Young children are bombarded with sensations and information everyday. They struggle to understand their experiences and make sense of the world and their place in it. How can a child, four years old or even younger, hope to make sense of this complex world? The answer is play: children learn and develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically through play.
Exploring through imagination
In play, children are only limited by their imagination. They can pretend to be different people and take on new roles allowing them to see the world from different perspectives. How many times have you heard your child hold up an object and say, “Pretend this is an airplane, a flower, a doggie”. The ability to make believe with objects is crucial in developing how children think and express their thoughts and feelings.
Developmental stages in play
As your child grows, you will see the developmental stages manifested in their play.
2 years old
At about the age of two, children pretend to cry, sleep, and eat. Then they begin to include stuffed animals, dolls, and other toys in their play. They also begin to pretend with objects-a box becomes a car or a block can be a telephone.
3 years old
When children are about three years old, they like to play make-believe with others. Their play becomes more complex.
4 or 5 years old
When 4 and 5 year olds play, they focus on taking on different adult roles. These first play experiences tend to focus on their experiences at home. Children pretend to cook, clean, care for younger children, go off to work, etc. This kind of play helps children make sense of their world and work through any fears or anxieties in a safe context.
Encouraging my child to play at home
There are lots of ways that you can encourage play at home. One way is to turn off the TV and put away the video games. When you buy toys, buy ones that are open-ended; that allow for children’s creativity and imagination. Capitalize on your child’s interests. Is she particularly fascinated by a book you have just read together? Does he constantly talk about a movie your family saw together last weekend? Provide props for your child to use in pretend play.