Babies & Toddlers: Play For Under Twos

"From the time babies are born, they are absorbed in sensory experiences: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing (although, not so well at first), grasping and reaching for what is closest to them – usually Mum or Dad."

• Then, as they grow older and become more mobile, they branch out, enthusiastically exploring more of the environment around them. Their play becomes more imaginative and complex.  Play is their way of learning about themselves and the world.

Importance Of Play For Under Twos

Play (especially between an adult and a child early on) is important for under twos because it –

  • strengthens their bond with adults
  • develops their five senses
  • facilitates their cognitive, physical and emotional development
  • encourages their independence, curiosity and creativity
  • develops their language skills.

Dramatic Play & Under Twos

Before the age of two, children will begin to experiment with dramatic play, first using objects literally (a spoon as a spoon, or a cup as a cup), then symbolically (a hairbrush as a telephone, or a piece of playdough as a biscuit).

They will also imitate adults and begin to enact roles they see in the adult world (such as a doctor or a singer).

This kind of play is important because it helps develop social and language skills; allows the expression of positive and negative feelings; teaches children to negotiate, take turns and resolve conflict; and helps children make sense of the world.

Ideas For Play For Under Twos

Exploring a treasure basket/ heuristic kit (PDF)
Looking at a mirror or photo book (infants love looking at faces, including their own!)
Doing messy play: paint (foot and handprints) or gloop
Making music: wooden xylophone, cage bell, maracas
Looking at a hanging mobile
Playing with playdough
Clapping hands/feet (adult assisted) to music
Playing with sand and water
Playing with stacking toys
Reading/exploring 'feely' books
Pushing around (and transporting stuff in) wooden baby trolley
Playing in a foam-filled paddling pool (careful, though, foam is slippery)
Playing with a rainbow slope
Playing games such as peek-a-boo or Incy Wincy Spider


  • Rather than separating younger children from older ones, find a way to safely integrate them. For example, sit them on a mat bordered by pillows.
  • Talk to babies as you play with them, and encourage their communication.
  • Babies put everything in their mouths, so make sure the toys/props you give them are safe for this (non-toxic and not a choking hazard).
  • Look at what a child is most interested in right now (see schemas) for clues as to the best activity.

Te Whāriki & Play For Under Twos

By supporting under twos in their play, you are promoting their Wellbeing/Mana Atua and Exploration/Mana Aotūroa, which are two of the Strands of Te Whāriki.

To learn more about Te Whāriki, visit the website.

Our thanks to the Auckland Playcentre Shop for permission to use this article. Great play starts here.