Special Time

So how do I play with my child to help their development?

Create special time. For ten minutes each day -Call it by the most special name there is — your child’s name. So in your house it might be Liam time


  • Choose a time when any other children are being looked after by someone else (unless they are old enough to stay occupied with something.) If you have more than one child, you’ll want to set up a schedule so all siblings know their special time is coming soon.
  • Set a timer for ten minutes. Turn off all phones so you can’t hear incoming calls. I suggest starting with ten minutes because it will seem like an eternity if you aren’t used to being fully present in the moment with another person. Don’t worry, it gets easier, and you do start to enjoy it!
  • Say “Today you get to decide what we will do with our ‘Special Time.’  What would you like to do?”

    Don’t structure Special Time.  This is about following your child’s lead!

  • Just connect to your child and be present!! If he wants to play with his blocks, don’t rush in to tell him how to build the tower.  Instead, watch with every bit of your attention what he is doing. Occasionally, say what you see without interfering:  “You are making that tower even taller….you are standing on your tiptoes to get that block up there. Don’t take control or suggest your own ideas unless he asks.

    Take the pressure off your child to talk –  avoid asking questions or asking your child to ‘say’ certain things  ‘ just play and establish a connection’

  • If he wants to do something that he isn’t usually allowed to do, consider whether there’s a way to do it safely since you are there to help him.  Maybe you always tell him that it’s too dangerous to jump off the chest-of-drawers onto the bed, but for special time you can push the bed next to the chest-of-drawers and stay with him as he jumps to be sure he’s safe.  Maybe he has always wanted to play with his dad’s shaving cream but you weren’t about to let him waste a can of it, or to clean it up.  For special time, you might decide to gift him with his own can of cheap shaving cream and let him play with it in the tub, and then the two of you can clean it up together
  • End Special Time when the timer buzzes.  If your child has a meltdown, handle it with the same compassionate empathy with which you would greet any other meltdown and give him your full attention in his meltdown.  But don’t think of that as extending special time, just as you would not give your child anything else he has a tantrum about, like an extra biscuit. Special time needs boundaries around it to signal that the rules aren’t the same as in regular life.

Remember if its not fun – its not working!

Play and Development in the Early Years

Why are the Early Years important? 

Between the ages of 2 and 6 children’s brains are going through a period of rapid growth.These Early Years are the single most important time to for children to develop and learn about the world.

The Science

Neuroplasticity refers to functional and structural changes in the brain that are brought about by training and experience. (Johnstan et al 2009). At birth each neuron has 7500 connections. these  increase rapidly in the first two years of life until the synaptic connections are double that of an adult brain. During the early years Neuroplasticity allows children to  maintain the skills that are most important and relevant to them and prune other ones away (apotosis)  (Mundkhur 2005).

Research demonstrates that intensive early intervention can alter positively the cognitive and developmental outcomes of young infants (Yoshinaga-Itano, 2001). Learning Language is a skill innate and unique to human beings. The critical period for language learning is between the ages of 2-6. This is why early intervention is so important.

What can I do in the Early Years to support my child?

We know children are dynamic learners. They develop their ability to listen, understand and talk from the events and experiences that are going on around them . The best way to teach our young ones new ideas, concepts and words is through experience and more specifically Play!

Who says?

Many studies have demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretend play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. (Cambridge researcher David Whitebread 2013)

Positive, nurturing and creative relationships are essential for healthy child development. Children need the company of knowledgeable, mature and emotionally balanced adults who fully understand their developmental need. Thats where you come in!

see our post on play – Special Time


  • Johnston MV, Ishida A, Ishida WN, Matsushita HB, Nishimura A, Tsuji M. (2009) Plasticity and injury in the developing brain. Brain Development 31:1–10.
  • Mundkur, N. (2005) Neuroplasticity in children The Indian Journal of Pediatrics Volume 72, Issue 10, pp 855-85
  • Yoshinaga-Itano, C. Coulter, D. Thomson, V. (2001) Developmental outcomes of children with hearing loss born in Colorado hospitals with and without universal newborn hearing screening programs. Semin Neonatol. Dec;6(6):521-9.

Using Experience books to build language development

Experience books are personalised stories, where your child is the main character.

Research  has demonstrated children with speech and language difficulties demonstrated great interest in this type of book, especially when coupled with fun activities.

Experience books provide opportunities for developing new vocabulary, building your child’s confidence and independence and an understanding that words and pictures together can communicate meaning.

There are four main procedures involved

  • Sharing an experience
  • Talking about the experience
  • Making a record of the experience
  • Using the recorded experience for further discussion and stimulation

Sharing an experience

There are lots things you can do to stimulate your child’s imagination and that will also provide opportunities for language learning and development

  • Looking under rocks in the garden and hunting for insects
  • Growing cress from seed
  • Making a craft together
  • Baking or making a sandwich
  • Taking a trip on the bus or train
  • A visit to family or friends house

Talking about the experience

While sharing the experience with your talk to them about

  • What you can you see
  • How things feel (this is a great way to develop early concept vocabulary e.g.   slimy wet dry crunchy hard soft)
  • What it smells like
  • What comes next

Avoid the urge to test your child by asking lots of questions – this is not a test of their knowledge its an opportunity for them to learn about new things!

Making a record of the experience

  • This could be simple drawings photographs tickets that you have collected during your experience.
  • Allow you child to take the lead here and talk about their understanding and memory of your time together
  • You can fill in some of the gaps but allow them to lead!
  • See the following for more ideas of recording your experience
  • PDF

Tell others about your experience

The experience book provides your child with a visual prompt which will help them talk about things they have done throughout the week with different people that they see

  • Nursery staff
  • Grandparents
  • Friends

Your child is likely to remember and to want to talk about experiences that are related to them! You might find your book filled with stories about

  • Spilled juice in their nappy
  • A plaster that fell off
  • Their favourite toy going in the washing machine

There are no rules! And remember, if it’s not fun – its not working!

checkout this amazing link for creating a farm outing experience 

Why is play important?

Play is an essential part of every child’s life and is vital for the enjoyment of childhood as well as social, emotional, intellectual and physical development. When children are asked about what they think is important in their lives,playing and friends is usually at the top of the list.


Play helps children develop confidence, as well as concentration and inventiveness:

• Helps build relationships – when your child is engaged with you they learn to read non-verbal cues. things like sharing enjoyment, making eye contact and understanding body language and gesture

• Promotes feelings of self-worth and competence – Play promotes independence. Its ok for things to go wrong when your little ones are playing. Try not to intervene and let them problem solve for themselves

• Helps children to think independently – Play should be child led. Its the perfect time to develop their imagination, their problem solving and independent thinking

• Expands attention span – children love nothing more than playing with an engaging adult. with practice children will attend for longer periods and improve attention skills

• Encourages language development and communication – Play is the perfect opportunity to develop new vocabulary and support understanding of new concepts. Think about playing with dolly – you can reinforce vocabualry for body parts, clothing, food and drink, as well as teaching concept words around familiar routines like bathtime (wet/dry) and shopping.

• Helps children with imagination – Play is limitless and fun! it teaches us to be adaptable from a very early age, for example when we use a banana as a telephone we use our imagination to make it real. AS children get older imaginatin helps develop story telling skills and thinking creatively about how to solve problems.

• Helps with developing patience – Playing with others means  developing social skills, like taking turns, sharing and winning and losing games. this helps children deal with the emotions surrounding these experiences which will support their social interaction when they get to school.