The science of play

It’s not just fun – it’s fundamental to your child’s development

UNICEF
Jovana and Daria play together (Serbia).
UNICEF/UNI220316/Pancic
12 February 2022

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Did you know your child’s brain develops more in the first three years of life than at any other time? That’s a lot of growing! The good news is that one of the best ways for you to support your child’s development is actually quite simple and fun for both of you.

On the surface, play may seem like it’s all about having fun, but it’s far more than that for babies and toddlers. It’s about learning and building important life skills – from problem solving to expressing ideas – and strengthening the bond between you both. After all, you are your child’s first teacher and playmate! We teamed up with the LEGO Foundation to explore the science behind how you can help your child grow and develop during these playful interactions.

When she’s building a tower, she’s practicing physical skills

Stacking objects helps her to understand movement and space through practicing sensory-motor skills and developing spatial understanding. This skillset is important for nurturing a healthy, active body. Engage with your child by noticing what she is building, making sounds and facial expressions, and taking turns adding objects to the structure – see how high you can go!

 

When he’s making silly sounds, he’s building social skills

Little ones naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions and gestures. Paying attention to your child, naming what he is doing, and responding by adapting your gaze, voice and movement helps to build and strengthen neural connections in his brain that support the development of communication and social skills. This kind of give and take also strengthens the bond between you and your child.

Learn more about baby talk

 

When you’re playing hide-and-go-seek with objects together, she’s building cognitive skills

Working on a challenging (but fun!) task like hiding and finding household objects helps your child to practice concentration, problem solving and flexible thinking. She’s learning to tackle complex tasks and build effective strategies to overcome obstacles. If your child seems frustrated at any point, provide helpful hints but let her reach the solution on her own.

3 fun ways to practice problem solving with your child

 

When he sings and dances, he’s building emotional skills

Understanding, managing and expressing emotions by building self-awareness and handling impulses is vital to your child’s emotional development and lifelong well-being. Singing and dancing is a great way to express and let out feelings! Make it a bonding activity by and singing or dancing along.

How music affects your baby’s brain

 

When she draws from her imagination, she’s building creative skills

When your little one is sitting down and drawing her own world on paper, she is expressing her ideas and transforming them into reality. Once she’s finished, have her walk you through the world she’s created and ask questions about what you see.


The good news is that children don't need expensive toys to play and learn. In fact, you probably have at home all the things you need to create a fun and engaging game with your baby.

Here are 7 toys you can make at home to help get you started and here is how you can turn everyday routines into learning opportunities.

Have fun!