Play is a natural and important part of development that begins in early childhood. Children learn to connect with and understand their world through their play. Play contributes to cognitive, social-emotional, motor, and language growth in young children. Children learn through toys and people how to explore, discover, and play.
Sensory Exploration (3 to 6 months): A child explores an object texture by using their senses. They will put an object in their hands, mouth, or visually watching the object as a caregiver is displaying it to them. This is when a child is learning how to comprehend new experiences.
Relational Play (9 to 12 months): This is when a child use two different but related objects. For example, a child will bring a brush to a doll’s head.
Functional Play (12 to 15 months): This is when a child plays with an object according to how it works. For example, cups are for drinking or cars are for pushing.
Symbolic Play (15 to 18 months): A child is using an object for something else. For example, a child may use a block as a phone, or a straw as a toothbrush. A child can also use realistic props such as, pretend food to engage in symbolic play with realistic props.
Imaginative Play (24 to 30 months): This is when a child is starting to process their environment through play. For example, a child may act out a visit to the doctor’s office or pretend to have a birthday party.
The different stages of play help support the meeting of developmental milestones. Encouraging play in your child’s day will allow these play stages to naturally form. Playing and interacting with your child from the beginning of birth will help you encourage these developmental milestones to flourish. In each stage of play, children are learning how to interact with others in their environment. They are learning how to manipulate toys, move around the room to access activities they are interested in, how to problem solve, and how to share their ideas through communication. Play skills develop as a child develops. As a child’s understanding of the world and how it works develops so do their interests in toys and in social interactions with their caregivers and peers.
Rachel Weiser, MS, DT