When young children play, their bodies and brains develop. Playing helps your child feel happy and be healthy. It also builds a great foundation for their future learning, behaviour and health.

The top tip for helping your child prepare for school is this: let them play, play and play some more, right from the start.

Your child’s brain

In the first few years of your child’s life, their brain makes connections at an incredibly fast rate.

Some of the things you can do will really help this process. For example, when your baby is crying or wanting your attention, you will help their brain develop in a healthy way if you respond by making eye contact, cooing or giving them a hug. These are some of the ways communication and social skills start to develop. 

There is no scientific evidence that expensive toys or videos help with these skills. Instead, evidence shows that the most important influence on a child’s early brain development is interacting with caring adults. 

How does play help your child be ready for school?

Play’s most important job is to let your child explore and understand the world through their own experiences, using their hands, bodies, brains and senses (for example, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). 

It can be helpful to remember that the world is full of new things for children. This is why they may:

  • Repeat some activities
  • Spend a long time playing the same game or playing with the same toys
  • Take things apart, throw them or jump on them to see what happens
  • Love hearing the same stories and rhymes over and over again.

What skills and abilities will help your child when they start school?

Playing helps your child develop skills that will help them at school. These include being able to:

  • Use their memory to link bits of information
  • Keep their attention on something when they need to
  • Shift their attention, for example when their teacher asks everyone to come together
  • Cope with distractions – and stick to plans
  • Resist everyday temptations – like taking something they want without asking
  • Cope with everyday stresses.

Your child wasn’t born with these skills, but they were born with the potential to develop them – and play is one of the main ways they can do this. 

What kind of games and play help your child develop the skills they need?

Your child needs a wide variety of play as part of their everyday life. Simple everyday games, fun and play are all they need. Here are a few ideas:


  • Games like peekaboo
  • Imitation or copying games
  • Rhymes, songs and clapping games
  • Talking
  • Looking at books together.


  • Active games
  • Gentle ‘rough & tumble’
  • Exploring outdoors
  • Conversation and storytelling
  • Matching and sorting games
  • Imaginary play.


  • Imaginary play
  • Storytelling, conversations, songs and rhymes
  • Songs and games with movement like musical statues
  • Quiet games and activities like puzzles, cooking and gardening
  • Role play and dressing up
  • Sensory and messy play – for example, playing with water, mud, flour and fabric.