Playtime Is Serious Business for Kids

young girl playing with dad and tissue boxes

When a baby bats at a mobile overhead, a toddler stacks blocks and knocks them down over and over or a preschooler dresses up like a firefighter and battles an imaginary fire, they aren’t just having fun, they are learning. And all young children need time to play and learn as much as possible.

As Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First (FTF) reminds parents that all children explore and make sense of the world around them through play. In fact, research shows that play has a positive impact on everything from physical abilities and vocabulary to problem solving, creativity, teamwork and empathy.

FTF supports parents in their role as a child’s first teacher with a wide range of information available at Parents can also use FTF’s Find Programs, an online tool, which can connect them with a variety of no-cost early childhood programs in their local area to help nurture their child’s learning and healthy development. The website also features an entire page of information related to playtime as learning time.

In fact, playtime is such an important part of healthy development that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report urging pediatricians to prescribe play for children in their care. “Play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive,” the report said.

Some of the best toys for babies, toddlers and preschoolers that allow them to explore, discover and learn are everyday household objects. With babies, it’s as simple as grasping an object and holding on to it. Families can focus on introducing objects that stimulate curiosity. Babies are fascinated by their surroundings, especially faces and bright colors. You can use something as simple as a small, lightweight scarf to play peek-a-boo. Learn more about scarf play.

For toddlers between 1 and 3 years old, look for objects that encourage imagination and problem solving. They enjoy playing hide-and-seek with different objects. As a toddler, your child may begin to arrange objects, which eventually turns into sorting and classifying them. This allows the child to develop thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

For preschoolers from ages 3 to 5, look to use objects that will help preschoolers relate to each other and the world around them. Encourage their imagination by creating a pirate’s telescope using a paper towel roll, for example.

Here are five suggestions for using everyday household objects as toys to promote early learning:

  1. Tape together two toilet paper rolls to create binoculars for a game of I Spy.
  2. Babies love to hold whisks, and as your child gets older, you can use a whisk in the bath to swirl the water or make patterns in the sand.
  3. Depending on the size, cardboard boxes can be used in a variety of ways. Facial tissue boxes make excellent building blocks to build towers.
  4. Fill a screw-top plastic water bottle with pasta or beans to make a shaker. Or use them as bowling pins, to knock down with a ball.
  5. Laundry baskets can be used to throw rolled-up socks for a game of bean bag, or have your child use their imagination to sit inside and drive a car or steer a boat.

To encourage imaginative play at home, parents and caregivers only have to look around the house to keep little ones entertained and learning. For more information, sign up for FTF’s monthly parent newsletter at

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