The Importance Of Play In Child Development

The Importance Of Play In Child Development

The importance of play in child development and what children learn through play.The the importance of play in child development and what children learn through play.

The importance of play in childhood promotes children to explore and develop cognitive & physical skills that will become useful later in life.

As parents, we want our children to not only succeed in life but to thrive at their fullest potential as well.

As hard as we try to give them the tools they need for a successful upbringing, sometimes the most important thing we can give them is the time to play and use their imagination.


From apps to books and everything in between, there is nothing more educational than learning through “doing,” which is what happens when children play.

 Playing alone can teach children:

  • Learn to read, write and spell
  • Learn mathematical skills
  • Learn to solve problems
  • Develop independence
  • Become musical, sporty and artistic

 While screen time is ok in moderation (especially these educational shows you can watch on Netflix), It is also essential to let them be bored, pick up a toy, and make their imagination soar.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

*This information is for educational purposes only, if you need medical attention, please consult a physician.

The Importance Of Play In Child Development

When children lose playtime, they tend to develop learning difficulties

Children should be developing their skills naturally, at their own pace, and not through many scheduled activities. 

Overscheduled children are very busy and often stressed out, which in turn does not help them learn.

The cognitive, physical skills that children develop through free play are invaluable. Do you see the importance of play in child development?

Play To Reduce Stress

Play is a natural stress buster, which is really important for today’s overscheduled youth.

Not only does play boost a child’s health and development, but it also helps to provide stable and nurturing relationships that help add a buffer between stress.

The joy that happens when a child engages in play melts away the stress because the child is relaxed and happy, which helps to get those endorphins flowing.

What Children Learn Through Play 

Learning through play has always been one of the most powerful ways to educate young minds.
Here are some of the things that children learn while they play:

Self Control – Children learn how to self-regulate their emotions, which is an essential skill to develop at an early age. Children can work through their feelings and learn to negotiate with others as well as learn the power of delayed gratification through simple, imaginative play.

Healthy Habits – Play promotes healthy habits because it allows children to engage in the world around them actively. This can help prevent childhood obesity as well as depression and loneliness.

Stress Reliever – Play is a natural stress reliever and can put kids in a relaxed state of mind, which can help them overcome fears and anxiety.

New Ideas – Play gives children new ideas about the world around them and promotes the use of imagination.

Decisions – When children play, they make decisions, and sometimes they learn the natural consequences of their choices.

Mindfulness – When children are engaged in play, they lose awareness of the space around them, and they focus solely on the task in front of them. When children “zone out” when engaged in an activity, they are safe and secure and are often not afraid to try new ideas and experiment.

Risk-Taking – As children play and interact with new materials around them, they explore and develop mental flexibility and executive function.

These are all critical skills that children need which is why play is such a huge part of child development.

Physical Development

Strengthen gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills should be developed before fine motor skills, and children who do not have good gross motor skills are less likely to participate in sports during their childhood and adolescence.

Gross motor skills include:

  • Standing, running, climbing, pedaling, jumping, throwing, rolling, catching, balancing, kicking, hopping, skipping, hanging, stepping, and riding.

Fine motor skills are more precise and take more time to master. When fine motor skills are mastered, children can hold pencils and write letters.

Fine motor skills include:

  • Drawing pictures, lego building, cutting, puzzles, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and building towers.

Cognitive Development

Playtime stimulated the brain for proper growth and improved memory. During leisure time, children concentrate, solve problems, and sharpen their overall thinking skills.

Pretend play or fantasy play teaches children to regulate their emotions and develop their reasoning skills

Children also develop language skills and exploration skills, which are important later in life, especially math and science classes at school.

Types of Play That Are Important In Child Development

Pretend Play

Pretend play is all about playing dress-up and make-believe games to encourage imagination and get the creativity flowing.

During pretend play, children develop communication and language skills and can often express what their wants and needs are in the moment of play.

For example:
“You be the patient, and I’ll be the doctor.”

Physical Play

Physical play can be practiced at the playground during recess. Children learn to take risks by exploring climbing structures in a safe environment.

There are certain games that children play in larger groups such as duck-duck-goose and tag, which can promote healthy social-emotional skills as children learn not to harm others while they play.

Outdoor Play

All children should be experiencing outdoor play on a daily basis.

When children play outside, they use their senses to learn balance and spacial awareness.

Playing outside can also help with expanding your child’s attention span, which is why recess is a very important aspect of school.

Toy Play

When children play with toys, they develop abstract thought concepts such as symbolism by using their imaginations and using objects for different purposes than what they are intended for.

5 Stages Of Play That Play A Huge Role In Child Development

As children grow, the way that they play also grows. There are five stages of play, and they start at birth.

Stage 1: Unoccupied Play

This is the play that starts right at birth! 

Those little movements that happen to infants that do not seem to have a clear purpose that is called unoccupied play! Cool hey.

Stage 2: Solitary Play

This is the stage of play when toddlers start to play on their own. 

You can see their imaginations growing as they play by themselves with cars or dolls and make pretend situations.

When children play during the solitary play stage, they often do not notice what is going on around them, and it can be challenging to get their attention when they are engaged in play.

Stage 3: Onlooker Play

As the name suggests, onlooker play is what happens when children watch other children play. 

This usually happens around the toddler and preschool age. 

The child may be interested in what the other child is playing but will not engage in the play themselves.

Stage 4: Parallel Play

Parallel play happens when children play together but do not interact with each other during the playing. 

They typically play side by side or parallel to each other.

Stage 5: Associative Play

Around the preschool age, children become more interested in playing with other children over toys. 

Children will start asking each other questions and start playing with toys together.

This is the stage where children learn about sharing and how to get along with others.

Age-Specific Ideas for Playful Learning

When children play, they naturally learn. Learning is so much more than just test scores and academic achievements. 

Here are some age-specific ideas for learning through play. 

Birth to 6 Months

Yes, it’s true, babies CAN play starting at birth. 

You can respond to your babies smile with a smile of your own and imitate your babies’ sounds to promote conversation. 

You can show your baby bright and colorful objects and let her put those objects in her mouth to explore and experience new things. 

Tummy time and back play are good ways to promote play in babies who are strong enough to hold up their heads. 

7 to 12 Months

This is the stage where the baby is more mobile and can crawl and explore your home. Provide ample opportunities for your baby to explore different parts of the house. 

Your baby may want to drop things from the high chair to see what happens, use a mirror and make different facial expressions, and reach for a toy that looks exciting. 

You can engage in play at this stage by playing peek-a-boo and singing songs. 

1 to 3 Years

When children reach the age of one, you can start looking for daycare for your child, even if it is part-time. 

Look for a daycare center that encourages playful learning and unstructured playtime. 

Provide your child with Tupperware from your kitchen, wooden blocks, and lots of puzzles at this age. 

Children can also tandem play at this age and stage of life, so be sure to host some playdates if you can. 

Take lots of opportunities to walk, jump, run, and hop on one leg to keep up with the gross motor skill learning. 

Read a lot of books to and with your child and explore the stories further by using pretend play and imagination. 

Children at this age also love songs and nursery rhymes, which you can find on Netflix, youtube, or simply sing yourself. 

4 to 6 Years

By age four, your child should be more independent and can play on their own, but you can help encourage play by providing opportunities for your child to sing, dance, and tell stories. 

This is a great age range to get your little one to help with chores around the house, but make it fun, so it doesn’t seem like an annoying thing. 

Healthy levels of screen time are ok at this age, but social interactions are, of course, preferred. 

Parenting Tips for Encouraging Rich Play 

Unscheduled Time To Discover

You can encourage your child to experience rich play by providing open-ended play materials that can be used in many different ways.

Blocks, shovels, water, sand, snow, rocks, and other materials that can be played with in multiple ways are excellent for encouraging rich play. 

Some toys have a clear purpose such as a doll, which can be held, and the child pretends to be the parent while other toys promote imagination, such as a magic wand can become a pointer to show which way to go. 

Playing Together With Adult

If you can provide an hour of playtime per day to your child, then you’re doing the right thing. 

Spending quality time with your child and allowing them to pick the activity helps the child make decisions and take the lead. 

Sometimes children want to have a tea party; there is no reason you can’t join in! 

Toys And Games That Promote Imagination

Brain Blox Wooden Building Blocks for Kids

Great way to build up brainpower! These building blocks can help your child with math, physics, and engineering concepts. This is a great STEM toy, and makes a great gift too.

Check out the Brain Blox Wooden Building Blox For Kids Here

Science and Craft Gift Subscriptions for Children

Science & Crafts For Children By Green Kids Crafts

With Green Kids Crafts, you’ll receive a themed box of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) kits every month for kids ages 3-10. It’s a great way for kids to learn about how to make the world more environmentally friendly.

See what comes inside Green Kids Crafts Subscription Boxes.

kids puzzles

Puzzles For Kids

Puzzles are great for developing problem-solving skills. The fine motor skills needed to place the pieces together also grow stronger when puzzles are completed.
You can grab puzzles at the dollar tree or Amazon

wooden blocks

Wooden Blocks

wooden blocks are great for building all sorts of different things. when children are building, they are solving problems and using their imagination on this open-ended activity.

The best-rated wooden toys on Amazon for under $25

Dress Up Play

Dress Up Play / Pretend Play

Get creative and let your children use common fabrics and household items to play pretend.

You can also grab a few ready-made costumes for your prince or princess online shipped right to your door.

The Importance Of Play In Child Development

Elizabeth is a mom of 3 and has a passion for helping children reach their human potential. She enjoys helping parents raise confident and healthy kids by explaining how to handle situations using positive and peaceful parenting.

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