“Let’s play” is a popular phrase among children. In early childhood, play helps children in those early years learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Play also promotes healthy and strong development– physically, intellectually, social, and emotionally. In other words, it is essential for children to play, it is their main “job” at this time of life.
Play During the Infant And Toddler Years
From the earliest moments of a child’s life, a child grows and develops through movement and exploration. In the first few months, play can take place with rattles, colorful mobiles, songs, and games involving arm and leg movement. Talk, read, and sing. Repeat sounds, look at picture books, and make funny faces. As a child gains more muscle control and they reach, grasp, and sit upright on their own, they like to pull apart, squeeze, and stack. Infants also like mirrors, books, songs, and games such as peek-a-boo. For toddlers, as they begin to crawl, climb, and walk, balls and pull toys become important. Also, active games such as hide-and-seek and simple tag games are fun!
It is important to remember that the primary play mode of the child under three is playing alone with objects. His/her skills in language and desire to interact with others are growing but the child still has limited ability to negotiate or engage in extended interaction with others. A progression of play skills in infant/toddler years, might look like this:
- Positive interactions with adults
- Showing awareness of other children by smiling and cooing, watching children playing, reaching out to other children, copying what other children are doing
- Playing briefly with other children
- Wanting what others have
Another critical point regarding play in the infant/toddler years is that interaction and attachment of children with attentive, nurturing adults is absolutely essential. When infants make those connections with the adults through the interaction of play and care, they establish the foundation for friendship and positive social interaction skills that become so important to success and happiness in life.
Play During The Preschool Years
During the preschool years, children become much more aware of other children and want to interact with them. This is a time when the development of friendship skills become important in children’s play. When children are successful in making friends, the play in which they are engaged helps them to develop in a strong healthy way. Friendship skills include:
- Gives suggestions (play organizers)
- Shares toys and other materials
- Takes turns (reciprocity)
- Is helpful
- Gives compliments
- Understands how and when to give an apology
- Begins to empathize
When children incorporate these skills into their play, they make friends easier and have more fun!
Play is a crucial part of your child’s development it starts in infancy and should continue throughout his or her life. When you play with your child it not only helps you to build a positive relationship, strengthen your bond with your child it has additional benefits as well.
Play provides multiple opportunities for children to learn social, communication, and academic skills while building confidence and positive self-esteem. Through play you can help your child learn to solve problems, explore his or her creativity, and build vocabulary. Children learn important friendship skills like turn taking, sharing, and being empathetic. Keep in mind that unstructured physically active play may lead to healthier children, especially when it replaces or helps limit screen time.
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Author: Leslie Crandal, Extension Educator | The Learning Child
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