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  • Writer's pictureCindy Baker, MA, CLE

Learn to Play - Play to Learn!

When we think about play, we usually think of FUN! Something that provides us amusement & recreation, the ability to function & move freely, and occupy oneself in an enjoyable, stress-free and relaxing way. However, 'Play' for infants and young children has been repeatedly defined and explained by many of the world's scholars and developmental theorists as 'a child's work'. What makes it so? In a nutshell, specialists view a child's play as 'work' primarily because it is crucial to a child's cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. It is truly the work of a baby to play and interact with their environment in order to learn and acquire new skills.


  • babies & children learn by doing

  • play helps children acquire physical abilities

  • play is a basis for language development

  • repeated play activities helps to build memory

  • play provides opportunity for interactions with peers, toys and adults, which in turn teaches social/emotional behavior, coping, and adaptability

  • play is important for personality development

  • play feels good, creates joy, and is a way of relaxing from the day's busy schedule


0-8 months Explorative Play

  • single object play - one thing at a time

  • highly active sensory and motor systems

  • repetition - mastery of batting, reaching, grasping, shaking, banging, mouthing, dropping

  • cause/effect - when I do this, something else happens

  • early memory skill

8-15 months Representational Play

  • use of objects and toys become more purposeful

  • understanding what objects are for and how to use them - i.e. spoon, key, ball

  • more advanced memory and 'finding' skills

  • the beginning of language and identifying objects

  • spatial relationships are learned - container play predominates

15+ months Symbolic Play

  • play is more child directed

  • ideas have purpose and come to fruition (even if not exact!)

  • functional relationships are learned - using toys in a purposeful way

  • pretend play begins to develop


  • choose the right time and place

  • match activity to mood

  • eliminate distractions ahead of time

  • use developmentally appropriate toys

  • let your child be the decision maker

  • learn your child's like and dislikes

  • learn what is motivating to our child

  • don't impose your own standards

  • observe your child's attention to the activity

  • talk to your child throughout playtime - keep phrases short, relevant, and positive

  • allow time for problem solving and creativity, but help out before frustration and loss of interest develops

  • encourage and praise your child, especially behaviors and actions - 'great squeezing!'

  • demonstrate activities and make sure your child understands 'the goal'

  • finish an activity before your child gets bored & loses interest

  • keep toys organized

  • rotate toy bins every several weeks so things are fresh and captivating

  • put closure on the activity - 'all done' and clean up

  • explore all senses during play

  • repeat learning activities often - children love to practice getting it right!


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