Playing with a cardboard box and some sticky tape can be just as valuable a learning experience for children as an elaborate day trip to the zoo, according to an expert.

As the summer holidays approach, parents have been reassured there are plenty of ways to aid a child’s development and keep them entertained from the comfort of your own home.

According to Dr Jacqueline Harding, an expert in child development, simple cost-effective play offers crucial developmental benefits as well as driving down levels of stress and anxiety in both parent and child.

As a result, parents who feel they have to spend money to keep their children engaged are being told to ‘relax’, as putting too much stress on digging deep and forking out for expensive outings can place too much financial strain on families.

Dr Harding, who is also an early childhood expert at Middlesex University London, believes simple eye contact and attention is what children crave – from their earliest days with games of peek-a-boo to more advanced play.

While there’s no set time limit on how much one to one play time a child needs per day, it really depends on the quality of the interactions and willingness of the parent to participate.

Dr Jacqueline Harding said: “Why not start by aiming for just 15 minutes of face to face play with your child. Before you know it, you too will be revelling in play with your child for much longer.

“Play is irresistible to the human nervous system and the untold secret about playing with your child is that you too will derive much the same benefits: it’s win – win”.

The insight was revealed as part of the Creating Happy Memories campaign, a partnership between Fisher-Price and support charity Family Action.

Five low-cost activities have been created to inspire parents during playtime at home over the summer as well as small actions that can be taken to help get the most from playing together.

Dr Jacqueline Harding said: “The good news is that what your young child or older children want is social interaction, and that’s free.

“So, first of all, don’t panic if your child says they’re bored, because children will be their best selves during play. Being bored can spark that imaginative streak and start a new play journey.

“A good way of battling boredom is to set your child a challenge – have a challenge per day – to make a robot out of boxes, have a treasure hunt, maybe something sensory based like a bit of gardening, or go to the park or whatever you want.

“Have an itinerary up your sleeve for things to do; write a letter – remember that feeling of writing a letter as a child, how exciting is that when you are posting a letter at four years old?”

Dr Harding also believes creativity has a positive impact on the nervous system, with children experiencing a leap into the unknown with an ‘aha moment’.

She added: “When you’re with children, watch their facial expressions and body language – they tell you what they need.

“They’re telling you, I need to get up and move, I need to run, and I need to jump… I need to do these things.

“There’s a whole variety of play which can help, it’s called malleable play, play with painting, jumping in mud and all that sort of thing.

“But afterwards, don’t expect to have a perfect house – we just have to let go a little bit.”

As part of the Creating Happy Memories campaign, actress and celebrity mum Gemma Atkinson and her three-year-old daughter Mia teamed up with Fisher Price to highlight some simple ways to engage with your child including junk modelling and nature play.

Gemma Atkinson said: “I still remember the games that my parents played with me, and I want Mia to have those memories of us playing together too.

“It’s massively important to play with our children and the resources that go with this campaign gives lots of lovely inspiration and tips for doing this over the summer with low-cost activities that are really fun and packed full of learning opportunities for the little ones.”

Lisa Lohiser, Early Childhood Development expert at the Fisher-Price Play Lab, added: “Research has shown that play equals learning in the early years, and learning is boosted when children play with others, especially a caregiver.

“Through purposeful play you can help your child learn new things and reach their highest potential while bonding with them – there is no right or wrong way to play by being present engaging with your child you can’t go wrong, no matter what kind of play they are engaging in they are growing.

“A child’s environment and what is available to play with does affect the ability to play, so having access to things like a variety of toys, their peers, and caregivers changes how they engage and experience it.

“Engaging in different types of play, such as exploratory, role play or block play is also important to whole child development.”

To access the Creating Happy Memories play resources please visit:

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