The importance of play in your child’s development

We often hear that play is important for your child – did you ever wonder why?

Play allows children to develop their imagination, dexterity, and their physical, cognitive, and emotional strength in a creative way.  At a very young age, play is a child’s tool to engage and interact in the world around them. It gives them the opportunity to practice adult roles, explore various things they can challenge themselves with and master, as well as conquer fears.

Structured vs. Unstructured Play

Structured play has set rules with specific objections.  Some examples are games, puzzles, organized sports, or building something with set directions. A couple of high quality, environmentally friendly and child safe structured play toys that we love include:

Unstructured play is child-lead and open ended.  This is when your child can let their imagination run wild or allow them to practice various roles, actions or vocabulary they have observed.  This time is very important for a child as it allows them to explore on their own, create their own challenges, feel accomplishments they have achieved, and allow for them to explore in creative and imaginative ways.  Some examples of this type of play is using blocks, coloring on blank paper, pretend play, inventing new games, or anything where they are establishing their own objectives. A couple of high quality, environmentally friendly and child safe unstructured play toys include:

More important than structured vs. unstructured is creating a balance in children’s’ play by allowing them to explore on their own as well as learning how to achieve specific objectives or learning rules. It is crucial for you to spend uninterrupted time with no distractions, playing with your child on the floor. This will increase their attention span, their ability to focus and guide them in new play ideas and teach them valuable educational skills. It also provides them  with a safe environment to explore and learn in, because learning takes place in the context of loving relationships.

Activities to encourage play by age

Under 1 year

  • At this age your child smiles or makes sounds in response to parents or caregivers; plays peek-a-boo, sings silly songs or does hand plays.
  • Show him/her objects to explore; at first a child explores with his/her eyes, then learns how things work through shaking, banging and mouthing.

1 to 2 years

  • Find cause and effect toys or games: if I push this button this happens, if I drop this spoon my mom picks it up.
  • Stack blocks together and then crash them over.
  • At this age children learn through imitation, they watch what you are doing and try it themselves. You will see your children try to imitate you in their play or try to help with chores. Some examples include helping you to sweep the floor, imitating talking on the phone, or pretending to cook or clean.
  • Pretending to use an object to represent another object is another play skill that is emerging like a laundry basket is a car or a rock is an airplane.

2 to 3 years

  • At this age children are learning and exploring concepts such as ‘in and out’ in their play. Playing with a tunnel is a great way to learn this or items that open and close.
  • Children are still expanding their play through imitation, so demonstrate more elaborate ideas on how to play with their toys. Give your child new ideas of what to build with blocks or other things you do to take care of a baby doll.
  • Build a similar structure with blocks to your toddler and talk about what you have built.

3 to 4 Years

  • Children continue to expand pretend play to play with others and begin developing friendships. Provide opportunities for your child to play with others; provide open-ended materials such as blocks, a play kitchen, or play food and allow them to follow each other’s leads.
  • This is also a great age to practice turn-taking through simple games where children need to take turns and learn patience.

Remember, play is your child testing their ideas and exploring new skills, it is their work! So make time and get on the floor with your child to PLAY and have FUN!