Why Is Play Important for Children?
Play is a crucial aspect of a child’s development, it helps them to learn, explore, and make sense of their environment. Exploring the power of play is crucial for their overall well-being as well as empowering them to be able to navigate the world around them comfortably. It helps build communication, social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills.
As a child grows, they will go through different forms of play. Their attention span and physical skills develop and the way they play will change. Children will explore things in different ways, experiment more and develop their creativity. Play changes in terms of how a child is playing with the toys or items and how they are playing alongside other children.
Understanding the different types of play and providing these experiences will help a parent understand a child’s individual strengths, interest and needs within a child’s development
Types of play during child development from 0 months up to 6 years:
- Solitary Play – Children play with toys on their own and do not notice or concern themselves with others or what they are doing
- Parallel Play – Children play with similar toys but they are playing next to each other rather then together
- Onlooker play – Children engage in onlooker play, where they watch the other child play but do not join in or play themselves
- Associated play – a pair or small group of children play together, but with little cooperation and negotiation. They share toys but are each plying their own game and not working towards a shared goal
- Shared-cooperative play – may include games with rules or a shared goal such as building a tower together. Children plan, negotiate and assign roles as they play.
- Sensory Play: Sensory play involves stimulating the senses, such as playing with sand, water, or play dough.
- Structured Play: Structured play involves following specific rules and guidelines for play. Structured play can help children with autism to understand social rules and expectations, improve their communication skills, and develop their ability to follow instructions.
- Cause and effect play – Children learn that their actions can cause something to happen such as pushing a button and a light comes on or pushing a block and it tips over.
- Investigative (Exploratory) Play – children want to see what happens with materials when manipulated e.g., moving on from putting blocks in mouth to stacking the blocks.
- Symbolic (Dramatic) play – Children use an action or idea to represent something
- Functional Play – Children engage with an object as it intended to be used for such as drinking from a cup, feeding a doll, pushing a car.
- Constructive Play – Children manipulate objects in order to create something.
- Games with Rules – Children follow rules and norms to reach a goal when playing alone or withing a group
- Ritual Play – this involves rhythmic repeating of sounds or words, gestures or body movements
- Language Play – this involves making up nonsense words and rhyming words. It starts before a child learns to converse
- Pretend Play – this involves “acting out” ideas using objects and carrying out roles
- Competitive Play – Children’s play becomes more structured and involves multiple players
- Physical Play – Play that is purely physical such as skipping, climbing, riding a bike
- Expressive (Creative) Play – this is about creating art, music, or even writing to express one’s creativity
Here are some tips on how to make the most out of playing with your child:
- Follow Your Child’s Lead: Let your child take the lead when playing. This can help them feel more comfortable and in control of the situation. Follow their interests and preferences, and let them guide the play.
- Keep it Simple: Avoid overwhelming your child with too many toys or activities. Start with simple, familiar toys and activities, and gradually introduce new ones as your child becomes more comfortable. Be mindful of what is appropriate for your child’s age
- Be an Active Listener: Mindfully talk about what your child is doing as they play, narrate and comment on what you see e.g., “Pushing the car”, this will help you to figure out your child’s goal within the play and join in with them on this.
- Be Patient: Be patient and give your child time to understand and respond to you in the play. Aim not to provide any instruction or expectation, provide suggestions or ideas instead.
- Make it Fun: Play should be enjoyable for you and your child. Take the pressure off and focus on having fun together.
These stages are general guidelines for what to expect of a child’s play skills, but remember every child is different. There is some predictability in the types and stages of play as they are progressive in natura, however every child will develop in at their own pace.
There are also many different reasons why a child might be not want to play, or demonstrate different types of play at different levels. But sometimes a lack of play, or lack of interest in play, can be a sign of developmental disorder. Below is some brief indications of this for children at different developmental levels:
- A baby – doesn’t seem to get into interactive play like peekaboo
- A toddler – narrow interest in toys or doesn’t use toys in a functional way.
- A Child at Kinder – isn’t interested in playing with other children or playing in pretend games
Get in contact with Amazing Kids Early Intervention if you have any questions about these indicators or the type of play your child engages in.