Put yourself in the position of a small child visiting the doctor's surgery.

First, there's the adult height desk with a computer and a strange person sitting at it.

Then there's the couch and the battery of medical equipment. All very intimidating.

But you have only to consider the wealth of television programmes based around medics to see there are also rich dramatic possibilities.

For a child, that means play.

Most people try to explain doctors and nurses to their child when they're ill.

But it's difficult to tempt a poorly child with imaginative play and where's the glamour in stomach-ache, asthma or in being in bed with chicken pox?

Far better to introduce a healthy child to the rich play opportunities of doctors and patients.

On the other hand, doctors make people better that, for a healthy child, is much more interesting.

And, while introducing them to rich play opportunities, you are also preparing them for the time when they will have to take the role of patient.

You can stimulate your child's interest with one of the many picture books around and a basic (but safe) doctor's kit, with a stethoscope and a thermometer, which you can make more real with actual bandages and plasters.

All you then need is teddy as a patient and some imagination.

A useful prompt could be the Early Learning Goals, which form the framework for the early education curriculum for three and four-year-olds.

Communication, language and literacy: Use the book and particularly the pictures to discuss what doctors do.

What does the doctor hear with a stethoscope and why does he put a thermometer under your arm or tongue?

This is a good opportunity to practise new words and phrases like, "Now tell me, where does it hurt?"

Creative development: Stories, songs, visits to the health centre all these provide the basis for role plays, with teddy or a friend or both. With some soft dough, you can make ambulances, while strips of plaster can be used to make a cross on the lid of a tin to transform it into a first-aid kit.

Physical development: With some encouragement, you can help children think through some simple situations.

A sore foot, for example, could mean the patient having to undo a shoe, take off a sock and then put them on again.

Personal, social and emotional development: Encouraging a small child to play doctors and patients is a way of helping them to develop sympathy for others, while two children taking it in turns to be doctor and patient are learning to share.

Mathematical development: A visit to the health centre to see a baby being checked and weighed can introduce children to measuring at home with a set of kitchen scales and a teddy.

Knowledge and understanding of the world:

Finally , all of these activities, while enjoyable in themselves, are preparing your child for the inevitable visit to the doctor's and increasing their knowledge of what is going on around them.

What does the doctor do? What are hospitals for?