Why Play Is Important In Your Child’s Development
We often hear that play is important for your child – did you ever wonder why? Early Childhood Development Specialist, Anastasia Moloney shares why play aids in both cognitive and physical development and how you can provide the right activities and toys based on your tot’s age.
Play comes in many different shapes and forms and allows children to develop their imagination, dexterity, as well as reach important physical, cognitive, and emotional milestones. From birth, 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.
It’s extremely beneficial for parents to spend uninterrupted time playing with their baby on the floor from a young age. When learning takes place in the context of a loving relationship, it provides them with a safe environment to explore and absorb, which will ultimately increase their attention span and ability to focus. You will also be able to help guide them in new play ideas and teach them valuable educational skills.
As your baby gets older, it’s important to encourage independent play as well as socializing with other children. To help you facilitate both structured and unstructured play, we’re broken down activities and toy ideas by age. Scroll down to learn more!
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.
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.
Activities & Toys to Encourage Play by Age
0 – 3 Months
During the first few months of your child’s life, they’ll often smile or makes sounds in response to the actions you do. Try playing peek-a-boo with a soft swaddle and singing silly songs with animated hand gestures.
Remember: infants can usually only see in black and white and only about eight to twelve inches in front of them. Try opting for high contrast black and white images to help strengthen their eyesight.
3 – 6 Months
As your baby’s hands get stronger, you can also try passing your baby objects to explore. At first a child explores with their eyes, then they learn how things work through shaking, banging and mouthing. Try giving them a range of textures. For example, a soft knitted rattle will help prepare them for transitioning to solid foods, while silicone will help soothe sore gums.
This is also a fun age to introduce more toys during tummy time. With stronger neck and back muscles, they will be more confident when it comes to reaching for and tracking an object with their eyes.
6 – 12 Months
From six months of age, your baby will be learning how to sit up and crawl! Now is a great time to introduce toys and games that encourage the development of both fine and gross motor skills. Shape sorters are a fun way for babies to start expanding their vocabulary while honing their hand-eye coordination.
Try using a shape sorter to play, ‘Please Bring Me.’ In this activity, you can hide the different shapes throughout a room. Show your baby where they are. Go back to the sorter and say, ‘Please bring me the triangle from the couch’ and so on.
12 – 18 Months
Hello one! With your baby now learning through imitation, they will watch what you are doing and try it themselves. For example, they may want to sweep the floor, type on a compute, imitating talking on the phone, or pretend to cook or clean. Pretending to use an object to represent another object is another play skill so try using a laundry basket for a car or a rock for an airplane.
To help with cognitive development, try finding cause and effect toys or games: If I push this button – this happens, if I drop this spoon – my mom picks it up. Examples include: balls that can be hammered into a box or blocks that can be knocked over.
For psychical development, you’ll want ride-on toys that encourage gross motor skill development! This will help strengthen the muscles needed for walking, running, jumping, whirling and of course – twirling!
Available in more colors
18 – 24 Months
From 18 months, toddlers 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. These can be as easy as food storage containers in the kitchen!
They’re also expanding their play through imitation, so demonstrate more elaborate ideas on how to play with their toys. For example, you could get them to climb up a slide or go down a slide. You could also use stacking ups for sorting. For example: the cups in The Tot Play and Learn Set can be taken outside. Ask your child to put acorns in one, twigs in another, red leaves in one and so on!
Again, active play is just as important as all the others! Now that your toddler is gaining more coordination, try introducing a trike that can transform into a balance bike like the one below!
Ranging from $249.99 – $269.99
Available in more colors
2 – 3 Years
From two to three is a great age to practice turn-taking through simple games where children need to take turns and learn patience. For example, you could hit a beat on a hand drum and then ask your child to copy the beat. You could make a pattern with colorful wooden beads on a necklace and then have your child color the pattern with crayons and paper.
You can also give your child new ideas of what to build with blocks or other things you do to take care of a baby doll. We love the Make Me Iconic Doll Accessories Kit below because you can suggest to your child to: ‘Brush your doll’s hair.’ ‘Now brush your hair.’ These small actions will encourage independence and the formation of important life skills.
Available in more colors
3 – 4 Years
Welcome to the wonderful world of threenagers! Play is about to get a lot more exciting! Armed with more words in their vocabulary, activities can become much more interactive. Arguably one of the hardest years for tantrums, activities and toys like the Emotions Set in The Tot Play + Learn Set can be used as a tool to help a child name their feeling or identify how someone else might be feeling.
Three and four-year-olds also continue to expand pretend play to play with others and begin developing friendships. Provide opportunities for your child to play with others such as a play kitchen or play food and allow them to follow each other’s leads.
4 – 5 Years
Is your tot gearing up from preschool? Now is a great time to partake in play that will help strengthen the little muscles needed to hold a pencil, form letters, follow instructions and remember processes!
Role play toys like tea seats, are a great way to teach manners and strengthen vocabularies, while toys like the Wobbel will help develop your tot’s core strength and balance. Alternatively, it can be used as a little reading nook, bridge, ramp, slide, yoga mat and more!
5 – 6 Years
From age five, children are gearing up for a more formal school setting, which means a lot of big changes! To help your child navigate their emotions, adjust to new routines and help them build the foundation they’ll need for building reading, writing and numeracy skills, it’s important to make sure educational play is balanced with active play! By moving their bodies, kids are able to exert energy, which can help them sit still for longer periods of time.
Multi-player games like What am I? help children think critically, while learning how to take turns and communicate effectively, while role play toys like the PlanToys Vet Set encourage empathy and purpose.
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!