IT IS not just child's play. The books and toys available to babies, toddlers and young children really can make a difference to how well they learn in later life.
Reading and maths skills start from birth, with crucial foundations laid in the years until a child is six.
It can be simple things like giving a baby a "touch and feel" book, while toddlers benefit from having a book that fits into their hands.
And books that generate laughter are among the good ideas to promote positive links with reading.
The children's organisation Barnardos has launched a book on how literacy and numeracy development is embedded in the everyday actions, thoughts and communications of babies, toddlers and young children.
The importance of play in education is gaining growing recognition because of its role in developing and demonstrating verbal communications, social and interaction skills, imaginative thinking and problem-solving capacities.
'Early Literacy and Numeracy Matters' is targeted at those dealing with children from birth to six years in settings such as creches and pre-schools, as well as parents.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said helping children to develop the skills of reading and writing and to use mathematics was giving them a tool kit for life.
Barnardos said that if parents are reading to a young baby, they should choose board books with photos of real babies or books with bold, real, clear pictures of familiar items. Babies also like rhythm and repetition and books with textures.
Toddlers should be given small books to fit small hands, and stories with simple rhymes. They appreciate books featuring familiar items and routines.
Books with very few words or novelties like lift-the-flaps can help boost their interest in reading, and they should be given bedtime stories.
When children get a little older they should be read books with stories that generate laughter.
Young children enjoy stories about children that are like them, but should also be read books that introduce children who are different from them.