Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Kids and physical play

5-minute read

Why do children play?

Play is important for children’s development and learning. Knowing how you can support your child's play, including how to help them identify and manage risks, goes a long way to helping them grow and thrive.

Play is how children learn – it's through play that they imagine, discover, create, test ideas and form social groups.

Play helps your child:

Play gives children a supportive environment in which to ask questions, solve problems and understand more about their world. It is crucial for their brain development.

What are the different types of play?

Unstructured, free play is the type of play that 'just happens'. It isn't planned, and it is driven by whatever your child finds interesting at the time. Common examples include making cubby houses, playing dress-up or exploring new spaces.

Structured play is organised and happens at particular times. Common examples include dance or swimming classes, library reading groups, or sport.

The way your child plays will change as they get older. They will play for longer, become more creative and might play alongside or with others.

At different ages, children enjoy different forms of play:

  • Babies like talking, singing, smiling and spending time together – the best toy for your baby is you.
  • Toddlers enjoy boxes, balls, music and anything that stimulates their curiosity and encourages movement and exploring.
  • Pre-schoolers like puzzles, drawing, playdough, dress-ups or anything that encourages thinking and creativity, while things like music and balls are great for getting your child moving.
  • School-age kids enjoy rhymes, riddles, cooking, home-made obstacle courses, and objects for building and creating their own games.

Is it ok for children to have rough-and-tumble play?

Rough-and-tumble play activities like wrestling, rolling and climbing are fun and help your child develop lots of skills. Rough play lets them test their strength, move their bodies in new ways, and learn about personal boundaries and taking turns.

Sometimes it can be hard to know if rough-and-tumble play has become more serious. Usually, in rough play, children will still smile, laugh or show excitement. But if you notice fear, anger or crying, it might have gone too far. It's a good idea to set some rules about what is and isn’t OK during rough play, to give children some guidance on how to play roughly.

Rough-and-tumble play ideas

Some 'rough' play ideas for babies and toddlers include exciting movements, like tummy time, bouncing your child on your knee or lifting them into the air.

Dancing, chasing and spinning around are all great ways to play ‘rough’ with your toddler.

Primary school children might like more physical activities, like wrestling or play fighting.

Are there any risks when children play?

Risks are an essential part of play – they help children understand their limits and test their boundaries. There is a difference between a hazard and a risk. A hazard is something your child doesn't see, whereas a risk is something they are aware of and can work out how to negotiate.

For example, a hole in the ground that your child doesn’t see is a hazard – they might trip over it. A hole in the ground that they see is a risk – they are aware of the hole and can adapt their play because of it.

When risk is removed from play, children don't get an opportunity to learn how to do things for themselves, such as knowing what their bodies are capable of and how to stop or say no.

You can help your child negotiate risk, by praising their efforts and talking them through any physical challenges they face. This will help them test themselves and build their skills.

Is outdoor play good for children?

Playing outdoors among trees, dirt, plants and other elements of nature invites risk-taking, exploring and discovery. It enables children to connect with nature and to appreciate their natural environment.

How do I choose toys for my child?

Toys are useful tools for helping your child play and understand the world around them. They don't have to be expensive, but they must be appropriate for your child's age.

Can my child watch television?

Australia’s National Screen Time guidelines suggest these screen time limits per day:

  • no screen time for children under 2 years old other than video chatting
  • no more than 1 hour for children between 2 and 5 years old
  • no more than 2 hours for 5 to 17-year-olds (recreational screen time)

You can find more information on your child's development here.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021


Back To Top

Read more

Playing with your child

Play is one of the ways children learn about themselves and others. Play also encourages children to use their imagination and helps build a range of valuable skills..

Playing with your toddler

Play is an activity where children express exploration, imagination and decision making. Toddlers need play to support their emotional, physical, cognitive and literacy development..

Need more information?

Physical activity in children and teenagers - MyDr.com.au

Encouraging kids and teens to be more active is not always easy. Try to find physical activity that your kids enjoy.

Read more on myDr website

Physical activity: getting kids involved | Raising Children Network

Getting children involved in fun physical activity keeps them healthy and well. It starts with free time to be active and different activities to try.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Getting active at home and in play

Any kind of play that increases your child’s heart rate and makes them huff and puff is going to help them be healthier, both now and as adults.

Read more on Healthy Eating Active Living NSW website

Physical activity for school children | Raising Children Network

Trying different sports helps school-age children work out what they’re good at. Doing physical activity they enjoy and are good at keeps them interested.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

7 ways play is beneficial for kids' health | Queensland Health

Playing benefits a child's physical, emotional and intellectual growth.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Screen time for kids

Read more on Healthy Eating Active Living NSW website

How to make reading stories more interesting for your kids | Novita

Helpful Information Helpful Information | Tags: Reading How to make reading stories more interesting for your kids access_time3min read Do your kids fuss and complain when you want to read to them? Do they struggle to pay attention? Does it turn into an argument or a fight to get them to sit still? Try these 5 top ideas for engaging your kids in reading activities that don’t involve sitting still

Read more on Novita Services website

Rough-and-tumble play with kids: video | Raising Children Network

This short video is about rough-and-tumble play like chasing and wrestling. Rough play is good exercise and helps children learn how strong they are.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Physical activity for children: how much | Raising Children Network

How much physical activity do children need for health and wellbeing? Children aged 1-5 years need 3 hours a day. For kids aged 5-18, it’s at least 1 hour.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Sport: encouraging a good attitude in kids | Raising Children Network

Kids and sport – it’s a great mix. You can encourage your child to be a good sport by role-modelling a positive attitude and praising your child’s efforts.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.