Helping brain development in young children

Do you know that you can help your child’s brain to develop? Here’s how, from The Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart.

There is increasing evidence that a young child’s environment plays an important part in brain development.
Providing a child with appropriate developmental activities and experiences can lead to an increase in brain cell connections.

By so doing, the child is not only using existing brain cells but these increased connections can actually reshape the brain and enhance the brain’s power to learn and remember new material. Here is a short checklist to serve as a reminder of what parents can do
for their child’s brain development:

  • Provide opportunities for your child to explore and gather information both in your home and outside the home.
  • Give your child many opportunities to develop new skills, such as sorting, putting things in order, comparing, and discovering relationships, such as cause and effect.
  • If your child doesn’t know how to get started on a new task, you can provide some guided rehearsal, but have her become actively involved as soon as possible. She will learn better as an active participant than as an observer.
  • Don’t push if your child’s behavior indicates that a task is too difficult. Back off to a simpler task at which your child can experience success.
  •  Avoid disapproval, mocking or teasing if your child makes a mistake.
  • Talk to your child in simple language to explain new words and concepts.
  • Give praise and encouragement for good effort and celebrate new accomplishments.



The GROWING TOGETHER NEWSLETTER is issued by; GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of: THE LIFESTART FOUNDATION, 2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd., Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363.

The importance of play

Here is another good piece from The Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart

The Importance of Play

It is generally through play that a preschool child learns about the world around her and then assimilates what she has learned into her concept of reality.

Preschool children enjoy three different forms of play: physical, manipulative, and symbolic.
Physical play refers to activities that involve the use of the muscles. These activities emphasize action, and include running, hopping, jumping, climbing, throwing, sliding and playing with a ball.
Manipulative play refers to activities by which a child learns to gain better control over her environment. These activities include the use of puzzles and building blocks (which also require some physical play skills) as well as games that involve social manipulation (“What can I do to make Daddy come to me?”)

Symbolic play involves manipulation, not of people, but of events and objects. These play activities
would include the use of fantasy, pretend play, and nonsense rhymes. In symbolic play, a child can
change events, identities, and emotions for the sake of her play, thereby gaining more complete control over her newly created world. In a child’s life, play has many important effects on development.

Physical development. Play activities that involve physical exercise help to promote a child’s general health. Specific activities that involve, for example, perceptual-motor skills also help to develop the child’s eyehand coordination.

Cognitive development. Through play a young child is able to try out her understanding of how the world works. What we see in a child’s play is not just trucks, dolls, teacups and saucers. It is the child’s cognitive conception of the world as she experiences and understands it.

Emotional development. Perhaps the single most important contribution of play to emotional
development is the role it has in the formation of a child’s self-concept. Play is also a means by which a child can deal with emotional conflicts (for example, by using puppets to talk about hurt feelings).

Social development. In play activities, a child has an opportunity to experiment with different roles,
power relationships, and rules. For example, a young child may tell a doll or teddy bear to “sit in a corner” for some type of misbehaviour. Because young children enjoy play, it becomes a very natural way for them to learn about themselves and the world in which they live.

So, the next time you see your child engaged in play, you will know that she is not just “messing about.” She is engaged in the “work of childhood,” namely, promoting her physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.

Let’s Play Links and Resources

Published: 24 April 2020 From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Here’s a list of some great organisations that have really useful information and resources on their websites.

The Ark

At home arts activities and other creative resources for children.


Helping transform children’s lives through their services; support parents; and challenge society where it fails our children.

Children in Hospital Ireland

Making hospital a happier place for children through play and advocacy.

Cork healthy cities

Games promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, place-making can economic prosperity.

Cork Sports Partnership keeping active at home

Resource from Cork Sports Partnership team and partner organisations to support families to keep active at home.

Creative Ireland

Supporting the mainstreaming of culture and creativity in our lives, our communities and our society.

Early Childhood Ireland

Early Childhood Ireland is the largest organisation in the early years sector, representing 3,800 childcare members, who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, and full day-care provision nationwide.

Help My Kid Learn

Help My Kid Learn is a website where people can see that supporting a child’s literacy and numeracy development is a natural, easy and fun activity that can be integrated into any part of their day, with a dedicated Play Tab.


Activities for children during COVID-19.


The National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

Libraries Ireland

Irish public libraries provide all users with a wide range of free online services including eBooks, audiobooks, eMagazines, online courses and online newspapers.

One Family

One Family is working to ensure a positive and equal future for all members of all one-parent families in Ireland – changing attitudes, services, policies and lives.

Parents Plus

List resources for individuals, families and parents on how they can help themselves and their children during COVID-19 including articles, visual aids, stories and stories specific to COVID-19.


ReCreate online videos of activities mainly using items that can be found at home.

Parenting and Education in Ireland.

You can find out lots of information about the importance of play plus ideas for play on the Let’s Play Ireland website at


The right to play

We might think that play is “just play” but as we can see here in this piece from Let’s Play Ireland so much is going on in play! Children are exploring who they are, what they can do and what the world around them is like when they play. Play is so important that we can speak of the right to play.

The Right to Play

All children have the right to play as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Convention is a list of all the rights children and young people everywhere in the world have. This is recognised by the Irish State.

Article 31 of the Convention says:

“Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says:

“To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more.”

Types of Play

There are many types of play and sometimes play can involve two or more different types of play. When children play they don’t decide first what type of play they will engage with – they just play.

Here’s how Bob Hughes describes types of play in his book ‘A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types, London: PLAYLINK, UK.’

Communication Play

Play using words, nuances or gestures for example, mime, jokes, play acting, singing, debate, poetry.

Communication play used the whole body – from facial expressions, hand gestures, body demonstrating and vocally.

Creative Play

Play which allows a new response, the transformation of information, awareness of new connections, with an element of surprise. This play type is one of the most visual by allowing a child to access loose parts, arts and craft materials.

Deep Play

Play which allows the child to encounter risky or even potentially life threatening experiences, to develop survival skills and conquer fear. This type of play is defined by play behaviour that can also be classed as risky or adventurous. This has important benefits to a child’s development.

Dramatic Play

Play which dramatises events in which the child is not a direct participator. Children may also wish to use make up and costumes in this type of play.

Exploratory Play

Play to access factual information consisting of manipulative behaviours such as handling, throwing, banging or mouthing objects.

Fantasy Play

Play which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way which is unlikely to occur, for example being a superhero or sitting on a cloud.

Imaginative Play

Play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply, for example pretending to be an animal, or having a make-believe friend to being an object, for example a tree.

Mastery Play

Control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments, for example making a dam in a stream, building a bonfire and digging holes in the earth or sand.

Object Play

Play which uses infinite and interesting sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements, for example examining an item and looking into how and why something works.

Recapitulative Play

Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.

Locomotor Play

Skipping, Jumping, playing Chase.

Symbolic Play

A stick is a wand or the grass is molten lava.

Socio-dramatic Play

Enacting real life through play, like playing house or mums and dads.

Social Play

Playing a game together and deciding on rules for that play.

Role Play

Acting a role like driving a train or having a tea party.

Rough and Tumble Play

Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display. This will not involve any deliberate hurting but children should be laughing and having fun.

Children will often show preferences for some types of play over others and that is fine. We just need to make sure they have plenty of time to play. You can find out more at

Let’s Play Ideas

Here is another good piece from the Government website Let’s Play Ireland

Published: 24 April 2020
From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Here are some ideas for play that cost very little:

  • take out frustration by squashing pillows or stamping cardboard boxes until they are flat
  • draw pictures on card and cut them into jigsaw puzzles
  • set up pretend shops, schools, kitchens, banks, post offices, beauty salons, hospitals and cafes
  • collect and sort things to play with in water, supervising young children
  • make dens, shelters and cubby holes
  • play at dressing up, put on shows, make up soap operas and dramas
  • reuse old/dead plant pots to make a small indoor garden, planting seeds and watching them grow
  • invent new board games

There are lots of things around most people’s homes that can be played with. Although you might think play means games and toys, children can play with lots of things that encourage their imagination and ingenuity. For example, things like cardboard boxes or old sheets can be played with in different ways.

Here are some ideas of things you can find around the house for your child to play with:

  • sheets, duvets, pillows, old clothes
  • chairs, tables, cardboard boxes
  • pots, pans, wooden spoons
  • papers, chalk, balloons, paint
  • string, elastic bands, pegs, paper clips
  • tins and cans from the cupboard

You can also offer your child some of the things that are often thrown away or recycled.

Here’s a link to the First 5 parents page for ideas on play and learning for younger children.

Here’s a link to the NCN Play Hub on Facebook for daily ideas on play and activities.

You might want to record this time in your family using the COVID-19 Time Capsule.

Here are great resources from our friends in Play Scotland:

Messy Play Book 1

Messy Play Book 1

Messy Play Book 2

Messy Play Book 2

Loose Parts

Loose Parts

Experimental Play

Experimental Play


The importance of play during a crisis

Let’s Play Ireland is a government-led initiative aimed at promoting play for all children living in Ireland during the COVID-19 emergency. They have some excellent resources available at but here at Parent Hub Donegal we are going to post the individual articles to make them as accessible as possible for you. The first piece in on the importance of play during a crisis.

Playing is central to children’s physical, mental, social and emotional health and wellbeing. Children learn through play while developing resilience, flexibility and understanding of their world. Play in families enriches childhood. All children and young people have a right to play.

Play has never been more important, but during this time please follow the HSE advice on physical distancing and wash your hands. For more information go to

Playing helps children stay physically and mental well. It is an everyday part of a healthy and happy
childhood. Play is just as important during a crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic. It helps your child manage their emotions and maintain a sense that everything is and can be ok.
During a crisis, playing is your child’s way to:

  • stay emotionally healthy
  • stay physically active
  • getting some exercise
  • relax and forget about worries
  • make sense of any new experiences and changes in their world
  • cope with feelings that are difficult or frightening.

Playing at home

A great way for you to support the health, happiness and development of your child during the current crisis is to find ways they can play at home. Making time to play and have fun together is good for your relationship with your child and for your own mental well-being.

Playing can also protect your child from some of the negative impacts this crisis could have.
For example:

  • Playing is strongly linked to creativity – it involves imagination and problem solving.
  • Playing helps young children develop by doing and talking. It is also how they learn to think.
  • Playing may involve your child acting and repeating events – this is one way for them to understand what is happening.
  • Acting their feelings helps your child come to terms with them and feel more in control.
  • Playing allows your child to express anger and frustration safely without harming other people, or without getting harmed themselves.
  • Playing allows your child to develop their own strengths and ability to cope.

Being at home for long periods of time and being physically separated from friends, families, routines and cherished places is a new situation for most of us. Playing is a natural and active process that can help us.

You can download the original pdf here The importance of play during a crisis

You can find lots of information about play in a crisis on and on the International Play Association website here