Play is more than you think! Play gives a child the opportunity, time, and space to foster many important life skills. Engaging in play allows a child to explore different interests, passions, and talents. Play is a wonderful educational tool that helps prepare them for life experiences. Caregivers and parents can also use play to help meet milestones in a child’s development. From birth, a baby will use play to explore the world around them and develop important life skills. But play is much more than just a fun activity for a child. As a child grows they go through different stages of play development.  Play starts when we are babies, but does not stop there. Including play in a child’s daily routine is important for their development at every age.

Six stages of play during early childhood:

Birth-3 months: Unoccupied play- Babies make movement with their arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Birth-2 years: Solitary Play- Children play along, but are not interested in play with others quite yet.

2 year: Spectator/Onlooker Behavior- Child begins to watch and observe peers playing, but does not play with them.

2 year & up: Parallel Play- Child plays alongside or near peers, but does not play with them.

3-4 years: Associate Play- Child starts to interact with peers during play, but not a lot of interaction.

4 years & up: Cooperative Play- Child plays together with peers and has interest in both the activity and the other child.

Play Builds Skills for a Lifetime:

  • Knowing what to do when no one is directing you
  • Problem solving
  • Gain life skills when given the opportunity, time, and space to play
  • Interaction with others
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Interacting with others and negotiating
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Willingness to take risks and try different scenarios
  • Processing emotions
  • Understanding social situations
  • Discovering interests, passions, and talents

 I have a few tips to make more of play time:

  • Limit screen time
  • Promote outdoor play
  • Allow for child to make mistakes
  • Give child free time to play outside and also offer organized activities
  • Let child make choices about games, activities, and toys
  • Encourage use of imagination
  • Offer new challenges if child is bored or help if child is frustrated
  • Provide encouragement and support




Zero to Three

Community playthings

If you would like more specific information on play or activities that promote play, contact Heather Gordon, Infant/Toddler Specialist at 815-484-9442 Ext: 228 or register for our upcoming trainings at