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March 12, 2019

Games & Activities: Play and Child Development


“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

For little learners, play is part of their everyday world. It helps them learn And as a grown-up in their lives, joining in their play is a big part of that process! Much like when your little one takes a tumble and turns to you right away for reassurance, supporting children through their play adventures helps them learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

The Five Types of Play

Not all play works the same. But there are many kinds of play that spark learning — and many ways for adults to encourage learning through play. And the more we know about how children learn and play, the more we can do to help them achieve the big lessons in life. Little learners will understand more and more about the world through physical play, sensory and fine-motor play, symbolic play, dramatic play and games with rules.

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Physical play

Tummy time and crawling are tremendously beneficial for your baby. Around two years old, children get more interested in very active “exercise play”: jumping, climbing, dancing, skipping, playing ball and riding bikes. Exercise play takes up 20% of a little learner’s day by the time they reach preschool.

And while wrestling, chasing and rolling can mean a less quiet environment, they make it possible for your child to learn how to measure their strength in relation to other people and things. They are also learning valuable social skills: pushing or kicking people can cause pain, and hitting and kicking a ball in games can mean something good. When your child is being rough, they are learning about emotions, social skills and about themselves. The more practice they get, the better. Encourage their learning by planning play dates with other kids or engaging in big body play with them.

Sensory and fine-motor play

Exploring how objects feel and behave is part of your child’s learning journey. Children use this sensory and fine-motor play when they work with their fingers or use their senses to explore. When they are babies, they do this by putting things in their mouth and throwing them. As they grow older, you likely notice that your child tries to arrange and sort things. They might be stacking blocks or arranging their baby carrots. With sensory and motor play, your little learner is learning to focus. They are developing their thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

You can support your child’s learning by encouraging their curiosity. Provide open-ended toys, like building blocks, LEGOs, play scarves or magnet toys. And remember to talk to your little learner while they play!

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Symbolic play

From the moment babies repeat sounds they hear around them, they are playing with language. This type of play grows to include inventing words, rhyming, and, later, puns and jokes. Language play is how your little one explores words and advances their literacy skills. They are also learning how to express their emotions.

Symbolic play also includes representation, like drawing and using music in play. By making drawings and expressing ideas through sounds, your little learner tries out different ways to talk about lots of things. Perhaps your child is saying how much they like French fries or going to the park, but it might sound like babbles with a baby or silly, made-up words when they are toddlers. Encourage your little learner by providing materials, like paper and markers, for them to express themselves creatively. And spend plenty of time chatting about your day.

With process art, children can explore texture, tools and color in ways that focus on reflection during creation.

Dramatic play

Babies as young as one can engage in dramatic or “pretend” play. By the time your little one is three or four, their imagination truly takes off. “I am a superhero and queen!” Play along and enjoy their dive into this imaginary world.

Playing a character means your little one must follow certain rules: if they are a cat, they must walk on four legs and make specific sounds, if they are an airplane, they will need wings to fly. For these reasons, some scientists believe pretend play can teach self-restraint, self-regulation and help little ones develop social responsibility, which is helpful in classroom settings.

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Games with rules

Playing is your little learner’s most time-occupying job. And their goal is to make sense of the world through what they learn. Which is how games with rules fit into play-based learning. Board games, building puzzles and outdoor group games are all ways your little learner can better understand concepts like cooperation, taking turns and team work.

Games with rules also provide children with opportunities to contribute their skills in social environments. Encourage your little learner with games like hide-and-seek, playing catch or tag. Or make up a family game together!


Important Types of Play in Your Child’s Development. Verywell Family

Whitebread D. The Importance of Play. April 2012.

Learn more about how your child learns and plays!

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