Having fun together

Playing together

Play is an important part of their learning and development in the lives of small children. The more fun the activity, the more they will want to get involved. Simple, free or low cost activities, using things you may already have at home, are often the best.

‘It is fun to have fun’ - Dr Seuss

Messy play   

Messy play is often called sensory play. It gives children the freedom to explore a huge range of experiences through touch, smell, hearing, seeing and sometimes taste.  

Many children love messy play and have lots of fun when trying out the activities.  

The benefits of messy play

There are many benefits, including:

  • using hands and fingers develops fine motor control 
  • using different tools provides opportunities for early writing skills 
  • it helps to develop creativity and self-expression 
  • it helps children to manage contact with more unfamiliar textures they might see in food, encouraging a diverse diet 
  • it is a great opportunity for language development as you ask them questions about what they’re experiencing and what it feels like 
  • building pretend worlds is important for storytelling and problem-solving skills 
  • it helps them to learn new body control skills, and develop their balance 
  • it develops maths skills such as timing, sorting, and counting 
  • it helps them internalise ideas about shapes and size 
  • it develops scientific understanding about gravity, problem-solving, and cause and effect 
  • it helps their confidence to explore their natural curiosity and develop a positive attitude to new experiences 
  • it helps them to develop an ability to make their own choices and develop independence 
  • it gives them opportunities to take risks and experiment in a safe environment 
  • it helps them learn how to share, play and take turns with other children. 

Messy play ideas

A few ideas for you to try:

  • mud, sand and water play  
  • combine shaving foam and powder paint in a large bowl or tray  
  • large-scale water play outside, using buckets, jugs, pans and plastic mugs or spoons 
  • making, mixing and playing with playdough. Add colour, essential oils or glitter for a special touch  
  • soap flakes, warm water, a mixing bowl and a whisk  
  • walking on and playing in the sand on the beach 
  • mixing mud pies 
  • jumping in puddles, wellies optional.  

Not every child is naturally attracted to messy play. You may find children averse to the idea, and it may or may not be something you can do anything about.  


Ideas for playing at home

Here are some suggestions for simple, fun activities that you can do at home:

Setting up a shop and playing shops

Find a small space to set up your shop. Decide what sort of shop it will be - a toy shop, a food shop, a jewellery shop. Think about what you will need, a table or box, a money box or till, a sign, a shopping bag. These things are simple to gather or make together.

Look at money and put some prices on the items in your shop, practice counting out coins. If you don’t have coins you could make pretend money or count out shells, pieces of pasta, beans or buttons.

Children will love engaging in any pretend play, be it doctors, vets, café or hairdressers.

Scavenger hunts

Children love scavenger hunts, it gets their brains working and gets them up and about hunting.

There are lots of easy ways to make scavenger hunts at home. We've put a few ideas together for you below.

Ideas for scavenger hunts

Other fun activities

Other fun activities could include:

  • washing dolls and caring for a baby
  • pirate treasure hunts
  • dressing up
  • den building
  • mini beast hunt in the garden or outdoor area
  • baking together
  • junk modelling
  • making musical instruments

Let's get creative

If you and your child making things and getting creative, you could also try:

How to make a pom pom on the BBC Good Food website

How to make salt dough on the BBC Good Food website

Playdough recipe on the BBC Good Food website

How to make slime on the BBC Good Food website

Fun baking projects for children on the BBC Good Food website

Easiest-Ever Biscuits on the BBC Good Food website

How to make bubble mixture on the BBC Good Food website


Whether it is to the beach or to the park, children need fresh air and space to move, they require time to be active and to run around. Getting out on your bike or scooter or just going for a walk is essential. This is a time to notice anything and everything - plants, trees, wildlife, cars, houses, buildings, signs, numbers, letters, sounds, weather, people, animals etc.

Talk to your child and break up the time spent inside. Please remember to follow the latest Government advice while outdoors.

Physical activity for early years (birth to 5 years)


It is important that everyone gets their ‘down time’ from using technology. You should ensure the quality and appropriateness of games and programmes that your child is accessing on their device.

It is also beneficial for you to engage in the learning opportunities that can come through interactive games, stories and songs. Take time to sit together and have a break.

Try to also ensure that time spent on devices is limited and that children have a balance of games, stories, songs and play that do not involve looking at a screen.

'What to expect when'

The parent guide 'What to expect when' is full of fun activities linked to your child’s stage of development. As you know, being a parent is very special and
amazing as you watch your child grow up. It can also have challenges. We hope this booklet will help you to know how your child is developing by highlighting what to expect, but most importantly remembering that all children are different.

Children learn and develop through playing, exploring, being active, creative and being asked questions to help their thinking. This booklet gives you an example of some ideas and tips as to how you can help your child’s learning and development.

'What to expect when' booklet

Helpful links


Link Age Description Cost
Physical development in the Early Years 3 to 5 years A guide to physical development from Famly Free
Messy play 3 to 5 years A family blog about how to get parents on board with messy play Free
Home Time for Children 3 to 5 years Fun stories and activities to keep your child entertained Free
Ready Set Ride 3 to 11 years Ideas to help parents teach their child to ride a bike Free
The Very Hungry Caterpillar 3 to 5 years

Animated story (YouTube)

Parental permission advised to access the site 

The Mixed-Up Chameleon 3 to 5 years

Animated tale (YouTube)

Parental permission advised to access the site