By Dani Peipert

What is play?

Play is how children learn and make sense of the world around them as they begin their journey in life. Play is the building of foundations for children’s understanding of how things work, both on a physical level and an intellectual level.

Each child with their own unique brain spends the first years of their lives sorting out what it is and how they experience the world around them in their own ways. All forms and ways of play are all equally valid and important.

Play is also the way that children build their strength, their muscles and the neural pathways to connect all of this together to be able to interact and move through the world.

This might help explain why children will much prefer to play with your belongings and household items over the flashy, colourful toys that you’ve spent a fortune on…or even the cardboard box they came in. They are surrounded by an abundance of stimulation all day so being able to break this all down and understand it through play is vital to their development.


Object Permanence

One of the first concepts a child spends a lot of energy on understanding is object permanence. Object permanence or people permanence is the comprehension that even if you can’t see something it still exists. This directly correlates with separation anxiety. Eg. I can’t see mum, therefore she is gone and I’ve lost her, but with the understanding of object permanence then they can learn this not to be true.

Supporting them through play to gain insight and understanding that something or someone still exists even though it is not directly in their line of sight/in their hands will be hugely beneficial to both them and your mental health!

Peek a boo is a perfect example of answering the question of what is play? To an adult you are being silly and making them laugh.

For the children this is their first introduction to people permanence. Their brains are working to make the connections and understanding that after they lose sight of you, you come back and you smile and laugh and that is happy and funny and safe. They are creating pathways in their brains that tell them that when they can’t see you, you are in fact still there, you still exist, and you still love them. Wiring their brains to comprehend you come back and that they can call for you and you will answer.

From people permanence to object permanence; how do we create play for the children to practice this concept without needing you involved necessarily? In short, Peek a boo and hide and seek with toys!

The easiest option using what you already have is a cardboard box! Yep thats it! Posting things into a cardboard box that they can open and find them again. If you want to make it a little fancier you can build an exit ramp into your box (an object permanence box) so that whatever is posted comes back out on its own but both create similar learning opportunities.

How to make an Object Permanence Box in 5 minutes


Step 1: Find a cardboard box whose size fits with the object you will be posting into and cut off, but save for later, one of the flaps. (larger object = larger box)

Step 2: Seal the box on 3 sides and cut off the flap on the 4th side. (Horizontal or Vertical is up to you and the stability of the box to stand up)

Step 3: Cut an opening across the sealed back above the side that has been left unsealed. (This will be your exit point)

Step 4: Take the flap that you cut off in step two and stick it inside of the box in the exit you created in step 3 to create an internal exit ramp.

Step 5: It’s now time to cut the posting holes. Cut them according to the size of the object and cut as few or as many as you like. (the holes can be on the front, back or both it is completely up to you but i would recommend with younger children to start with the exit on the same side as the holes so that the object comes straight back  into their line of site after its been posted.)

Step 6: Stand your box up so that the exit is at the bottom and the posted object can fall down and out along the ramp back into the view of your child.



SAFETY WARNING: If an object is small enough to fit in YOUR mouth then it can get into a child’s mouth. Even when your are sure your child won’t put it in their mouth they could so don’t take chances. Always make sure that any object you give them to play with small enough to be mouthed entirely has emergency breathing holes in them.



Examples of objects to use from around the house:

Yoghurt/puree pouch lids

Large jar lids

Paddle pop sticks

Duplo blocks


Jenga blocks/building blocks

Rolled up socks

Tennis balls

Practice golf balls


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