Why do Children Play?

  • to actively move their bodies and stretch their minds
  • to interact with the environment, materials, and others
  • to explore the unknown, and to take (safe) risks
  • to share information and knowledge, verbally or non-verbally
  • because it is fun, exciting, and enjoyable
  • to build and extend their knowledge base, developing skills in a way that makes sense to them
  • to try out ideas, feelings, and roles, including re-enacting the past and rehearsing for the future
  • to express and work through emotions and experiences
  • because they can choose to, and it can be spontaneous or defined
  • to build their attention span and focus

How do Children Play?

Solitary Play
A child plays by him or herself.
Spectator Play
A child watches/observes others playing without joining in.
Parallel Play
A child plays alongside another child, oftentimes with similar materials or objects, but without interaction.
Associative or Partnership Play
Children start to play together, interacting through doing the same activities, using the same materials, or imitating one another.
Co-operative Play
Children openly interact with one another and negotiate turns, sharing, and ideas for play.

Categories of Play

Children explore different materials and use these and their bodies to make and do things, expressing their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Includes art, dance, music, yoga, experimenting with found objects, shaping play-doh or clay, and using their imaginations.
Fosters cognitive, fine and gross motor development. Builds social skills, expressive and receptive language abilities.
Children explore different sounds and rhythms, making nonsense words and rhymes. Music, songs, nursery rhymes and silly stories.
Fosters expressive and receptive vocabulary.
Children practice different bodily movements and body control. Movements can be large scale or isolated, and involve coordination and/or balance.
Children use their physical skills and senses to explore their body and what things feel like, inside and out.
Children use their bodies to build things out of different materials.
All physical play helps to develop dexterity, gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness.
Yoga, dance, building with blocks, parachute, feather painting, and sensory activities all fall under physical play.
Games with Rules
Play that is bound by rules, which can be internally or externally imposed. Peak-a-boo is a prime example.
As children get older, they will create rules that are somewhat flexible, and negotiate these with their playmates (ie – playing house, kitchen, kicking a ball).
Fosters language and cognitive development, as children must use verbal skills to question and negotiate rules about what can and cannot be done.
Children use their imaginations to pretend with objects, actions, and/or situations. Dramatic play and make-believe are two prime examples, and can use props such as small-scale planes, trucks, trains, animals, and food.
Allows children to try out roles, occupations, and work through life experiences.
Fosters language development, early literacy and numeracy, especially when pretending to “buy” or “sell” items. Provides opportunities for children to make friends, negotiate with others, and extend communication skills.

The Role of the Facilitator

Planning for Play
The facilitator creates an environment that is open to a wide range of play opportunities.
He or she provides for play experiences that are safe, challenging, inclusive and fun.
He or she organizes the space to reflect the strengths, needs, interests, and abilities of the children, always building on and challenging the children’s learning and development.
He or she provides the children with choices about what to do, and when to do it.
Supporting Play
The facilitator stays on the level of the child(ren) and talks to them about their play (i.e. – What are you working on today? How many blocks are in your tower?)
He or she recognizes, respects, and supports children’s choices if how and what to play with (as long as they are safe).
He or she models appropriate play behaviors (taking turns, sharing, talking to others).
He or she supports without interfering – letting the child(ren) remain in control of play.
He or she helps all children to be players by supporting interactions and mediating when necessary.
Protects children from harm during play, both physically and emotionally.
He or she helps children overcome challenges, such as disengagement or trouble making a choice.
He or she enhances and/or extends play based on his or her knowledge of the individual child(ren).
Reviewing Play
He or she observes, talks to, and listens to children when they are playing.
He or she notices how the space or materials are hindering or supporting play, and makes changes accordingly.
He or she, through observation, is able to identify the patterns of behavior in each child’s play, along with their preferences, interests, and friendships.
He or she uses the information gained through observation to further support play, and extend learning and development.