Play: Know the Basics

Why does play matter?

It’s more than just fun and games! Play matters because it:

  • Helps children learn about themselves and the world around them
  • Allows them to explore different interests and passions
  • Encourages interactions, sharing, and socialization to help develop social-emotional skills
  • Develops important life skills

What is play?

Play is “any spontaneous or organized activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion.” In simpler terms, it’s a time when we are:

  • Having fun
  • Being creative and spontaneous
  • Creating original ideas and acting on them
  • Engaged and concentrated

When does baby begin to play?

Baby can play at any age! Play is a great way to promote motor, sensory, communication and social-emotional development—so it can start as soon as baby comes home. Of course, play will look different as they age, but here’s a look at early play with baby.

As your little one becomes a toddler, they begin to bring more communication and interaction into their play. As their communication skills get better, they will be able to follow directions while they play games. They will also use their motor skills to do more physical activities and play with toys, which helps with learning important social skills like sharing.

How often should my child play?

Think of play as a prescription from a doctor. It’s something they need every day and should be a balance of structured and unstructured play.

Structured play requires a child to follow directions or rules, and is guided by an adult. This could include board games, puzzles, and organized classes like dance or art, or team sports like soccer.

Unstructured play allows for children to do whatever interests them, without as many directions or guides. Playing on the jungle gym, playing dress up, and exploring the outdoors are all examples of unstructured play. The possibilities are endless!

Toddlers should spend at least one hour a day in free, unstructured play, and at least thirty minutes engaged in active, adult-led, structured play. Older children need even more time to play each day.

What skills does play develop?

  • Knowing what to do when no one is directing you
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Interacting with others and negotiating
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Willingness to take risks and try new things
  • Processing emotions
  • Understanding social situations
  • Discovering interests
  • Building confidence


Play and Milestones

Using play to meet milestones

From birth, a baby will use play to explore the world around them and develop important life skills.

Stages of Play

When people think of play they often think of toddlers or young children, but you can start playing as soon as your baby is born. Play changes as your child develops and over time children should become more comfortable playing with others.

  • Unoccupied Play (Birth-3 Months):
    When a baby is making a lot of movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.
  • Solitary Play (Birth-2 Years):
    When a child plays alone and are not interested in playing with others quite yet.
  • Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years):
    When a child watches and observes other children playing but will not play with them.
  • Parallel Play (2+ Years):
    When a child plays alongside or near to others but does not play with them.
  • Associate Play (3-4 Years):
    When a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of cooperation required, e.g. kids playing on the playground but doing different things like climbing, swinging, etc.
  • Cooperative Play (4+ years):
    When a child plays with others and has interest in both the activity and other children involved in playing.

The Do's and Don'ts of Play

It’s important to know the best practices of play!


Some ideas for toys baby can play with in their first year


Play Activities

How Often Should My Child Play With Screens?

There are many games and activities your children can access through screens—but how much time should they spend with screens?

Learn More

There are so many ways to play! Here are some of our favorites.


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