Role of Play

Children learn best through play.​

As children play, they learn the skills that help support their success in later schooling. When you begin to use these play-based activities, your child will learn new skills and foster a love for learning. The activities are designed to fit into your everyday activities and can be adapted to fit the needs and preferences of your family. All children grow and develop at different rates, as a result, these activity cards will allow you use the activities in different ways as your child grows.

We encourage parents to engage in what is called Purposeful Play. Purposeful play activities encourage children to ask questions about and explore things children are interested in. These activities also encourage children to find answers to their questions by observing, planning, and trying new things. Adults can help by thinking about what is interesting to their child and then planning some special play activities that encourage the child to explore those interests. This kind of play helps children learn the things they will need to be successful in school. The best way for young children to understand the world and to learn new skills and practice skills they already have, is through play (Ginsburg, 2007).

When parents ask questions and talk with their children during these activities, children learn ideas and skills that will support future learning. There are several different types of play, all of which serve different purposes. These include:

  • Social play helps children learn to cooperate and share
  • Constructive play lets children explore objects and discover patterns
  • Physical play helps children work on large and small muscle skills
  • Expressive play lets children learn to express feelings and emotions
  • Fantasy play encourages children to think creatively and use their imaginations

When children engage in these types of play they also do what is called pretend play. Research tells us that pretend play is important for children and helps them develop skills in all learning areas. In their pretend play, children act out situations and experiences from their everyday lives, like going to the grocery store, taking the bus, or cooking dinner. Older toddlers and preschoolers begin to use objects in their play, like pretending a block is a phone or putting on daddy’s shoes and a tie to pretend to go to work. This type of play encourages brain development that will help children get ready for future learning. When parents join their children in pretend play, it encourages children to be more creative and expressive. It is important for parents to discourage the type of pretend play or use of props that imitate violence.

Planning Purposeful Play Activities

As you plan activities with your child, here are some questions to think about:

  • Does this activity build on something my child already knows so he/she can experience success?
  • Will it challenge my child to learn new skills without frustrating him/her?
  • How can this activity be changed so that all family members can participate?
  • Does the activity involve something that interests him/her?
  • Does it introduce my child to something new and different?
  • What types of activities do we enjoy doing together?
  • Is this an activity we would like to do together as a family?
  • Does this activity take advantage of the way my child likes to learn?
  • Does it help my child to discover a new way of learning?

Adapting play for Children with Disabilities

The Fun Family Activity Cards have been developed for use by all children. The activities have been developed with information about broad ages, rather than specific developmental months. As a result, activities may need to be adapted for individual children, particularly those with disabilities. Parents are encouraged to select and adapt activities for their child as needed. Use the cards to reflect on and take note of your child’s development. Should you have concerns about your child’s development refer to your health care provider or contact the RI Department of Health, listed in the Resources for Families section of the cards.

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