Play is a critical part of childhood development, providing children with opportunities to explore the world around them and learn new skills. As children play, they learn about themselves, others, and the world they live in. Play helps them develop social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills that they will need throughout their lives.
Play skills start developing from infancy and continue throughout childhood. As infants, babies explore their environment by touching, tasting, and feeling objects. They learn cause and effect, how to move their bodies, and how to communicate their needs through play. As children grow, their play becomes more complex and sophisticated, incorporating imagination and creativity.
There are different stages of play that children go through as they develop their play skills.
The stages development play skills
- Unoccupied play: This stage occurs in infants from birth to three months of age. At this stage, babies move their arms and legs, make sounds, and explore their environment.
- Solitary play: This stage occurs in infants from three months to two years of age. At this stage, babies play alone and explore objects around them. They start to imitate actions and sounds they see and hear.
- Onlooker play: This stage occurs in toddlers from two to three years of age. At this stage, toddlers observe other children playing but do not participate themselves.
- Parallel play: This stage occurs in toddlers from three to four years of age. At this stage, children play alongside each other but do not interact with each other.
- Associative play: This stage occurs in children from four to five years of age. At this stage, children play with each other and share toys but do not have a common goal.
- Cooperative play: This stage occurs in children from five years and above. At this stage, children play together and have a common goal.
The different play skills
During the different stages of play, children develop different play skills. These skills are described below:
- Gross motor skills: Gross motor skills involve large muscle movements such as crawling, walking, running, jumping, and climbing. These skills are developed through activities such as playing with balls, riding bikes, and climbing structures.
- Fine motor skills: Fine motor skills involve small muscle movements such as grasping, manipulating objects, and using tools. These skills are developed through activities such as drawing, painting, and playing with small objects.
- Social skills: Social skills involve interacting with others, sharing, taking turns, and problem-solving. These skills are developed through playing games, role-playing, and pretend play.
- Cognitive skills: Cognitive skills involve problem-solving, logical thinking, and memory. These skills are developed through playing games, puzzles, and memory games.
- Emotional skills: Emotional skills involve understanding and managing emotions, empathy, and self-regulation. These skills are developed through playing games, role-playing, and pretend play.
It is important to note that play skills are not developed in isolation. The different types of play and play skills are interconnected, and children need to develop all of them to become well-rounded individuals.
Parents and caregivers can play an essential role in promoting the development of play skills. They can do this by providing opportunities for children to play, encouraging children to play, and participating in play with their children.
Tips for promoting play skills development
- Provide a safe and stimulating environment for play.
- Provide age-appropriate toys and games.
- Encourage children to explore and experiment with their environment.
- Provide opportunities for children to play with other children.
- Provide opportunities for children to play independently.
- Encourage children to use their imagination and creativity.
- Provide opportunities for children to engage in physical activities.
- Provide opportunities for children to engage in pretend play and role-playing.
- Re-enact everyday experiences and themes during your play together.
- Talk about the steps in play as they occur. Name your and your child’s ideas.
- Explore emotions as you play. Name them and model coping strategies.
- Explore social outcomes. Label and discuss cause and effect relationships.
- Have non-specific items available when you play together to encourage symbolic thinking (that is using 1 item to represent something it is not – e.g. a toilet roll could be binoculars, a trumpet, the body of a creature, etc.)
- Rotate toys so there are a few key things on offer, and your child can exhaust different ideas and ways of playing and interacting with that item.
Karen Stagnitti is a guru in the field of play development and has some lovely resources and courses for parents, so if you need to sponge some more on this topic, head to: https://www.learntoplayevents.com/for-parents/