5 types of play every child needs
March 24, 2015  |  Written by Carlota Nelson

We know children need to play. Not only because it´s fun but playing helps them develop language skills, cultivates their imagination and creativity as well as their problem-solving, motor and social skills, which are all necessary steps in their learning process. But sometimes we ask ourselves what exactly do they learn when tossing a ball or talking to their imaginary friends. Is it important? Is it necessary? The answer is YES. Playing provides the basis for learning. We just have to make sure we give them the necessary tools and encourage them to engage in the 5 types of play they need.

According to Angie Rupan, Educator and Coordinator of the Centre of Childhood Development in San Francisco, “playing is the way children begin to understand and process the world they live in.” And to make sure all ground is covered, they must alternate between these 5 different types of play.

Language and Vocabulary Games

While children play with others (whether it´s with kids their same age or adults), pre-schoolers listen and learn what is being said without even noticing it. During playtime, they learn to structure their sentences, communicate their ideas and needs as well as learn new words.

Every time you play with your children, make use of their toys to encourage them to learn the names of each one, what they are for and how they work. If it´s a toy train for example, you can propose the following scenarios:

Where is the train headed? Are there people on this train? Who is the driver? Does this train make any stops?

Remember that each time you ask a question, we need to give them time to answer and help them understand whatever it is they don´t comprehend. Getting them to ask their own questions is equally as important.

Playing with dolls, action figures or teddy bears allow children to recreate or re-enact real situations and gives them the opportunity to use the words and sentences they learn on a daily basis.


Imagination and Creativity Games

Whether its drawing, making something on their own or playing dress up, children need to let their imaginations and creativity soar. This type of play is not governed by rules, instructions or structures. Everything and anything is possible.

To encourage them to engage in open or free play, make sure you provide them with the necessary space, time and tools. Whether that comes in the form of crayons and paper, costumes, dolls, teddy bears or even ordinary household objects such as pots and pans and even a good cardboard box, you´ll be surprised by how easy and fun it is for them to create new worlds and situations. Remember, children at this age do not differentiate the real world from the imaginary.

Problem Solving Games

While they play, children also need to learn to solve problems and make use of their innate curiosity. Whether its doing a puzzle or playing with building blocks, kids will unconsciously ask themselves many questions: Will this piece fit? What shape does this one have? How many blocks do I need to build a tower?

We can also cultivate their logical thought process by asking our own questions: How many pieces are there in the puzzle? How many more blocks can you stack up without it falling?

But remember, they need to decide what they play with and when. Riddles and science experiments are good activities that fall under this type of play.

Motor Skill Games

By manipulating objects (toys, dolls, puzzles, blocks, crayons, even helping out in the kitchen…) and using their bodies to engage in physical activity (running, tossing a ball, going down a slide, swimming…) children learn to develop and improve their motors skills (fine and gross motor skills). Make sure they spend at least 2 hours a day playing these types of games.

Social Skill Games

Listening, negotiating, sharing and communicating are challenges that are very important for children at this age. They might not be able to see beyond their own needs but children have to learn what being in a group entails and, this can only be done by playing with others. Group activities allow them to build the positive foundations of good communication and social skills.

In order to put these skills into practice, make sure you organize group activities, have sleep-overs and spend quality family time together.

When children have fun playing, they learn better. Playing is their job. Ours is to make sure they do.

Photo Credits: Shanna Trim

Photo Credits: Andrew Malone

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