The Importance of Play

Early childhood research shows that play and learning are inextricably intertwined. Play provides opportunities to promote skills in all areas of children’s development, especially in settings that are supported by confident and informed adults.

Current research from the neurosciences, especially brain research, supports the very important roles of play and supportive parenting in contributing to children’s well-being and development.

Through play, children learn about themselves, about others, about how things work and about their world.  They experience challenges, frustrations, success and the joy of mastery. This is true for all children, including those with special needs.

So how can play help?

Learning through play provides a child with a myriad of opportunities to practise new and emerging skills. These can include:

  • thinking and problem solving
  • developing fine and gross motor coordination
  • experiencing different sensations
  • language and literacy activities
  • attending and concentrating      
  • social interactions, including sharing and turn-taking
  • dealing with emotions and developing empathy, and
  • stimulating imagination and creativity.

New skills and fun by learning through play

Learning through play is an essential component in supporting the development of new skills for children with special needs. It can make therapy sessions stimulating and more effective, while adding the ‘fun’ component to what may be repetitive, yet essential, activities to be practised at home.

Just as importantly, guided play can provide the best environment for learning new language and cognitive skills through the creation of situations that can be easily adapted to the child’s level of development.

Getting along with others through play

For all children, play can help in fostering social competence and confidence, together with self-regulation, or the ability to manage one’s own behaviour and emotions.  Through play, children learn how to negotiate with others, take turns, develop self control and form relationships with peers. Play is essential in learning how to make friends and get along with others.

Creativity and imagination

Play also provides an outlet for creativity and imagination, especially when it is not restricted by conventions and boundaries that can occur when there is a focus on a finished ‘product’ or an expected outcome.

Opportunities to experience nature and natural products add value to imaginative play, as do ‘open-ended’ toys that can be used in whatever way the child chooses.

Helping Children Learn Through Play

Noah’s Ark toy library provides a number of services to help children with special needs and disability learn through play, including:

  • toy library resources
    • therapeutic playgroups for children with disabilities or delays, and
    • community links and information on other services available for young children and families.

Play and our Toy Library

Toys add magic and excitement to learning – they can make an otherwise boring task fun, for both children and adults! And toys are often the motivator to try repeatedly to achieve a goal.

Noah’s Ark has an extensive range of toys, games and equipment in its toy library to meet the developmental needs of children. While some of the resources are available commercially, many specific toys for children with special needs are sourced from overseas and the variety offered provides members with a wide choice and the opportunity to change toys and activities frequently.

Adapted Toys

Of great value to many families is our extensive collection of specialist toys, specifically designed for use by children with disabilities and not available through other toy libraries.

There is a range of switch-operated toys that have been adapted to facilitate use by children with limited physical or sensory skills.

For a child with a disability, access to switch adapted toys can be much more than play. It can provide them with a sense of mastery and enable them, perhaps for the first time, to engage in an activity enjoyed by their peers. It also may be their first introduction to ‘cause and effect’, an important element in any child’s learning.

Experience shows that such special needs resources promote motor skills, support cognitive and language development and facilitate social and emotional experiences for young children with special needs.

The opportunity to practise the skills required to operate a switch toy can later contribute to a child’s ability to operate a computer or mobility device.

Sensory Experiences

Sensory experiences are an important element in all children’s development. Such experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight and sound. The brain organises and interprets this information through the process of ‘sensory integration’, providing a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behaviour.

Noah’s Ark provides a variety of resources which can contribute to increasing a child’s sensory awareness, including gross motor toys which encourage the development of balance and vestibular function.

Sensory toys and activities play a critical role in the development of tactile skills in children with vision impairment. The toy library has a range of appropriate toys for this group, who may also benefit from sensory and motor activities that encourage them to explore beyond their immediate environment and experience different tactile and movement sensations.

Language and Cognitive Skills

The development of language and cognitive skills is critical in every child’s preparation for participation in the community – within the family, at school, in social activities and in adult life.

Noah’s Ark carries a large range of toys in its toy library that are chosen to meet needs in this area from infancy to the teenage years, such as:

  • cause and effect toys
  • construction activities
  • language games
  • and puzzles.

These toys can all contribute to the development of:

  • memory skills
  • the ability to concentrate
  • perceptual skills
  • the understanding of sequences
  • the acquisition of concepts associated with numbers, colours, size and position.

For children with learning disabilities or challenges with language and literacy, the toy library’s range of resources provides a ‘treasure trove’ of learning experiences.

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Underpinning the mature skills of writing, using a computer, playing sport, riding a bike and many other activities, are experience and competency in fine and gross motor skills.  Children’s involvement in early childhood activities contributes to their mastery of more sophisticated tasks as they get older.

The Noah's Ark toy library has an extensive range of fine motor resources to support the development of bilateral skills, hand-eye coordination and manipulation.

There is also a range of toys and equipment, including trikes, balance boards, games and gym balls to facilitate gross motor skills and balance.  Such resources also benefit children with high needs who enjoy the experience of movement and changes in body position provided through gross motor and ‘rough and tumble’ play.

Play Consultancy

Noah’s Ark staff offer families and children advice and demonstrations on how to optimise play opportunities through the use and choice of toys, as well as providing a wide range of toys and equipment for children of all abilities.


Supported special needs resources playgroups are an effective means of complementing a child’s therapy program, while also supporting families and linking them to others in similar situations.

The focus of these special needs programmes is to increase the parents’ capacity to help their child by increasing their knowledge and confidence in the area of early childhood development. Toys and resources for the programme are provided by our toy library.