Claire Russell, Founder of playHOORAY!, is a fully qualified Early Years specialist and children’s play coach, giving parents across the UK the tools they need to create a safe and engaging play environment. As an Early Years specialist, Claire knows first-hand the benefits consistency and engaging play can bring – it’s not only fun but educational, and boosts a child’s speech and language, encourages physical and social development and stimulates the imagination. Children are inspired to be messy and creative and stimulate all their senses through play.

Create a theme for your activities

Playing around a theme can be really effective for young children and can bring all your activities together. Themes such as foods, shapes, colours and space not only help children to get excited, but can also you to think outside of the box. That’s not only with toys etc. but also the things you talk about, read and watch.

Take inspiration from anywhere

“If you’re stuck, grab a book”

It’s amazing what can inspire small minds, from spotting a ladybird on the windowsill to a spilt milk puddle in the kitchen, use everyday items or situations to inspire your play and go with what they are interested in. If your young child is showing an interest by observing and asking questions, why not bring it into your play? If there’s nothing particularly sparking their attention, grab a book or watch an interesting programme that might just get them thinking. Bringing any of those well-known characters into the mix can be really inviting for children to want to play.

Extended activities

If you are investing your time (and energy!) to set up an activity, then use it wisely. For those play invitations that will only keep them for a short period of time, flick the kettle on, keep it simple and let them play. However there are other activities, like pretend role play, that are worth investing your energy in. Once they are set up, they are often those that children return to over period of time. For example, a shop, where children can develop lots of different lines of play, will often be played with over a couple of weeks so set it up and leave it out. If it’s not being played with, just tweak it slightly – change it from a food shop to a pet shop with soft toys!

Always have something up your sleeve

What is it they say in the scouts, ‘be prepared, ’ and that’s just the same for play. Always have in the back of your mind ‘Okay, after this what’s next?’ Have a little plan of activities you can do – something quick, simple, easy to grab and set up. And as always if you’re stuck, grab a book! It can save you and your little ones getting stressed when there is little to do.

Think novelty

Kids love novelty, something new can be super exciting, so let them play somewhere they’ve never played before. Under the dining table, behind the sofa, in the hallway, in the sink, in an empty bath, in your bed, anywhere! Let them take their usual toys and all of a sudden they will think it’s amazing!And the same goes for their toys. Bring outdoor toys inside, take indoor toys out. Add plastic toys to bath time. Move toys from downstairs upstairs, and visa versa. Trust me, it can add a lease of life to old or ignored toys!