When your child plays with a toy, they aren’t just playing. They’re experiencing textures, learning about movement, colours and sounds. When they are having a ‘physical’ play session, they’re learning how their bodies and the world around them work. That’s why scientists are so fond of saying that playing is ‘child’s work’.
You will notice that different ages come with different types of play. Newborns will bat a dangling toy and stare at themselves in a mirror, for instance, while toddlers may start learning to share, and to play with their peers, by sharing toys.
You can help to develop your child’s abilities by playing age appropriate games with them, for instance, play games that help to develop social skills, like peek a boo. Or give your infant toys that encourages him or her to taste, feel, smell, throw or otherwise interact. Soft toys, rattles and other toys designed for infants are perfect.
Later on, at around one year old, children start to mimic adults in their play. A toy lawnmower or computer at this age is perfect, as it allows your child to do what mummy and daddy do! You may even notice that your child uses items in imaginary play – using a calculator to ‘make a phone call’ for instance.
By two years old, your child will start to play symbolically – using household items, and imagining them as something else, and by three, you will notice that your child has started to role play – he or she will pretend to be a doctor, a fireman or something else.