Influence of Types of Play on Children

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It is important to understand the different types of play and how they help children's development in order to plan activities for children. This will help them to develop holistically.

The Early Years Foundation Strategy says that "play underpins all development and learning for young children" (The Early Years Foundation Stage Practice Guidance p1.17 Crown 2008).

Learning through play is a very important principle of Early Years education, staff must provide opportunities for all the types of play:-

Imaginative Play Construction Play

Home corner Lego blocks

Dressing up Building towers

Small worlds

Physical Play Creative Play

Examples: tricycles, Sensory Play Drawing and

skipping ropes Water and sand play painting, crafts

Children may play in different ways to what you expect, this doesn't matter, it shows their creativity. They may be running round outside in a superhero costume waving a sword they made out of a cardboard tube (physical + imaginative + creative), this helps them to develop holistically.

Types of play for children ages 2 to 8


This is any play with a focus which is physical. Children can be playing indoors or outside with balls, ride on toys. They can be climbing, running about or throwing and catching a ball. Physical play helps with motor skills, this gives more confidence. The children interact with each other when they are playing games outside, they learn the rules, how to negotiate, take turns, solve arguments, this helps with social skills.

Resources needed

To help with motor skills and co-ordination you would provide balls of various sizes, ride on toys and trikes, and skipping ropes, hula hoops. Space to play games like hopscotch, tag or football. For 6-8 year olds you could have a basketball hoop, inline skates and bikes.

Example from nursery

In my nursery setting the children play outdoors and there is equipment accessible for them at all times such as scooters. There are only two scooters which gives the opportunity for children to learn how to share and take it in turns to use the scooter. They must communicate with each other in order to ask if they can have a go on the scooter and have to wait their turn to use it, this improves their social skills and language. The scooters help to improve the children's physical development greatly as the children have to be able to balance and use their legs to be able to move around the area on the scooter. They enhance the children's gross motor skills. When the children are riding the scooters they can make their own decisions on where they want to go and think for themselves improving their cognitive development.

Development through physical play may be affected if there aren't enough resources available so children have to wait a long time for a go on a tricycle for example. This can be helped by sending children out in small groups so you have enough things for them to play on.


Children enjoy pretending, it helps them with their speech language and communication skills, their social skills, their identity. There are lots of different types of imaginative play:-

Pretend play - children make an object into something else, a ruler can be a wand for a magician.

Role play - using props, the children play act different roles they are familiar with such as Mummy & Daddy, brothers and sisters, going shopping.

Socio dramatic play - a group of children play out scenes from real life such as taking their dog to the vet. This type of play is better for children with good language skills, children with English not their first language will not get as much out of this, they will need support from staff to help improve language skills.

Superhero - children dress up to act out their heroes from films they have seen like Toy Story, Shrek, Spiderman and Frozen.

Small world - using small animals, cars, toy soldiers children enjoy making up situations and manipulating the objects. They could act out a battle or be a farmer looking after the animals.


Plenty of dressing up costumes in different sizes

Everyday items for baking, shopping at supermarket,

Farm and zoo animals, miniature cars, toy soldiers

Play house

Example from nursery

In the home corner we have used containers of real products that have been filled with coloured liquid or a substance that isn't dangerous for the children, such as a used Vimto bottle filled with water which has been coloured with purple food colouring to look like actually Vimto. There is also a washing up powder box filled with table salt as well as more everyday objects that the children will watch their parents handling. These resources give the children a real-life experience enabling them to use their imagination and creativity. They can also improve their fine motor skills as they pretend to poor drinks and serve food. Children can improve their communications skills as they talk to the other children and role play situations they have witnessed at home. These resources also help the children to enhance their social skills as they interact with the other children.

Good language skills are needed for imaginative play so children will find it harder to join in if they have delays in language. Practitioners need to be aware of this so they can support the children with a different type of play which helps their holistic development.


Experiencing how water, sand, play dough, gloop feel and what you can do with them helps with fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. At the same time children are learning about texture and properties of materials, maths concepts of volume and shape.


Sand and water

Play dough - bought or home made

Food - mashed potato, pasta

Example from nursery

In my nursery, they have a sand tray which they have access to all the time. There are different objects in the sand such as stones, buckets, spades and miniature animals. The sand can be made into different consistencies, it can be completely dry with no water this allows the children to feel the sand between their hands and put it into containers and pour it out. When water is added to the sand it makes it malleable so the children can build sandcastles and other things with it. It promotes the child imagination and creativity. This type of sensory play is very relaxing for the children and is very good for children with disabilities, they can enjoy the feel of the sand on their hands. Sand play can advance a child's physical development, they use their upper bodies to handle the sand and play with the objects. They can dig, poor, scoop and grab the sand which also improves the children's hand eye coordination. When children play in the sand they usually play alongside other children therefore this encourages their social skills. They must learn how to share the objects and get a space around the sand tray for themselves. Sand play also promotes cognitive development as the children are learning about the conservation of matter as they play with the sand, pouring it into different size and shape containers.


Creative play is when children make or create something, they use the resources you provide but it is important they choose what they want to do. This helps with fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, expressing and releasing emotions. They learn to manage frustration and how practising something helps you improve. When the child succeeds after they keep trying, they feel a lot of satisfaction. An example of this is making a necklace from beads. This requires good eye-hand coordination to thread the beads and patience if they keep falling off the elastic. The child learns to persevere and not give up. Also, they can help each other which develops their social skills. It is important for staff to not jump in to help, to encourage the child to keep trying.


Drawing and painting - paper, card, paints, crayons, brushes

Musical instruments - mouth organ, kazoo, recorder, drums, small keyboard

Collage materials - glitter, textiles, glue, beads, feathers, string

Junk for modelling - boxes, tubes

Modelling kits for 6-8 year olds

Example from nursery

In the nursery, there is a box with lots of recycled containers and materials such as, milk cartons, cardboard boxes, straws and lots more. The chldren can make whatever they want with the materials and they are given the freedom to do so. All the materials help develop the children's creativity, they can experiment with the resources and use their imagination to think up ideas of what they want to make. When children handle the materials they are improving their fine motor skills as they are using their muscles in their hands to cut with scissors, and use their fingers to stick things together.


Children enjoy putting things together such as jigsaws, wood blocks and constructing things for example lego/duplo. They can make dens from sheets over chairs or out of large boxes. This helps with hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, how things work. Building a tall tower gives a sense of achievement this helps self-esteem.


Jigsaws, bricks, model aircraft and trains

Different sizes of cardboard boxes

Example from nursery

In the outdoor space of my nursery they have a construction area with large coloured plastic bricks. The children can build towers and walls and knock them over and rebuild them. Playing with the bricks gives the children a good opportunity to advance their social skills and communication as they cooperate to build a tall tower. They must be able to share the bricks with the other children and take it in turns to build what they want to. They use their gross motor skills to place the bricks on top of each other and as the tower gets taller they have to reach up to place the bricks on top. If another child knocks down their tower, they have to learn how to express their emotions of anger, frustration, upset and assert themselves to tell the child not to do it again.

Case Study 2-8 year olds

In "The Secret Life of 5 year Olds" TV programme Jude struggles with being on the losing team when they are doing an obstacle course challenge. The winners get some chocolate and he wants some as well. He thinks it isn't fair that only the winners get the chocolate, he gets very upset and angry and cries. He asks his friends to get it for him. At first they try but it annoys the other children so they stop playing with him. Jude isn't able to control his emotions and accept he lost. He can't put himself in their shoes to see their point of view. The teacher sees that Jude needs her help and support to manage his emotions. In the next episode she takes him to one side and quietly supports him, she explains a better way to react. This enables Jude to behave differently the next time, he has developed his social and emotional areas of development. In the next task he shows that he has learned how to manage his feelings when he loses because he says "Well done" to the winning team (episodes 1 and 2 Channel 4 Nov 29th and Dec 6th 2016). The other children want to play with him more because he isn't having a tantrum. Sometimes you have to get involved to help a child develop to the next level. If the teacher had just left Jude to carry on getting angry, he would have lost his friends and not learnt a better way to lose.

Types of play for children ages 0 - 2

Play is different for babies, they learn through their senses. Also, they need a lot more interaction and supervision from adults.

Treasure basket

Elinor Goldschmied had the idea for Treasure Baskets. This is an activity for babies who can sit on the floor unsupported and grasp objects. Lots of natural objects are put in a low basket that a baby can reach into. The adult is nearby to supervise in case the baby tries to put things in her mouth. Kathy Brodie says "No plastic!" ( She means that you should provide natural resources with lots of different shapes and textures. Toys are smooth and plastic so the baby won't learn much from picking one up, they are too young to do much more than touch, smell and taste at this age. It is important to let the baby choose what to explore, the role of the adult is to supervise so the child is safe and to reassure them by being nearby.

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The objects can include things which are light or heavy, rigid or squishy, warm or cold. Lots of variety stimulates the baby's senses, this helps development in the brain, new neural connections are made. Using the treasure basket helps develop hand-eye coordination, it also helps the baby get stronger muscles. The activity could last as long as 45 minutes depending on the child's interest and concentration. If they put things in their mouths you need to clean them before another child gets the basket. Review the contents regularly and change the objects to keep the babies interested.

Example of resources

Low sided basket with about 30 objects in

Natural - fir cones, pebbles, shells

Wood - spoons, pegs, wooden curtain rings

Metal - bells, whisk, small pan, teaspoon

Others - pot pourri bag, soap, fabrics, hairbrush, mirror, lemon

Heuristic Play

This is for older babies and toddlers, they want to find out what they can do with objects, not just touch them like the babies. As well as the objects from a treasure basket, you can add man-made things so the toddler can widen their exploring. Bigger objects can be used as the children can stand up, they have more control over their movements. This is a child-directed activity like for the treasure baskets, adults just supervise, they don't get involved unless there is a danger or the child invites them.

In Helen Huleatt says "When toddlers make an enjoyable discovery - for instance when one item fits into another, or an interesting sound is produced - they often repeat the action several times to test the result, which strengthens cognitive development as well as fine muscle control and hand/eye coordination."

Heuristic play needs a clear space for the objects and children, objects are grouped into types for example, all the tins in one group, the fabrics in another. The role of the practitioner is to set out the area then sit quietly nearby. At the end of the session the children can help to clear away, they can develop cognitive ability by sorting types of objects or colours into boxes they came out of.

It is important to choose the right time for this activity, if the children are tired, they can't concentrate very well. Observing what the children interact with and how they use the objects will mean you can develop these interests in other types of play. For example, if you notice a child who enjoys sorting things by colour, you could help them to learn the names of the colours in a construction activity with different coloured bricks.

Supervision is important to ensure the children don't put things is their mouths or break things causing sharp edges. Staff need to be near enough to intervene but not distract their concentration. If a child doesn't seem to be interested, they may be tired or hungry, there may not be enough objects to attract them.

Example of resources

Objects from the treasure baskets can be used

Cotton reels, buttons, fabrics

Containers of different shapes and size, made of different materials

Tubes for pushing things through, cardboard boxes

Peek a Boo and Hide and Seek

Babies enjoy games like Peek a boo. As well as being fun it helps them to learn about object permanence. At first when something is out of sight a very young baby will think it no longer exists, they are surprised when you peek out. By about 4 or 5 months old babies know an object still exists even if they can't see it, they start to anticipate seeing you. Older babies and toddlers like playing Hide and Seek, especially when the adult pretends they can't see them. The game encourages children to develop problem-solving skills by finding a place to hide or looking for everyone. They improve physical ability by running about looking for a hiding place to squeeze into. They develop social skills by taking turns


Provide small spaces where children can hide

Roll a ball

Roll a ball helps a young child's holistic development. They develop hand-eye coordination and balance by rolling the ball, they learn about taking turns which develops social skills; their communication skills develop by listening to an adult talk about the activity.


Different sized balls

Case study - 11 months old

The baby I have been observing plays Peek a Boo with her Mum. Her Mum said at first she got upset when she hid behind her hands but slowly she realised her Mum was still there. When I watched, the baby was laughing and smiling. She wanted her Mum to keep doing it. This game helped the baby to understand that when her Mum leaves the room she will come back so she doesn't get upset and cry for her. A strong attachment is very important for young babies to develop so they need to learn this as soon as possible.

Resources to support play and learning

A good variety and amount of resources are needed to support children If they are good quality they will last longer, there is less chance of the children being injured. All resources need to be safe for children to use, they have to have the safety marks to show they have been tested and are safe. These are the CE mark, the Lion mark and the Kite Mark.

Each age group and ability/stage of development will need its own resources. Too many toys limits creative and imaginative play so provide lots of blocks, shells and containers instead of actual toys. You need somewhere to store them all so if you put them in boxes the children can play with the boxes as well.

Older children might have particular interests for example dinosaurs so you could provide a set of different types of dinosaurs, books about them, and clay for them to make models. The 6-8 year olds could make a video using their models - this would help their ICT skills as well as language skills. They would improve their fine motor skills by modelling and work together to make the video, improving social skills.

Another thing is about different cultures and religions. If you have children from another country, like asylum seekers, they will do things differently so you must provide resources that they recognise. This could be dressing up clothes from other countries or different play foods for the home corner. Dolls should be of different colours so a black or asian child can identify with them. Books should show children from different races and cultures being heroes, not just white children, this helps them to have a positive sense of identity.

As the children grow and develop the way they play changes, it depends on the individual child. Play is more social for 4 year olds than 2 year olds because their communication skills are better, they play cooperatively, they are more imaginative. 2 year olds need supervision to ensure safety and help them engage in play but 5- 8 years olds are very independent compared to 2 year olds, they don't want adults getting involved except to sort out problems. Older children like board games, they understand rules and taking turns whereas toddlers don't have the cognitive abilities. They are not good at sharing, they think if they want something they should have it.

"Research on successful outcomes of Early Years provision - both in the short term and for later success in school and as adults - has pointed to some general guidelines. The best outcomes for children's learning occur where most of the activity within a child's day is a mixture of:

• child-initiated play, actively supported by adults

• focused learning, with adults guiding the learning through playful, rich experiential activities." (Learning, Playing and Interacting 2009)

If children only do free play then some areas of development and skills can get missed out. They may keep repeating the same activities so they don't learn anything new. If adults direct all their play it is less fun and prevents them gaining independence, it is better to plan a range of activities and opportunities during each day or week, this ensures their needs are met.

Children aged 0-2 benefit more from adult-initiated play than 2-8 year olds. This is because the older children have developed a lot further, they need less help. Older children like to make up their own games and decide what to do. If they are offered the same resources, the younger and older children will use them differently.

Babies and toddlers enjoy water play because it feels good, they can splash about, it is relaxing. They develop fine motor skills using buckets and spades. However, older children play with water in a different way. They like to measure out different amounts, see what sinks and floats. They will do experiments to test out ideas or use water in role play.


Supporting children's learning and development through play and activities is the best way to develop the child holistically. Children are unique, they develop at different rates, practitioners must observe all the time so they have a good understanding of each child and their interests. They can plan a range of opportunities to help them develop more and provide resources the child will enjoy, also to provide a challenge so they develop.


The Early Years Foundation Stage Practice Guidance 2008 p1.17 Crown

Learning, Playing and Interacting: Good Practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage 2009 p5 Department for Children Schools and Families Crown 2009 accessed 11/12/2016 accessed 11/12/2016


Tassoni, P. A parent's guide to treasure basket and heuristic play (2015) Nursery World p30-32

Tassoni et al 2014 Pearson Education Limited, Harlow


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