Is Play Really Just Playing?

What are the skills a child develops through play?

child at play

A child playing with blocks is not just playing. As he is nesting blocks, he is learning size relationship. He learns that smaller blocks fit inside larger ones. He learns cause and effect as he builds his blocks higher and higher until they come crashing down. As the blocks are tumbling down, he can describe it using language. It is while playing that children test ideas, ask questions, and come up with answers.

What are the Skills that a child develops through Play?

During child development, the following skills are developed through play:

Language – Enhances ability to describe what is happening, ask for help and wonder why toys work like they do.

Physical – Enhances fine and gross motor through picking up blocks, putting legos together and jumping around on a trampoline.

Emotional – Ability to work out frustrations by getting a heart shape into the corresponding shape or making a social scenario with dolls to work out conflicts with friends. .

Cognitive/Intellectual – Enhances a child’s ability to think, understand and eventually reason things out while taking in new information about a toy or game.

Social – Socially, children work on managing their feelings, learning skills like sharing and taking turns, and empathizing with other people’s feelings and thoughts.

How can you help?

Try not to involve your children in so many activities that there is no time for play. Creativity takes time to develop, and children can have difficulties entertaining themselves if they are not given time to use their imagination.

1. Show that play is valuable by playing with your children. Children realize that play is important if adults pay attention to them while they are playing and even engaging with them in play.

2. Appreciate and talk to your children about their play. We often say, “You are doing a great job working,” but we may never say, “You are doing a great job playing!”

3. Create an environment for play. It is important for adults to provide materials that children can explore and adapt in play, and if possible,  provide a special “play place” or designated area for the pretend play and all the inspiring props. Adults should monitor play, so that when play appears to be “stuck” or unproductive, they can suggest new character roles.

4. Children get ideas for their play from books, movies, field trips, and everyday life.  For instance, if your children are interested in a particular topic, such as animals, take them to the zoo, read them abook about farm animals, or watch a movie about animals – they will be filled with ideas for pretend play. You might see your children reenacting the trip or scenes from the movie with friends. This helps them to better remember the experience, and it reinforces all of their newly learned information.

Examples of appropriate toddler toys: pull-push toys; blocks; an assortment of balls; Play-Doh with simple tools (craft sticks and wooden rollers); picture books; containers, scoops, sifters, and other objects for sand and water play; toys and props for dramatic play like scarves, hats.


Imagine The Possibilities with Pretend Play, Amber Hodgson, M.A. CCC-SLP

The New Language of Toys by Sue Schwartz, Ph. D.

Child Success Center
2023 S. Westgate Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Call 310-899-9597 to access our “warm” line.
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