Updated: Oct 8, 2018
Play is the most important activity in a child’s life from birth through until about seven or eight years of age.
Play is a child’s primary occupation, and their way of learning about the world through observation, exploration and discovery. Play is fundamental in developing a child’s language, physical abilities, social skills and emotional development.
In play, a child can learn how to express different emotions, such as sadness and excitement, failure and success. Play supports the formation of friendships by developing skills such as turn taking, cooperating and compromising.
It is important to play with your child.
Playing with your child allows you to see the world as they do
Interacting with your child in play shows your child you are interested in them and helps build positive relationships. Meeting them on 'their level' opens up opportunities to model speech, language and social development. We need to connect at their level to teach them the skills they need to connect at 'our level!'
As a child develops, their play will also develop and become more complex:
3-6 months: Children will begin to explore their surroundings. They discover that if you touch or move a toy it could make a sound (e.g: shaking a rattle). Children will explore objects by putting them in their mouth, shaking and banging.
6-12 months: Children will begin to develop anticipatory play. They will react in anticipation to what will happen next (e.g: peekaboo). They will imitate adult actions with simple toys (e.g: pushing a car), and search for a toy that is hidden. Children also learn to manipulate more complex toys (e.g: pushing a button).
1- 1 ½ years: Early pretend play begins to emerge (e.g: feeding a baby a bottle). Children begin to use objects the way they are intended to be used (e.g: pretending to drink from a cup), using animals to make the corresponding sounds.
1 ½ - 2 years: Imitation of routines begins to happen (e.g: putting a dolly to bed). Children will imitate routines they have observed (e.g: holding a phone to their ear).
2- 2 ½ years: More complex sequential routine imitation that relates to the child begins to emerge (e.g: Children will imitate routines such as supermarket shopping or going to the doctors). By age 2, children can use a single object in many ways (e.g: can use a box as a hat or a house).
3 years: Children begin to incorporate pretend play in less common or unfamiliar scenarios. They may take on a different role (e.g: will be the doctor). At age 3, children will play in parallel to their peers and copy their actions.
4-years:Pretend play develops beyond the experience of the child with the use of a plot, opening up their imagination (e.g: being a policeman). They are able to role-play and interact within play. Turn taking and compromising begins to emerge and imaginary objects are used (e.g: mummy and baby).
5 years: A child’s imagination will expand. Children will use pretend play with abstract concepts that they have not experienced and are unrealistic (e.g: conquering aliens). A child is able to describe the actions in their play and the emotions and thoughts. Play is organised and purposeful.
How can you facilitate play?
Adding on: Repeating the action your child has done, then adding an additional action of your own (e.g: your child feeds the doll. You can add on by then putting the doll to bed). Adding on is expanding your child’s play ideas and sequences, allowing them to gain awareness of other actions and how ideas can be put together.
Anticipation: Helping your child know what is going to happen. You can support anticipation by establishing routines, e.g: if you turn the oven on, you are about to cook dinner.
Follow your child’s lead: Annotate your child’s play, show them how to play with the object if they don’t know how! Children learn through modelling.
Imitation: Demonstrate actions (e.g: stirring a spoon), and sounds (e.g: “yum yum” after eating), to encourage your child to imitate. Pairing actions with sounds is a nice way to increase your child’s understanding (e.g: “brum brum” whilst you move a car).
Modelling: Model how to play with an item and teach how to use an item in different ways (e.g: use a block as a phone). You can also teach how to put two items together (spoon and bowl), teach role play, teach imaginary play. Children learn through modelling!
Shared attention:Ensure you and your child are engaged in the same activity (e.g: if your child has the iPad alone, they are paying attention, however if you are both engaged in the iPad and talking about it, it is shared attention).
Turn taking:Demonstrate and teach your child how to take turns (e.g: taking it in turns to put a block on to build a tower).
If you have any concerns about your child's play or communication development, give us a call today to find out how we can help!
- Kate Giulieri, Speech Pathologist at Talk Time.