The psychology of play with baby and child


What is play? How does it benefit infants & children? The Psychology of Play explained

Come and play!


Play is fundamental to learning. It contributes to cognitive, social, physical and emotional well-being and therefore is essential to development (1). Through play the child explores their environment and tests out their skills and abilities. The child also learns that they have some effect and control over their environment through their actions, build communication skills and relationships with their caregiver and gain social feedback.


In sum, some of the many benefits of play are:

  • A great list of the many benefits of play for babies, toddlers, children!
    Physical skill development (fine and gross motor skills) e.g. through sorting blocks, putting objects in and out of a container
  • Develops language skills – Research (2) suggests that play incorporates many of the socially interactive and cognitive elements known to enhance language, especially “guided play” (parents follow child’s lead while scaffolding the interaction, rather than “free play” where play goes wherever child wants)
  • Develops communication and social skills – e.g.sharing, taking turns (with older children), social communication with other children and adults, negotiation skills
  • Understanding of cause and effect relationships – e.g. testing out a toy to try and understand how it works (3)
  • Relationships and bonding
  • Awareness of self in environment – control and ability to make decisions and direct the play
  • Self expression – of choices, wants, needs – experience of these being recognised by another person and learning their influence on the outcome
  • Creativity and imagination skills (1)
  • Independence – e.g. when playing on own and entertaining self
  • Benefits for parents: Observing or joining in child-driven play gives opportunity to see the world from their child’s perspective, especially with younger children who cannot talk yet – they might be able to express their views and frustrations through play . Learning to communicate more effectively and gives another setting in which to offer nurture and guidance (1)


How to support your child during play – what parents can do:

Scaffolding; a psychological learning approach, zone of proximal development. Vygotsky

“Scaffolding” learning

Playing alone can be important – it might help the child develop confidence and independence skills, and at other times you (the parent or caregiver) might join in. I remember my toddler when he was a bit younger went through a stage when he didn’t want me to interfere too much in what he was doing and communicated this to me by making annoyed sounds and taking the object(s) we were playing with away from me. For example, if we were trying to sort shapes and I tried to “help” him he’d say waarrah and get annoyed. So I stopped. But, he still wanted me to sit with him. This made me think of the concept of:
  • Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky)

  • This is about what we can do with the help of others, that we could not do alone.
  • The support and interaction with others helps develop skills, learning and understanding in the area the child is trying to develop.
  • Here’s a brief page explaining zone of proximal development and scaffolding


The Psychology of Play with baby, toddler and kids - the benefits and more!

This is a learning model that actually applies to learning over the lifespan and is relevant us as infants, children, teenagers and as adults, across contexts from school to work. For example, a teacher or supervisor at work might refer to this concept when assisting the learning of a student or less experienced employee.
  • The teacher or supervisor can provide “scaffolding” to support the child’s developing knowledge, skills or understanding of the area they are trying to master.


In general, a consistent and predictable parental approach is beneficial

  • Encourage curiosity when playing together e.g. asking – where did that ball go?
  • If baby is exploring and experimenting comment on what they are doing. If they’re not quite getting something “right” e.g. stacking the wrong size block and it keeps falling off – try a comment to acknowledge their hard work and motivation such as “I can see you’re trying to stack those, it doesn’t look like that one fits does it?” – and maybe try scaffolding their attempts by suggesting another block or holding the blocks so they don’t fall to maintain baby’s interest and perseverance.

Get Creative! The Psychology of Play with baby, toddler and kids - the benefits and more!Get creative

You don’t need fancy expensive toys for play or to aid development. This study here (4) discusses the possible benefit of every day items and furniture that can support gross and fine motor skill development (being mindful of risky items or dangerous situations)

Toys, appliances, and even a sofa and coffee table can impact the way or when a baby first crawls, walks or achieves other growth milestones… the significant role household items play in their infant’s motor skill development.


‘What does a toy or a coffee table do?’ Well, depending on the space between the couch and the coffee table, it could be the first distance that the child wants to cross… If a toy is cranked and pops up, the child might want to go grab it, which could lead the child to walking. But the challenge is the thing that stimulates that child to begin walking.

Get Social

And of course, another free and thrifty play option is the local playground or park, where you can hang with your other parent friends and benefit from some conversation normalising the trials and tribulations of parenthood… Outdoor Play! The Psychology of Play with baby, toddler and kids - the benefits and more!




  1. Ginsburg, K. R. (2007).The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. PEDIATRICS Vol. 119 No. 1, pp. 182 -191. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full
  2. Weisberg, D. S., Zosh, J. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Talking It Up: Play, Language Development, and the Role of Adult Support. American Journal of Play, 6 (1), pp. 39-54. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1016058.pdf
  3. Schulz, Laura E., and Bonawitz, Elizabeth. (2007). Serious fun: Preschoolers engage in more exploratory play when evidence is confounded. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1045-1050.
  4. P. M. Cacola, C. Gabbard, M. I. L. Montebelo, D. C. C. Santos. Further Development and Validation of the Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development-Infant Scale (AHEMD-IS).Physical Therapy, 2014; 95 (6): 901 DOI: 10.2522/%u200Bptj.20140011

Developments and progress at 1 year old – baby’s 1st birthday

Typical baby development at 12 months old - psychological, physical, social. We are one year old, happy birthday baby!

Happy Birthday Baby! You’re now one. Time has gone so quickly!


So what has he been up to?
In the week or so before his first birthday he’s
  • Spoken his first word, taken his first steps (although the steps have not been repeated since then, grrr)
  • Appears to understand more words and basic instruction, e.g. can you put this in the box (or maybe it’s just fluke each time). Can say “up”, kind of say “moo”, knows the cow says moo, knows the chicken says “bukkarr” and can say his version of a chicken sound, might have said “book” but i’m not 100% sure, say dada, has said “hi” a few times.
  • We have two new teeth coming through – he has 8 already so this will make 10.
  • He can nod his head, wave hello and bye bye and wave this if you ask him to say bye/hello
  • He can play ball by rolling it to me (though not completely accurately)
  • His concentration during reading has improved and he can sit most of the way through a baby book.
  • He eats a lot of finger food and cut up “regular” food, such as pasta, sandwhiches, cheese, basically meals and food that I feel to the toddler (nearly 2.75 years old) but with extra attention to salt content. However, saying that, now that he is one he could have a little more salt in his diet. The NHS write:
The maximum recommended amount of salt for babies and children is:
  • up to 12 months – less than 1g of salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)
  • 1 to 3 years – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)

What are general developments and milestones at 12 months?

You can find a useful birth to five development timeline here, from the NHS. According to this timeline:
  • 10-18 months, baby usually walks alone
  • by 12 months, responds to their own name
  • 12-18 months, takes an interest in words


There is also useful information on development across a range of areas here from the CDC, including social/emotional, language/communication, cognitive and physical developments:
  • Plays games such as peek a boo, can hand you a book if they want a story, repeats sounds to get attention
  • responds to simple verbal requests and follow simple directions e.g. pick up the (item)
  • can bang two things together
  • moves into a sitting position without assistance, cruises/pulls to stand, may take a few steps, may stand alone


For further reading on development in young children, have a look at this article “Children under three years: the time of their lives” (M. Dowling), a free resource from the British Association for Early Childhood Education (more resources found here). It discusses areas of progress, important social and attachment related elements, cognitive and emotional development and more.


Psychology Resources & Links – Parenting, Child, Mental health & Wellbeing

Psychology related worksheets, resources, psychoeducation – and links to other sites that provide valuable resources along these lines including self help resources and information.


Links to external resources:

Psychology Tools(http://psychology.tools/)

  • Provides free resources for therapists, including worksheets to download, psychological models, translated resources, and welcomes resource contributions from everyone. Psychology Tools was set up by a clinical psychologist in 2008 “as a way to develop and share materials useful to psychological therapists”. I have made use of this website for several years.


Get Self Help – (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/)

  • “Self Help & Therapist Resources”. A good resource for psychological education sheets, worksheets, therapy and self help related materials. Provides information for self help, therapists, trainees, mental health professionals. I have been using this site for helpful worksheets and inspiration for, hmm probably about 5 years!


NHS self help leaflets


Centre for Clinical Interventions

  • Has a number of resources for mental health practitioners including therapist manuals, brief information sheets and worksheets covering a range of topics including depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, unhelpful thinking styles, self-esteem, eating disorders, generalized anxiety and mindfulness, panic, sleep, procrastination, pperfectionism
  • Sheets include resources such as thought diaries, goals records, core beliefs worksheets, to name a few
  • There are also downloadable packs for “consumers
  • Downloads are well and neatly presented, illustrated, and contain many examples to explain and illustrate the points they present
  • Please read their full disclaimer if you are interested, for example they write that the information provided in the information packages is intended for information purposes only…. “information packages are not meant to treat depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder or any other mental illness….the information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional…”[more]


Mind – for better mental health – charity – information and support

  • Information on types of mental health problems, treatments, helping others, legal rights, tips for everyday living guides to support and services, and helplines
  • Helpful resource on A-Z mental health


The Compassionate Mind Foundation

  • Set up in 2006 the Foundation aims to promote wellbeing through the scientific understanding and application of compassion”


The Counselling Directory

  • Useful directory and search engine for finding a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist near you (UK)



The British Psychological Society – Careers Resources

  • Information about careers, education and training in psychology from the BPS


General Links

Links to a range of pregnancy/parenting/baby/child related information

(I am not affiliated with any of these sites / resources; they are just some options that I’ve come across that you might find relevant)


General pregnancy and baby guides

  • A general pregnancy and baby guide from the NHS website –  I looked up many issues and queries during my pregnancy and first few months of LL’s life here.  Pages include short videos on many topics.
  • Pregnancy related questions – From the NHS website. covers issues including food and drink during pregnancy, pre-conception, travel during pregnancy, labour, and more.


Information for parents

  • The Start 4 Life website – There is a range of information on the Start 4 Life website including on breastfeeding, introducing solids, and sections relevant to Mums, Dads, Babies and Professionals. You can also sign up for weekly emails




General activities, play and learning ideas/tips

There are so many sites and resources out there that detail creative and helpful play and activity ideas. These are just a few that i’ve come across and have probably pinned ideas to the Baby Brain Pinterest board. I have no personal or professional connection to any of the boards or authors, I just liked some of their activities and ideas.

  • The Imagination Tree – a wide range of creative play and learning activities for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and school age
  • Where imagination grows – range of art, craft, toddler and preschoolers activities including playing with light
  • Laughing kids learn – range of sensory play, art&craft, numeracy, science and recipe examples including a zipper board, busy bags, tugging box, with lovely bright and easy to follow pictures
  • Adventures at home with mum – a variety of play and DIY activity ideas including sensory boxes and home made toys, with pictures to illustrate the idea and how baby responds, and nice clear lists of “baby learning concepts” included for the activity such as helps with fine motor skills, developing hand eye coordination, etc.
  • No Time for Flash Cards – site that covers a range of early education and creative play ideas, activities and crafts for kids, including sensory activities, fine and gross motor skills, pretend play, books and reading. You can also helpfully search for activities by age, from infant to school age

Disclaimer: baby-brain.co.uk can not take responsibility for any of the content or advice supplied on any linked to external websites. Baby-brain.co.uk is not affiliated with any of these sites and only links to them as a references source that you may chose to look at for further information if you deem necessary. Baby-brain.co.uk accepts no liability for any consequences arising from the use of any resources made available on this website. Materials referred to and supplied here are intended to be read as interest pieces only, and not as direct advice or in place of guidance and advice from a qualified health care professional who you have consulted with. If you have any questions / concerns / issues regarding your child’s development / well-being, or yours or anyone’s mental health and well-being, please contact your GP, Health Visitor, Paediatrician, Midwife, or other relevant health care professional. Adult supervision is required for any activity featured on this blog. Please decide based on each individual activity if it is appropriate for you and your own child.

Happy Halloween 2015!

Yep, it’s Halloween. Not sure if you’re supposed to wish others a “happy” one, but may it be filled with chocolate and fun, or not, if that’s what you prefer! Personally, I’ve forgotten to buy any sweets or treats so hoping no one comes knocking tonight (otherwise they’ll be presented with an old orange or even an old mince pie, if they’re lucky. I’ve got a few of those knocking around)!
Suppose I had better get prepared for the years to come; lots of trick or treating ahead for the *children*!


Happy Halloween 2015 from Baby-Brain.co.uk. Babies, Psychology, Motherhood

Little Lovely was amazed by the size of this pumpkin we saw outside a shop

Welcome to the new arrival – a new baby


The new baby has arrived! Here’s a few pictures from the first few days. I’ll attempt to update on a few newborn issues.

New arrival - our new baby - newborn issues, labour, birth. Baby-Brain.co.uk

New Baby

Things feel more relaxed the second time around. They kind of have to be because we also have a 21 month old to look after at the same time. I’m still to work out how I’m going to be doing toddler and newborn care at the same time once I’m on my own every day with it. However, it is still very early days.


My brain seems to think the new baby is somehow the first one, but smaller and younger and I was getting slightly confused with names for the first 2 days!


I forgot how painful labour can be (durrrhh). I think “mummy amnesia” is actually supposed to be a real “thing”. I also forgot about all the after-issues, aches and pains; It seems like at first you’re fine, then your body realises you just gave birth and can’t be going around putting the washing on and continuing as usual.


New arrival - our new baby - newborn issues, labour, birth. Baby-Brain.co.uk

Brotherly Love

The first child (LL) seems to be coping very well with the new addition and is not phased. We bought him a new toy and said it was from the baby. He liked the toy. He likes to kiss the baby and takes great interest in him and all his possessions like “baby’s blanket”, “baby’s basket”, and has liked to sit in the Moses basket and baby car seat himself. Hopefully this brotherly love will continue!


Now: a time for adjustment and enjoying.







3 parenting “fails” I feel slightly socially judged and guilty about – but also don’t really care!

3 parenting "fails" I feel only slightly guilty about!

3 parenting “fails” I feel slightly socially judged and guilty about – but also don’t really care!

OK, so there are some things I do that I feel a bit guilty about. I’m waiting for the cognitive dissonance to kick in. I don’t even know if “others” do judge it, or if it’s just in my mind about what’s “bad”. Wonder where I got these views from? Anyway, here’s some things I do that I wonder about (but don’t really think it’s a “fail” – I just wrote that for attention)


 1. Watching television

My child is 18 months old. He was never interested in television in the past but has been able to watch it in the last few months. I can’t remember exactly when this started but when I realised he could be mesmerized by the television and distracted for a few moments it was brilliant (I won’t lie, after giving all my waking time to another, small, person for the previous 12-15 months, this was good). He likes a few programmes such as The Clangers, and In The Night Garden. We don’t watch television that much. Sometimes, it’s at 6am, which is when he likes to wake up, and I’m not awake at all. It’s usually in the evening just after bath and before bed to relax him and so that I can get things ready for bed. It’s sometimes after we’ve been out all day and I need to sit down for a bit and he’ll be occupied.
Interactive television watching is probably better – if I want to feel less guilty I attempt to have a conversation around the programme, asking questions such as what colour is that, or what do you think is going to happen, etc. But also, just sitting together and spending time watching and modelling emotions and expressions can’t be a bad thing, right?


Things I do as a parent I feel guilty about - Placating with food

Have a snack, darling

2. Giving food to placate or stave off further tantrums/crying/grumpiness

So we’re on the busy bus, hot, cold, whatever, busy, screaming, child trying to get out of his buggy straps ALL the time (a recent thing), or he’s tired but refuses to go to sleep. Have a biscuit. Peace for a few moments. I stop feeling the annoyance of all the other bus passengers.



3. Eating in McDonald’s?

Things I do as a parent I feel guilty about - Going to Mcdonalds

Fun times at McDonalds

This is a new thing. I realised they give you balloons, they have free crayons and paper, good highchairs (on wheels!) and sometimes offer to carry my tray while I push the pram to the table. Plus, I like chips (fries) and milkshakes. Don’t worry… he only has a few chips (*gasp*) and then I give him separate food like fruit, a child friendly sandwich etc. And they don’t seem to mind me bringing him in his own food. We also explored the feel and coldness of ice from my drink last time we were there (picture).


So… not really fails, but I don’t feel 100% comfortable with them. But sometimes, they are convenient, and this is probably normal.

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