“Play is not just about having fun but about taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries.”

Play builds the brain and the body. Play has been shown to support brain structure and functioning, facilitating synapse connection and improving brain plasticity.

Play is also critical to safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, supporting developmental milestones, and mental health.

Depending on the culture to which children grow up, they learn different skills through play.

How does play support child development?

Children learn by exploring their environments and building context from their experiences. Learning thrives when children are given control of their own actions to play.

Prescription for Play: Promoting Play in Primary Care

Pediatricians should encourage play at every well child visit especially in the first 2 years of life. Providers can provide strategies for incorporating play in every day interactions. Explore example strategies provided below.


Tummy time! Tummy time helps build your baby’s neck and shoulder muscles to support sitting, crawling, and eventually walking.

Babies benefit from 2 to 3 tummy time sessions each day for a short period of time (3 to 5 minutes). As your baby grows they will enjoy longer sessions.

Don’t forget to play with your child. Get on the floor eye to eye with your baby. Make faces, wiggle your fingers, slowly move a colorful object in front of your baby’s eyes from about 10–12 inches away.

  • Offer your baby safe objects to mouth. Watch as he gazes at the object that interests him, reaches for it, and then mouths it to figure out what it is!
  • Sing, chat, tickle, count toes
  • Make faces, smile, laugh, roll your eyes or poke out your tongue.
  • Offer different objects to feel – soft toys, rattles or cloth books with pages of different textures are lots of fun to explore.
  • Read to your baby. Don’t be afraid to have fun too! Use silly voices, point out pictures and colors.


  • Let your child choose what to play. Talk about what you and your child are doing during play. Repeat words or phrases many times to help your child learn new words.
  • Turn everyday activities into opportunities for play. Play make believe while cleaning the house; take turns making a story while running errands, sort foods into colors or shapes while shopping.
  • Chunky puzzles
  • Memory-type games
  • Stacking cups or ring stacks
  • Shape-sorters and bead mazes
  • Make your own Memory game using photos of family members or favorite places.


  • Make-believe play such as dress-up, dressing and feeding a doll- let your child lead the story
  • Your child enjoys sorting objects into groups or creating simple crafts. Allow them to sort everyday objects such as kitchen utensils, cardboard boxes, shoes, etc.
  • Simple board games
  • Make a game out of dressing- ask your preschooler to name their body parts
  • Turn everyday activities into opportunities for play. Play make believe while cleaning the house; take turns making a story while running errands, sort foods into colors or shapes while shopping.

Supporting Families

Parents may feel they need expensive toys and experiences for their child. However, children’s creativity and play is enhanced by their experiences with caregivers and their friends. Many inexpensive toys such as balls, puzzles, crayons, and simple household objects are great options for play.

Message to families: Your child loves playing with you. You can find simple items such as crayons, paper, empty cardboard boxes, balls, and others things to play with together.

Families may also struggle finding time to play in between long work hours. Play can be anywhere and for small amounts of time. The quality of time and level of play is most important.

Message to families: Playful moments are everywhere! Make believe while running errands, sort foods at the grocery store, turn cleaning into a game.

Many children do not have safe places to play. Parents wisely choose their child’s safety over outdoor play opportunities.

Message to families: It can be hard to find safe places for your family to play. Lets think of ways to play in your home or find safe places in your community.

Last Updated



American Academy of Pediatrics