PLAY AND TOYS
Play is to children what work is
to adults. Play is their university which will help them to
learn, to explore, to compete, to create, to socialize, to internalize
and to have fun. Lets take a closer look at why children play,
what is appropriate play at different age and stages of development
and what you can do to facilitate this important activity.
do children play?
Babies are born helpless. In fact, they are so helpless, that
if you left them in a room full of food they would die. Not
only because they couldn’t get to it, but also because
they couldn’t digest it. Psychologically, they defend
against these extremely helpless feeling with an omnipotent
fantasy that they are completely in control of their world.
When babies cry and you come running with a breast or a bottle,
they think they magically made you appear. And this is emotionally
healthy. Babies and young children are supposed to think magically
about their own, egocentric needs. And perhaps this is the beginning
of building an imaginary world. For children, the boundaries
between fantasy and reality are diffuse. That is why they can
turn a block into a cell phone, or a book into a hat. But they
can also turn you into a fairy princess when you do what they
want, or a wicked witch if you don’t. The power of fantasy
and play is that it gives the child power in his inner experience,
when he is helpless and dependent in reality.
Here’s a typical example:
Sara lines up her dolls and shouts at them for being naughty.
What she is doing is pretending to be her mom who shouted at
her for being naughty just the other day. Sara is coming to
terms with her difficult feelings about being shouted at through
play. She feels helpless in reality and so she defends against
this helplessness by becoming very powerful in fantasy. So she
becomes the mom and shouts at the dollies. In this sense, children
play as a way of dealing with their experiences. It is a healthy
form of working through their anxieties, their thoughts and
But children play for many different
reasons. They play with others as a way of engaging with them,
they play in order to explore, they play in order to practice
a skill, and of most importantly – they play for pleasure!
What is age appropriate in play?
first 18 months
Infants in the first 12 months explore their world through the
senses. They enjoy sensorimotor play. They derive pleasure from
holding, eating, touching and feeling objects around them.
The first owned play object is
a “transitional object” such as a blanket or dummy
or teddy or bottle, etc. This object is very important to the
young child because he has complete control over it. As he grows
he becomes more independent and he looses complete control over
adults in his world. He realizes that he can’t magically
make mom do what he wants. This might cause distress that can
erupt into terrible temper tantrums. Why? Because he was living
with the illusion that he had complete control over his world
and others in it. Now he is learning that this is not the case.
But when it comes to his transitional object, he still has the
magic! He can throw it and bite it and kick it and it won’t
retaliate like mom or big brother will. One mom said that her
son’s teddy is like his Prozac! He calms down in an instant
when he has it near. Not all children have transitional objects
and this is normal too. Some parents are not aware of them,
but they exist – such as mom’s hair or feeling her
chest, or a part of the nappy or a cot sheet, etc. Transitional
objects are a healthy part of emotional development and play
and should not be thrown away prematurely. There was a study,
which observed two groups of children – all of whom had
a transitional object. The experimental group was chosen because
they suddenly lost a parent and the control group had not. Results
show that those who lost a parent also lost interest in their
transitional objects. If this object is seen as a “crutch”
then surely these children would have become more dependent
on it? But just the opposite was found. When the parent was
alive and well, so was the object. Therefore, it is not a crutch
at all. It is a healthy part of emotional development because
it is a play object which represents the transition from the
outside world of reality to the inside word of fantasy.
– 36 months
In the second year of life, toddlers
enjoy exploring the world. They will want to gain control over
their experiences and will explore with this goal in mind. Pouring,
throwing, pulling, etc will be popular activities at this age.
But the 18 – 24 month old child is no longer happy to
bring things to your lap – now he wants you to “come”
so that he can share his adventures with you. Perhaps that is
why all parents of 2 year olds look so washed out!
Socially, toddlers will play side
by side mostly (parallel play). They don’t engage in social
play as yet but they are socially alert. They protest at sharing
and take control of toys and activates at the slightest provocation.
A very popular form of social play at this age is rough-and-tumble
play. This is a wonderful way for children to explore the limits
of what is fun and what is not; what is appropriate and what
is not. Many moms complain that rough-and-tumble play always
ends up in tears! But perhaps that is why it is helpful because
it gives children a chance to explore where the limits lie to
social interactions (or maybe it’s dad’s that need
– 6 years
By three they are beginning to engage in symbolic or pretend
play. This is when a stick can be a horse or a house. Symbolic
play usually has props, a plot and roles. This is also when
your daughter wants to be mommy, a teacher, a fairy or a princess
– or when your son is hardly himself because he is always
superman or whatever. Dress up is famous at this stage of development
because it allows children to play different roles in their
Practice play is also important
where children will repeat behaviors in order to learn new skills.
Practice play starts as early as 6 months and continues into
adulthood. It is not uncommon to see a five year old spend a
long time kicking a ball into the air in order to catch it.
The five-year-old child will enjoy feeling capable and competent
in his world and will engage in much practice play in order
to achieve mastery.
Social play with peers increases
dramatically in the 3 –6 year old child. The 3 year old
begins to engage with others rather than play beside them, and
by 6 friends become an important part of the school day.
upon the different ways in which children play at different
ages and stages of development here are some suggestions for