an old pair of pantyhose and cutting the other leg off.
Visit our Pinterest page for instructions on how to make a paper hat.
Children are learning what it is like to be another person or in a particuler role. Dressing up leads to imaginary and dramatic play and develops their ideas of how the world can be.
Kids love messy play. Jumping in puddles, making mud pies and special mixtures from things they find outside! Messy-sensory play provides many opportunities for learning, development and growth.
If it hasn’t been raining and you don’t have a puddle, provide children a plastic ice cream container and a stick and collect stuff from the garden, such as twigs, leaves, sand etc – add a bit of water and mix! The book Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughn has a wonderful chant to sing “Wombat stew, wombat stew, ooey gooey, yummy chewy, wombat stew!”
Watch for any hazards in the garden such as berries and animal droppings. And try not to worry about children getting messy! Dress them in old clothes and aprons and be excited that they are learning from their messy experiences.
Children learn science concepts such as what dissolves, changes, sinks or floats. Messy play can calm children’s emotions and encourages imagination.
Posting box activities develop hand/eye co-ordination and problem solving skills. Create your own from an ice cream container and a range of household objects.
Make your own posting boxes from ice cream containers or other containers that have plastic lids. Find a small range of objects such as a ping pong ball, metal lid, wooden block and draw around the objects then cut out the holes to match the objects. Have a long slot for the metal lids so this encourages posting on the short side. To begin with use a plastic bottle and encourage posting pegs in the neck.
This great post from the Imagination tree demonstrates how to make a posting box maths game.
These activities develop hand/eye co-ordination and with your support will develop persistence needed for later problem solving. Plus, depending on the ‘level’ of difficulty you make your posting box children can grow their numeracy and literacy skills.
Encouraging your child to participate in the creation of baking a favourite treat will create a sense of accomplishment, develop a life long skill and learning math and science concepts.
Children can assist in the kitchen as your little helper, measuring, adding, sifting and stirring. They can also cut and grate with supervision. Children learn how to spread with a knife by being given the opportunity to practice with supervision. Grating the vegetables to go in a vegetable soup encourages children to eat vegetables they might not normally eat.
Children are learning maths and science concepts such as measurements, dissolve, mix, and seeing how dry ingredients can become wet and then change again when baked! They can learn about healthy food and are learning about contributing to the wellbeing of the whole family. All areas of their development are being enhanced.
Children learn by copying and they love doing what their parents are doing. Involving them in the day to day chores will teach them new skills and give them a sense of belonging.
Children like to be part of the day to day house activity. They try out being Mum and Dad and this often means copying what you do! Involve children in the day to day chores, let them have their own duster for dusting some areas, pass the pegs when you hang up the washing, pass them the paired socks to throw in the basket (great when you make them into a ball!), sweep the floor or use the vacuum in an area you feel comfortable with this, help with washing up some of the dishes, or help wash the car.
Children are practicing at being in the world – they are literally creating their own theory of the world when they are given the opportunity to do some of the things they see.
Keeping our children physically active builds our children’s brains and keeps them healthy. You help them to learn and to feel safe, and you show them they are loved.
Provide lots of opportunity for your child to get outside and kick balls, run races, use swings and slides. Step/jump from stepping stone to stepping stone. Fly a kite – simple to make – cut out the inside of an icecream container lid and tape lightweight paper around. Attach wool and run in the wind to make it fly! On wet days, ensure some physically active play is provided for inside.
If you’re looking for more active movement ideas visit the Moving Smart website.
Movement is the architect of our brain. Children need lots of opportunity to build up a language of movement and know how their body fits in space. They are literally learning the basic concepts of physics from birth!
Active movement is a great way to fill up their emotional resilience tank.
Messy play helps children develop their imagination and many kids love to get messy! Shaving foam drawing, gloop and finger painting are great sensory experiences.
Finger painting is a wonderful sensory experience and can provide children with a relaxing emotional release. Children are free to explore and become familiar with the patterns their little fingers and hands can make. Playing music can also enhance the relaxing experience.
Gloop is a fascinating, curious substance that has properties of both a liquid and a solid. Try not to worry about children getting messy! Use old clothes, an apron or an old shirt with sleeves rolled up, this allows your child to explore without worrying about getting mess on their clothes. Have old newspapers & towels nearby to help clean up or to work upon and enjoy the moment.
You can make gloop two ways, cooked or uncooked.
Uncooked: in a bowl mix 1/2 cup of Cornflour and 1/2 cup of Water together until a gloop is formed. This in itself is a wonderful experience as the gloop is both fluid and solid – children can pick it up and when they put it back down and spreads as a fluid would!
For cooked gloops follow the directions as above and then add 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and keep stirring briskly until thick. Keep children at a safe distance while you are working with boiling water. Return to saucepan and cook gently until clear and thick. Add food colouring of your choice. Cool until slightly warm. Put a small amount on a tray.
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups cold water
In large saucepan mix flour and 1 cup of cold water. Stir until smooth. Add 3 cups of water and cook over medium heat until thickens and bubbles. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add food colouring, cover and cool.
Messy play develops fine motor skills and builds scientific concepts (gloop ‘it’s hard, it’s soft’) talking children through this will develop their language skills and creativity. Painting is a relaxing, creative experience and emotional release.
Threading is a great activity for a child to develop their fine-motor skills. This prepares them for future tasks such as writing and tying shoelaces. Visit our website for some fun threading ideas
There are many threading activities children can do from threading objects onto a length of cord etc through to threading a cord in and out of holes made around the edge of a card – a great example of this activity can be viewed on the Kidspot website.
Depending on their age and ability use either a length of thin plastic tubing, soft wire, a shoe lace, or wool to thread objects onto.
Objects for threading can be cotton reels, bottle tops, small lids, shells etc with holes drilled in them, buttons, paper patty cups, cut up lengths of straws etc. Older children can use a blunt round ended darning needle with supervision. Always supervise play where there are small objects involved.
Threading objects helps children develop their small muscles and control, together with their hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills.
Chalk is an inexpensive and a nearly perfect play activity for young kids. It can be used to play games (hopscotch), create pictures, practice letters, experiment with colour and cleans up easily!
Children enjoy experimenting with chalk both on a chalk board and also outside on the pavement. Try different sized chalks – chunky chalk is great for little hands. For brighter colours try soaking the chalk in water for a few hours.
Create fun learning games like a garden treasure hunt exploring colour, shape, numbers and textures.
Small muscle control and development, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity, pre-reading and writing skills.
Encouraging imagination and storytelling with puppet play will boost children’s creativity and language development.
From simple finger puppets to more elaborate sock puppets, there is little need to spend money – use your imagination and come up with your own. Draw on your fingers; sew hair or glue felt eyes onto old socks to create animals or people; or cut out pictures and glue onto cardboard then onto a stick – the possibilities are endless! Chant fingerplays and or read/make up stories.
Puppet play provides a world of imagination. It provides another way of communicating, storytelling and interaction. Creativity can be encouraged when children make their own puppets.
Children, especially toddlers enjoy exploring and experiencing things using all their senses. Playdough is can be enjoyable and satisfying experience for children.
Children (and many adults) love to squeeze and squish dough between fingers and rolling dough in a rhythmic nature. It is calming and restorative. Young children will poke and prod, squeeze and pull in their early play and will learn overtime to roll out and experiment with making objects of their choice. Young children will often try and eat the dough – discourage this as there is a high salt content.
1 ½ cups salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon Cream of Tartar
2 tablespoons Oil
2 cups boiling water
Mix together. Knead dough until smooth and warm, add a bit more water if the dough is too dry. It will keep in an airtight container. You can add different things to dough to enhance the activity for example, make fairy dough by adding glitter, Use food colourings for different colours, add an essential oil or dried herbs to add another sensory element of the play.
Emotional release, small muscle control and development, hand eye co-ordination, creativity, language, maths and science.
Cooking time is a great time to bond with your child. They will feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They can feel a sense of pride and achievement with what they are creating.
Involving your children with meal preparation and setting the table helps nurture a sense of belonging, trust and responsiblity . Children can help with grating, measuring and mixing. They can count out forks and spoons and help set the table. Children are also more likely to eat what they have helped to prepare!
Visit our Pinterest page for recipe ideas.
As with our baking post, children are learning maths and science concepts such as measurements, dissolve, mix . They are developing social skills and contributing to the family culture. Healthy eating and food preparation e.g. Mum always washes her hands before she prepares food. Small muscle development and hand-eye co-ordination. Language, science and maths.
A rainy day doesn’t have to mean boredom. Chase any gloominess away and encourage kids to participate in some fun activities around the house (or outside if it’s not too wet!)
Many of our other play day ideas will help with the caged in feeling of a rainy day! If it is not too cold put on raincoats and gumboots, splash in the puddles and feel the rain on your hands. Inside rearrange furniture and create huts out of blankets or sheets, or make an obstacle course for children to climb through, over and under. Play hide and go seek – young children this might be in the same room as you and behind a chair or curtain, while older children might be happy to hide further away.
As well as providing the opportunity to release energy, children will be using their imagination, developing all of their physical skills.
Kids love to sing and dance and create ‘music’. Encourage them to explore creating different sounds through simple instruments made from recycling items and items from around the home.
Talk with your child about loud/soft sounds, high/low sounds, fast and slow etc. Make up a saucepan drum set with wooden spoon drumsticks to experiment with these sounds and actions!
Create little drums by stretching balloons over small containers and taping with insulating tape around the rim and container to hold. Stretch large rubber bands over an empty tissue box.
Make shakers using small empty plastic vegemite jars filled with different material e.g. chopped up lengths of straws, beads or sand.
Roll up magazines or chop lengths of the large flax flower stem to make sticks or rakau. Supervise this play with young children and put away any instruments afterwards that could be a safety hazard if they come apart.
Music provides learning for the whole child, it is emotionally satisfying, and develops motor skills, listening, maths, creativity and music skills.
Puzzles are an enjoyable activity for children to develop their emerging skills. It is a great ‘quiet’ activity to do together.
Save old calendars and cereal packets to create simple puzzles. Cut up into 3 or 4 or more pieces and get children to put back together as a whole. The older the child the more pieces and variety in the way you cut the pieces/shapes.
Children develop their language, problem solving and maths skills through using puzzles and can be supported to develop their persistence trait. Puzzles are also are a fun way for children to develop and refine their fine motor skills.
Learning can be made easy with puzzles.
Children love the excitement of growing and looking after a plant. Start small (container plantings) and watch your child’s reaction!
‘Plant the seeds’ of growing things with your child by keeping the tops of carrots and putting them onto wet cotton wool. Keep watered and watch the green top grow!
Another idea is to put the roots and small part of the spring onion bulb in water and watch it begin to grow, transfer to the garden (or a container) and watch as it produces growth you can eat! Sow watercress in a glass or see-through plastic container and watch it sprout on the window sill.
Create a little garden outside that is your child’s to water and nurture. Gardening can be a messy activity, so be prepared with old clothes. And don’t forget to be sun smart outside!
Children are learning about the science of plants and the earth, and about taking care of living things. They can create labels to put next to what have been planted, developing their literacy and language skills.
Recycled items from around the home & garden can be turned into sculptures with a little imagination. The value of a child’s art lies in the ‘doing’ not the end result.
Use cereal boxes, yoghurt pottles, egg cartons, paper towel tubes and other waste /recyclable material to create animals, buildings, people or a freeform sculpture. Explore the garden for sticks and leaves.
Rolled up paper and cellotape can also be used to create figures and freeform sculptures. Let your imagination run free!
Gluing and sticking help to develop small muscle control and hand-eye co-ordination. Being involved in a creative activity is great form developing problem solving skills as well as their imagination.
Children love to learn and reading to your child everyday helps them to develop their speech and communication skills. It grows their imagination and their understanding of the world.
Reading together and having a routine will build and grow the relationship with your child. As your child gets older give them the responsibility to choose the books and bringing them to you. Hold the book so that they can see the pictures as you read and point. You can also make simple books from photos or pictures from magazines and encourage your child to point to familiar faces or pictures. Books can be linked to chanting, adventures and make believe.
Reading brings you close together as you share attention, building your child’s language and reading skills. Through repeated storytelling their brain is learning to anticipate what will come next. They learn how to hold and turn pages through watching you.
Pretend play (Imaginative play) is any activity that requires children to think for themselves to create entertainment and fun. How can you encourage your child’s play?
Encourage children to think creatively and use their imagination with everyday objects around the home e.g. the vacuum hose can become a fire hose, or the chairs lined up to be a car/bus, a remote control can become a phone.
What other items in your house can become something else? Create opportunies for exploration and creative thinking. Act out favourite stories and encourage your child to think up other storylines.
In pretend play children get the chance to explore what it feels like to be someone or something else. They are creating their own theories about the world and people in it.
This supports their cognitive and social development, develops their imagination and problem solving skills along with many other aspects of their development.