The importance of play for development

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Childhood is a time of imagination, creativity and fun. It is an opportunity to command the seas as a pirate, visit the furthest reaches of outer space, and become the master of a zoo filled with the most exotic animals, all from the comfort of your home or local play centre. One of the best things about childhood is that work and play are one and the same; play is crucial for the development of a huge number of skills, including problem-solving and risk-taking. A chance to explore, create and expand is an essential part of childhood development.

During early childhood, six stages of play have been identified, which grow with your child and allow them to develop new skills and abilities.

Birth – 6 months: Unoccupied play

At this stage, babies are discovering and exploring their own bodies, making movements with hands, feet, arms and legs and figuring out how it works.

Birth – 2 years: Solitary play

During this stage, children are not ready to play with others, but will happily play alone.

2 years: Spectator/onlooker

This is the stage at which children may watch and observe others playing, but are not yet ready to join in.

2 years and up: Parallel play

During this stage, children will play alongside others, but the games and activities do not overlap: they are still very much playing on their own, but close to others.

3 – 4 years: Associate play

A child will start to interact sporadically with others – for example, a group of children are all playing on a playground together, but working on different tasks such as climbing bars, swings or slides.

4+ years: Cooperative play

Children begin to play together and take an active interest in each other’s activities.

As children grow they have the opportunity to learn new skills at each stage. Soft play provides a safe area to explore emotions and interests, try out new creative pursuits, and learn to work with and socialise with others around them effectively. Play acts as a crucial part of a child’s development, and has the added bonus of being a lot of fun for all!