According to the dictionary, play is the act of “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”
As it turns out, though, play does have a purpose, and (as obvious as it might sound) it’s important to remember that not all play is the same!
So…why exactly does play matter?
Research shows that play allows children to work on important skills- from cognitive abilities, to dexterity, to physical strength….they can learn it all while actually enjoying themselves. In other words, playtime is very important for healthy child development.
As we grow, the way we play also grows. Providing age-appropriate activities can make the difference between a fun experience and a really bored kid.
Having said this, let’s learn a bit more about the different stages of play!
During unoccupied play… there’s not a lot of actual focus going on. Instead, children engage in tons of movement and interactions with their environment. They might explore new sensations or stimulus, shifting their attention quickly from one thing to the other.
Providing kids with (baby-proof!) objects that catch and engage their attention is a great idea. Things that allow them to explore with their hands, or which have interesting textures are all awesome ways of encouraging unoccupied play.
During solitary play, children will actually look like they are playing- but they only do it on their own! At this point in time, they are using their imagination, and being active participants in their environment.
Providing kids with interactive toys, or toys that allow them to exercise their imagination, are both wonderful ways of encouraging solitary play.
During onlooker play, children will simply look at others engaging in play, and maybe even ask questions about it. However, they won’t join in on the fun! This type of play is very important for learning basic social rules!
Taking your kids out to places where they will be able to participate in onlooker play, and encouraging them to ask questions are both awesome ways to get them engaged!
During parallel play children will play besides (instead of with!) other kids. Even though it might seem like they are both “doing their own thing”, they are actually paying attention to each other.
Stacking blocks, or any activities that can be done individually but next to one another, are great for this type of play!
During associative play, children will play with one another, but they might struggle or lack the structure towards completing a common goal together. No team sports for them quite yet!
In order to encourage associative play, consider taking your children outside! Doing art is also an amazing idea.
Finally, cooperative play means that now, kids are able to engage in teamwork. Finally, they can focus on accomplishing a goal together, and they can use their creativity, social skills, and own unique abilities in order to contribute!
Team sports, board games, or activities that require players to work together in order to reach a goal are all great ways of encouraging cooperative play with your child.
Still want to learn more about this and about how each stage of play affects development? Take a look at these awesome resources: