The Importance of Play in Child Development

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While our fast-paced work culture might have us believe that play is time spent unproductively – nothing could be further from the truth! For a young child in particular, play is the springboard to learning and developing physical, social and emotional skills. In fact, the role of play in child development is so important that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognises play to be a right for every child


What is play in childhood development?

To understand the importance of play in child development, we first have to consider the different types of play and their role in cognitive and physical development.

Play can be divided into two types – structured and unstructured play. There’s no right or wrong way for a child to play and both of these types improve various aspects of a child’s physical, emotional and social development.


Unstructured play

Unstructured play describes games that are self-led by the child. Children play with what interests them and use their own imagination rather than following rules. They set their own objectives and discover new ways to achieve the outcomes they desire.

Unstructured play may include:

  • Dressing up
  • Playing in a playground
  • Drawing or painting on a blank piece of paper
  • Playing with toys or blocks
  • Water play
  • Kicking a soccer ball


Structured play

Children engaged in structured play will follow specific rules with definite objectives. 

Structured play includes:

  • Board games
  • Organised activities and sports
  • Puzzles
  • Following directions to assemble a specific model or structure



Why is play important for a child’s development?

The key role of play in child development extends far beyond providing children with a fun time – though having fun is itself a key component of a child’s welfare that can’t be forgotten. Through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them. Play provides a valuable opportunity for children to explore, imagine new scenarios and hone their decision-making skills.

The impact of lack of play on child development can cause long-term problems including isolation, reduced self-control, depression and poor communication skills. Play deprivation has a direct impact on both present and future wellbeing of the child. With more and more studies on the importance of play in child development being published, it’s never been more clear that childhood play is the gateway to a healthy and happy life.


Children learn through play

Play encourages children to explore the world around them and discover areas of interest. It also encourages children to think creatively and develop problem solving and decision-making skills to use in their play. Concentration and persistence are also strengthened through both structured and unstructured play.


Play helps children grow up strong and healthy

No matter whether your child is climbing, running, jumping or dancing – it’s clear that active play has numerous benefits that passive entertainment does not offer. Increasing physical activity in a natural way makes exercise fun and self-led. Active play supports physical growth, overall health and mental wellbeing.


Children develop social skills through play

Cooperative play provides a great opportunity for children to develop numerous group skills, such as listening and controlling impulsive behaviour. Children working together through play are actively learning to communicate with each other using careful, purposeful words. This is closely tied to leadership and negotiation skills – an extremely important part of developing.


Emotional development through play

Play acts as an outlet for children to express their feelings, frustrations and experiences. Parents and educators can often learn a lot about children’s emotions through observing their play. It also allows children to develop self-confidence and learn important life skills, such as fairness, resilience and empathy.

Discover some engaging and fun activities to build a child’s confidence here.


The 6 Stages of Play

A child reaches six different play stages throughout early life. These stages can often align with the ages below, though the timing of each stage will be unique for every child.


Unoccupied play (0-3 months)

Unoccupied play describes the seemingly random movements that babies make. Even when a baby remains in a certain place, their gestures and movements are signals that they are exploring the new world they are gradually coming to understand.


Solitary play (0-2 years)

Solitary play is when children play by themselves and appear uninterested in or unaware of any adults or children nearby. Children engaged in solitary play will play alone with separate toys without interacting with adults or other children. 


Onlooker play (2 years)

Somewhat similar to solitary play, onlooker play describes children who are playing alone but alongside other children. Children may observe other children playing but still play by themselves.


Parallel Play (2+ years)

Parallel play is when children play adjacent to each other. It does not involve the children interacting with one another. While they may share toys, they are not playing the same game.


Associative Play (3-4 years)

Associative play begins when children start to acknowledge one another in play. Children may share toys, chatter, copy or even work with each other. However, they are not ‘playing together’ in the cooperative sense.


Cooperate Play (4+ years)

Cooperative play closely follows associative play. Children engaging in cooperative play are playing together and collaborating – meaning their games share the same goals and they assign roles to one another. Cooperative play allows children to develop important social skills such as decision making, sharing, taking turns and compromising.


How childcare helps children learn through play

At Aurrum Kids, we understand the integral role of of play in child development and learning, and our daycare and early childhood learning environment are built around this understanding. Everything from our Reggio Emilia based curriculum to physical spaces are designed to support a child’s unique pathway through early life through emphasising the importance of play in child development.


Safe and sensory-rich learning environment

Our physical environments also provide plenty of opportunities for uninterrupted play. Expansive, natural-light filled indoor spaces and diverse outdoor landscapes offer a safe and nurturing environment in which your child can explore and grow in confidence. Spaces are designed with a myriad of loose parts and multi-use equipment so children can naturally create make-believe worlds where they can travel the world, drive cars, build new kingdoms, cook delicious dishes, or pursue other adventures we haven’t even considered!


Passionate and supportive educators

Play is an incredibly valuable part of life, and especially so in younger years. Part of an educator’s role in childcare is to encourage your little one to run, jump, shout, stretch, sing, dance and play games – it’s all shaping them into who they are, and who they will be!

To ensure that your children receive the care and support they need, our educators make a concerted effort to observe your child’s play to personalise their delivery of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. This educational philosophy is based on the idea that experiential learning in relationship-driven environments are a powerful force in a child’s early education.


Play-based curriculum

Aurrum Kids has a play-based curriculum that follows the Early Learning Framework. This play-based learning curriculum inspires each child’s natural curiosity and supports the development of their social, emotional, cognitive, physical and communication skills. By encouraging natural play, the Early Learning Framework fosters a strong sense of identity and wellbeing, ultimately creating confident and involved learners who are effective communicators.


Excursions into the local community

Children are part of a broader community and we believe it is incredibly important that children feel connected to their culture, nature and their local communities. Where possible, Aurrum Kids arranges engaging excursions to visit local parks, gardens and museums. These excursions are an excellent opportunity for children to interact with and find their place within their local community and environment.


Intergenerational experiences

The children at Aurrum Kids further interact with the wider community through our much-loved Grandfriends program. This program provides intergenerational opportunities for children and older adults to interact and exchange knowledge and skills. The activities organised for our Grandfriends programs also helps both children and their Grandfriends to feel valued for who they are and what they contribute to the world.


Find a childcare centre that encourages your child to be themselves

Aurrum Kids offers holistic childcare inspired by a Reggio Emilia play-based curriculum in both Victoria and New South Wales. Arrange a tour at an Aurrum Kids childcare centre near you to experience firsthand the power of play in learning.