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What I can't parent without: Tips and tricks to make the most of playtime

By Nikolina Koevska Kharoufeh |

"It's as easy as child's play", so the saying goes. However, sometimes child's play seems not so straightforward at all.

As our babies and toddlers get older, their preferences change and parents find themselves doing everything possible to keep them entertained. Let's face it, a quiet 20 minutes to ourselves can go a long way.

To help make the challenge of finding an activity your child will be interested in for a decent amount of time less stressful and costly, we asked 9Honey Parenting readers to share their top tips.

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A quality playmat is a worthwhile purchase. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Wipeable playmat

From tummy time for your newborn to the messy playdough preschooler days - a good playmat is a must-have for the first few years.

When looking for one that will stand the test of time, new mum Sarah recommends you ensure the mat ticks a couple of boxes. It needs to be comfortable with good padding and, most importantly, wipeable!

"I wipe Audrey's every evening so it's clean for the morning," she tells 9Honey Parenting.

While it seems like big expense, Sarah said she had no regrets about her daughter's Luxe at Play playmat, which start from $115 each. Spending that little bit of extra money means the item will be long-lasting and survive even the roughest play.

For those not wanting to splash out, retailers such as Kmart and Big W have a range of playmats for sale, starting from as little as $20.

READ MORE: How to get your baby to settle faster and sleep longer

Usborne touchy-feely books

"That's not my... "?

While mastering playtime at home is important, getting it right while on the go is a whole different challenge. When looking to purchase toys for your kids, allocate some of the budget to things you can bring along on outings.

Stina, mum to three-year-old Cedric, says her little boy was obsessed with the Usborne touchy-feely books when he was younger.

"They are the perfect distraction when we were out and about as he loved exploring the textures and they fit easily into my baby bag," she said.

"My children love these books as they explore the world of words and textures," commented another parent. "A must-have for any beginners library."

From robots to mermaids and everything in between - you'll find every possible interest and topic covered. Not to mention, they'll set you back just $6 a book. Winner.

Shop around for a better bargain

9Honey Parenting mums and dads all agreed on one key piece of advice when it came to buying toys - shop around for the best price.

From baby gyms and walkers, to building blocks and scooters - as your kids grow older the toy and activity purchases get more expensive - so it's important to budget and be savvy.

One easy way to save money is to check the prices online to see which retailers are offering the best price, and even request a price match or price beat where possible.

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Second-hand toys can be loved again and again. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mum Emma says she also avoids any 'big brand' items and always aims to find a cheaper version of her son's favourite toys.

"I find IKEA has great options like train tracks, baby gyms and building blocks that are just as good but much cheaper," she says.

Better still, search for second-hand bargains. Local online buy/swap/sell groups often have barely used quality toys for sale at a fraction of the retail price. Most second-hand markets also have a toy section wHere you can nab a bargain.

Reading Eggs and other online activities

Screentime usually goes hand-in-hand with parent guilt - but it doesn't have to be that way.

While too much time on devices is never a good idea for young children, there are some great educational online games that have been proven to help with development and learning when used in moderation.

One of these is ABC's Reading Eggs - an app that aims to make learning to read interesting and engaging for kids.

Designed for ages two to 12, it offers a range of activities for little and big kids, something mum-of-two Ana has been incredibly impressed with.

"It's helped my son immensely with his reading after starting kindergarten this year and now my four-year-old is also obsessed with it," she explains.

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