How To Plan For Play At Home (including free play planner)


Planning for play at school is one thing. Planning for play at home is quite another.

If you are a Stay-At-Home-Mum (like me) then you are really doing TWO jobs.   You are, simultaneously, a full-time nanny and a full-time housekeeper. If you are a working mum, then you are doing THREE jobs and you are now probably so gifted in multi-tasking and organising that it ought to be YOU writing this post! If you are a working mum with twins, triplets, or two children under two, then I think perhaps you are Superhuman and I am in awe of you.

Well, I am merely a SAHM and I only have one child. But, even with my relatively unchallenging family situation, it has taken me a whole year to get to grips with how to manage both my new jobs successfully. By “successfully”, I mean that, once or twice a week, I feel that I’ve managed to do one TINY bit of each job well. When I say “well”, I mean that I was able to finish that tiny bit of that job without being interrupted. Living like this means one has to let go of the need to feel in control of things, which I haven’t found easy.  In fact, I think that has been the hardest part of becoming a mother.  But that is another post entirely…!

Since I have made the choice to stay at home, and T does not attend Nursery or day-care, one thing I feel it is my duty to be in control of is his play (and learning). I want to know that, during the day, he is getting LOTS of independent and structured play. I also need to know that he is getting a balance of activities, across all the areas of learning.

But I’ve found that, with all the laundry, vacuuming, meal-preparing, nappy-changing, recycling, dusting, disinfecting and other tasks to do, I sometimes feel a bit like I am not really doing the mothering/teaching part of my job very well. So, in a shamelessly teacher-esque way, I have taken charge of the situation and made a very simple little Play Planner for the week. It is very similar to one I would use at school, with slight adaptations to make it more suitable for T’s age and stage of development.

How Do Teachers Plan For Play?

You may want to skim over the next few paragraphs if you are an early years teacher, or an experienced parent of over fives.  I just want to try and clarify the sort of play that happens at preschool as I get asked about this a lot.  I hope it doesn’t appear too lecture-like!

  • In Early Years Settings, the majority of children’s play is independent.  This is because there has been a great deal of research (on an international scale) on the importance of independent play for young children’s development.  Children need time and space to explore and learn at their own pace
  • To make sure that independent play is of a high quality and balanced (across all the curriculum areas), practitioners (teachers, nursery nurses, and teaching assistants) have to plan their provision (the toys and equipment they put out for the children to play with) very carefully.  They take time thinking about how to lay out the various resources, with specific learning objectives in mind.  For example, if they are learning about wheels, they might put out different toy vehicles with some paint and paper so the children can explore the marks they can make with wheels.
  • The national curriculum acknowledges that the best way to engage young children is to follow their interests.  All staff are always observing the children closely to see where their interests lie.  They then use these observations to inform their planning.
  • As well as making plans for continuous provision (the toys and activities that will be continuously available to the children in their independent play), they also make plans for structured, adult-led teaching sessions.  These sessions could involve teaching letters, numbers, nursery rhymes or music, art, crafts or science.  As children move through Reception, and grow in maturity and ability, the teacher sessions do become a bit longer, and the day a bit more structured.

But do I Really Need To Plan For Baby or Toddler Play?

Yes!  I think so.  Planning for play will really make your life a lot easier as a stay-at-home mum and will keep things fresh and fun for both you and your baby.  It also helps you to feel confident that you are providing all the experiences your child needs to thrive and progress.  Any teacher knows this, and I am sure there are plenty of teachers reading this who have had play plans up on their wall for their little ones since they were born!

The IDEA sounds like a lot of hard work, but I assure you, it isn’t! The most important thing is getting your resources organised so they are easily accessible and easily tidied away.  This takes time at the beginning, but it’s worth the effort.

How Do I Set Up My House For Play?

Before you plan, I have found it really does help to organise all your resources so that your house is set up for play.  If you are interested in doing this, read this post on how to get started.  I wrote it a while ago, but I have now updated it, as I have changed the layout of my toys and resources in my Play Zones.  I hope you find it useful!

Once you have done this, all you need to do is download my Free Play Planner and my Play Planner Example.

How do I use my Play Planner?

YOU will know best how to fill out your planner, because YOU know your child better than anyone else.  All babies and children will have different interests and will be at different stages of development.  Here are my top tips for planning.

  • Follow your baby’s interests and then fill out what you think they will enjoy and want to explore.
  • Use your resources.  There is no need to go out and buy lots of new equipment.  If you don’t have a water tray, use a washing up bowl, or just use the bath!
  • When planning adult-led activities, think about how they will fit into your day.  You could sing nursery rhymes with puppets whilst getting him ready for his bedtime story, or leave blocks out for him to explore in the kitchen while you make his breakfast (that way you can supervise if he needs support).
  • Pay close attention to your baby’s level of development – try to match your activities to their skills and abilities.  The best kind of learning happens when a child is challenged enough to keep them interested, but the task is achievable.
  • Don’t feel afraid to abandon your plan if it doesn’t suit your child.  The play planner I’ve provided is designed to be simple and flexible.  If it’s not working, scrap it and print out another!
  • Make notes of any resources you might need on a post it or just scrawled at the bottom of the plan to keep on top of things.

Right, I shall stop waffling now, and let you get on with planning your week of Glorious Play!

If you have any questions at all, please feel completely free to comment below and I will answer as soon as I can.  I really value your feedback.

5 thoughts on “How To Plan For Play At Home (including free play planner)

  1. Hi Marianne! Could open the planner, your example and the other one. Help? 😉
    You could always email it to me? I can email u my email by FB messenger? Thanks!!!
    You are amaxing’!!!

  2. Thank you for this, it’s amazing! I’m a SAHM of 15mth old twins and struggle to keep them entertained. The play diary has really made me think about how to use their toys in an educational and structured way. I need to sort out all their toys first and will let you know how we get on! Can I ask if the obstacle course and soft play are at home? If they are, how do you do it? Thanks Gemma

    • Gemma, thank you – I’m glad you’ve found it useful! It sounds as if your twins keep you on your toes :). I literally do not have any idea how you do it with two! I would love to hear how you get on with the toy storage – it’s interesting to see how all my different mum friends have come up with storage solutions to suit all their different spaces. The obstacle course is just something I’ve started doing because he has shown an interest in tunnels. We don’t have a play tunnel, so I just got a couple of side tables and popped a blanket over the top, then put a pile of cushions for him to climb over, followed by rugs with different textures (a sort of sensory obstacle course), the duplo box (he likes to climb on top of things and sit on them) and a sort of ramp made out of cushions leading up to the sofa. He loved it! I think he was excited to see the room looking different and re-arranged too. I’ll do a post on it soon when I get a mo. The soft play is a local place we go to. I always put all his experiences on the planner – at home and outside – because it’s all learning! If you don’t do it yet though, I would highly recommend soft play for 15 month olds as it is a place for them to take risks and explore in a safe environment. T would probably do soft play all day if he could!

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