Playing is of vital importance for the young child for development in the social realm, cognitive development, bodily co-ordination and ability, and for emotional wellbeing.[1] After the first year and a half of learning to stand upright, play becomes the new main task in a child's life. In play the child repeats and imitates what she experiences around her, she creates experiential learning situations, interactions and negotiations with others, and very importantly, she learns to concentrate on an activity and complete projects. Today's often hurried lifestyle can be stressful for children and can frequently rob the child of precious playing time. It is important to leave children time and create situations where free play is possible.

     “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” Kenneth R. Ginsburg [2]

If the child is restless, it can sometimes be helpful to fully engage yourself in an activity of your own and allow the child to participate if he wishes. Or you can start a play activity with them for a moment, for example by putting pinecones in a basket, bringing out a pot with a lid and a wooden spoon, or putting dolls in their bed, to create interest in toys or what is there.

What toys best serve play? The first years, the sensory, real, natural world holds plenty of interest for the young child's exploration needs. Natural materials are full of varied textures that offer a much broader world of discovery and experience than plastic toys, as well as generally being more beautiful and aesthetic. Many toys made today for the young child are very loud, visually as well as audibly, and often limited in their play function and interpretation. For your own sanity as well as the child's play abilities, you may try to avoid battery-operated toys that dictate what they are, or have a very limited function. The simpler and the more open to interpretation the toys, the more a child can develop their own interests and imagination and use the toys in manifold ways. For example, a small piece of cloth can be a blanket, a hat, a tablecloth, a duster, a big piece of fabric can be a river, a roof for a house, a drape for a throne... Found things like a piece of driftwood, chestnuts, and pine cones are wonderful to transfer from one container to another, dump out and pick up. Use wood or metal containers from the kitchen with a wooden spoon to make 'pinecone soup' or outside, use different containers to pour water in, or sand. You can make or find simple dolls made of cloth with non-expressive features that leave more up to the imagination, such as Waldorf dolls, and find wooden figures or rolling toys with gentle shapes and few details.

How can we encourage play? Having toys be on shelves, visible to the child, make them much more accessible to young children than having them hidden in a basket or box. It is sometimes helpful to engage with the toys oneself and place them or put them away gently and with respect. Little children especially like to participate in saying goodnight to the toys by putting each one in its place: "Goodnight little box, goodnight chestnuts, let's put you in your bowl, goodnight cow..." 

Young children are very happy to be able to engage in what an adult is doing, they love to have tasks and work to do. A child of two will likely want to imitate or join in everything we do. Though it requires more patience, we can support the child’s interest by providing her some way of helping if possible. For example, giving her a sponge for washing dishes with you, a small broom for sweeping time, or have her give you clothes to hang up to dry or to put in the washing machine.

"Play is a wholly absorbing activity from which logic, social skills,

memory, fulfilment and values are derived. It is not a negligible aspect of human development, to be relegated to a leisurely pursuit, but in fact lies at the root of our nature. Play encompasses humour, art, bodily wellbeing, human relationships, awareness of one's environment and sense of self. It is an indication of mental health. The longer we play, the better we learn." Christopher Clouder and Janni Nicol from Creative Play for your Baby[3]

For examples of waldorf inspired dolls and toys

see the TOYS section in Links

Recommended reading

How to make decisions

The negative effects of media

LINK to Joyful Toddlers


The Vital Role of Play in Childhood - Joan Almon

The importance of play - Rahima Baldwin Dancy

Creating an inviting environment for play - Rahima Baldwin Dancy

Creating a Steiner playgroup - Kim Billington

SUPPORTING SELF-DIRECTED PLAY in Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education - Renate Long-Breipohl

Parenting before TV - Winn


[1] Ginsburg, Kenneth R., MD, MSEd. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics, PEDIATRICS Volume 119, Number 1, January 2007, researched August 2009 <>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Clouder, Christopher and Janni Nicol Creative Play for your Baby Hachette Livre UK Company, London 2007

Butterfly boy by Julia Cairns

The Doll's Supper by Evert Pieters

Two children at the sea shore 

by Mary Cassat

Julia Cairns  - Summer