Play is important for the mental, physical and psycho-social development of children. Through play, the child has the chance to explore the world, interact with others, connect and bond with parents, express and control emotions, develop symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows the links between play and foundational capacities, such as memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills and success in school (NAEYC, n.d.).
Play and child development
0-12 months old
Children of this age are at the sensory-motor stage (Piaget, 1964). This means that they learn using their senses.
- Toys with sounds and colors
- Soft toys, such as colorful staffed animals
- Blocks with different shapes and sizes
- Pyramid with plastic or wooden rings
- Soft large cubes
- Children’s mirror
- Cloth books
- Teething toys
- Squeeze/squeak toys
12-24 months old
At this stage, the child starts to explore the toys and stops putting everything in his mouth. He enjoys kinetic games; he likes to be around other children but without sharing his toys. He, also, starts to use everyday objects as toys.
- Simple Constructional Toys
- Pop-Up Toys
- Colourful Markers
- Cooking Sets
- Rag Dolls
- Books With Big Joyful Pictures
- Wooden Puzzles And Jigsaws
- Block Puzzles
- Tool Kits And Workbenches
2-3 years old
Children at this age, enjoy group games since they are now able to wait for their turn. They also play with every-day objects and incorporate them in their make-believe and role-playing game.
- Constructional toys with large blocks and bricks
- Dolls and Dollhouses
- Musical instruments
- Markers, crayons, finger-painting
- Cooking sets
3-5 years old
By now, children like to play with their peers in groups of 4-5 and they are able to share their toys. In their make-believe games, they pretend to be someone they know or to do something that they have observed.
- Constructional toys
- Complex Puzzles
- Musical instruments
- Markers, crayons
- Games that require movement
- Memory cards
5-6 years old
The child is now able to follow the rules of the games.
- Boarded games
- Puppet theatre
- Memory cards
The following poster links theorists and theories to the five types of play. It also gives you an example of how you could link it to a learning experience.
What does each toy promotes:
Crayons, markers and finger painting: stimulate senses, strengthen focus, increase attention
Ball: develops motor skills, increases attention and eye-contact, it is fun!
Puzzles and Blocks: develop motors skills, teach structural concepts, teach shapes, colours and classification, help eye-hand coordination, increase attention and focus
Handicraft and Play-doh: develop vocabulary, excite imagination, develop motor skills, use of objects, teach colours and shapes
Dolls: helps expressing and understanding the feelings, practice empathy, discussion skills, promote symbolic play
Memory cards: develop vocabulary, practice visual memory, promote understanding sequence, critical thinking
Chasing: develop motor skills, burn energy, eye-contact
Books: develop vocabulary, stimulate imagination, accelerate emotional development and foster natural curiosity, improve attention span, increase knowledge
- Choose toys according to the interests of your child!
- Safe toys for young children are well-made (with no sharp parts or splinters and do not pinch); painted with nontoxic, lead-free paint; shatter-proof; and easily cleaned.
National Association for the Education of Young Children, n.d.: https://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/DAP%20and%20Play%20Handout.pdf
Piaget, J. (1964). Part I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of research in science teaching, 2(3), 176-186