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How Children Learn and Develop Through Play

Updated on February 26, 2018
Raine Law Yuen profile image

Raine has a background in child and youth development. and experience with educational resourcing.

How Children Learn and Develop Through Play: Raine Law Yuen.
How Children Learn and Develop Through Play: Raine Law Yuen. | Source

In this post I provide an overview of key information on what you should know in order to make an informed decision as to how best to selecting appropriate resources that encourage optimal development.

How Children Develop Through Play.

Nature is very clever at developing and maintaining a species. Living creatures develop according to a path of maturation. This means that a species has an innate ability to develop certain tendencies and habits by a certain time when they are ready. For example humans naturally learn to sit, crawl and walk and talk within a certain time period. babies sit at approximately 6 months of age, crawl at approximately 7-10 months and walk at around a year.

Children learn developmental skills instinctively through Play so for example when your child is unpacking your cupboards it is learning hand eye co-ordination and depth and space. When it mimics you it is learning social behaviour and when it crawls,climbs, runs and jumps it is developing large muscle co-ordination.

As a parents it is important to recognize that each child is different and so we should not force a child to develop a skill prematurely. parents however can stimulate their child so as to encourage the child to develop to their fullest potential.

This is why it is important to allow your child to express itself naturally and freely within safe boundaries. when a child is allowed freedom to play it promotes his curiosity which is an essential ingredient of play and enables the child to explore his six senses of smell, touch, sight, feeling, listening and manipulating optimally.

Learning through play is achieved through three types of play materials.

  • Toys - Children learn through free unstructured and imaginative play.
  • Activities - Requires a specific action leading to a specific result for example a puzzle or shape sorter.
  • Games - Have rules ans some type of competitive element.

Learning Through Guided Play.

With guided play the child is provided with an activity under the guidance of a care giver for the purpose of encouraging specific competencies.

Tips on How to Guide our Child During Play.

  • Motivate the child to participate by appealing to the senses. Does it sound interesting, does it look interesting and challenging but not too difficult.
  • Let the child play independently and be in control of the activity.
  • If the child experiences difficulty rather guide the play by offering clues, suggestions and feedback as to correctness of actions. Demonstrate correct action and then allow the child to practice.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fine motor development develops smaller muscles and prepares a child to hold a pen required for formal schooling.
Fine motor development develops smaller muscles and prepares a child to hold a pen required for formal schooling.
Fine motor development develops smaller muscles and prepares a child to hold a pen required for formal schooling. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
A child begins to become active from about the age of twelve months-24 months due to the development of bigger muscles( gross motor development)
A child begins to become active from about the age of twelve months-24 months due to the development of bigger muscles( gross motor development)
A child begins to become active from about the age of twelve months-24 months due to the development of bigger muscles( gross motor development) | Source
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Social development is necessary to teach children how to interact with others whilst balancing controlling inner feelings.
Social development is necessary to teach children how to interact with others whilst balancing controlling inner feelings.
Social development is necessary to teach children how to interact with others whilst balancing controlling inner feelings. | Source

Types of Childhood Development to Consider in Play.

Children need to develop different aspects of themselves in order to develop optimally. Select resources that develop Physical, cognitive and social aspects of your child. .

1. Physical Development.

Play provides opportunities for children to develop their muscles, body control and dexterity. As a child's nervous system becomes more mature, they are able to perform more complex actions. There are two types of motor activities which children develop around the same time.

Gross Motor (Large muscles)skill Development.

Actions requiring gross motor skills include walking, running, balance and coordination. When a child begins to walk around the age of one year -they start to develop their larger muscles.

Fine (Small) motor skills.

This involve the smaller muscles in the fingers, toes, eyes and other areas. The actions that require fine motor skills tend to be more intricate, such as drawing, writing, grasping objects, throwing, threading, waving and catching.

2. Mental/Intellectual Development:

A child's brain develops rapidly during early childhood - evidence of this can be noted in the new things that the child can do. Piaget is a major psychologist that came up with a cognitive development stages within childhood. parents that are aware of these stages can better prepare, know what to buy in order to suitably stimulate their child's development.

You can read more about Piaget cognitive development theory here.

3. Social/Emotional Development.

Children need to know how to play, interact with others, control and balance their emotional feelings in order to develop a healthy social and emotional life. A child's social skills will help to shape his personality and understanding of the world.

Eric Eriksen's psycosocial theory is one of the best known theories of personality development and is referenced widely in childhood social development programmes and decisions.

According to Erikison a person experiences eight key development stages from infancy to adulthood. Successful social development is contingent upon how one experiences these phases.

You can read more about Erikson psycho social development theory here.

Buying and Procuring Educational Toys and Resources.

Nature provides opportunities in the natural surroundings for children to develop as they should. Educational toys are a way of encouraging, stimulating and strengthening a child's development and potential. It is therefore important for a parent to select age appropriate toys and activities.

As a general guide:

  • Sensory development dominates within the first year - especially within the first six months.
  • When the child begins to walk around a year old, gross motor development stimulation should be encouraged. Toys, activities and games that develop the larger muscles (walking, running, walking, jumping)
  • Fine motor development takes place when a child learns to grip more firmly and develop smaller muscles around the age of two-three upwards. This is required especially in order to prepare a child for school readiness. There are an abundance of educational toys and activities that promote small muscle development. Threading, drawing, cutting with scissors, baking are typical activities.
  • Before embarking on a purchasing spree it is perhaps wise to consider:
  • Your child's developmental stage,
  • Which activities you can introduce and available resources that can achieve the required outcome.
  • Do some research on types of available educational toys and decide which ones will serve your child best. Toys that can be used over several stages are good investments. for example building blocks.
  • List where you can get these resources. You can purchase new or relatives, exchange programmes and sites, local markets, charity shops sometimes have good quality toys sometimes going for a song. Some communities also have toy libraries which members of the public are not always aware of. Enquire at your local library..

Multicultural Sensitivity and Toy Selection.

Although a child may not be consciously aware of the impact toys can have on cultural identity, it is important for caregivers to incorporate toys that reflect the child's culture in order to provide, reinforce and support healthy development of identity and self image.

Multicultural resources are not always readily available at local toy stores or supermarkets but can be found with a little internet research and perhaps being creative by starting a toy exchange project amongst your local community.

Children are not consciously aware of the subconscious messages that are relayed through toys. Incorporating toys that mirror the broader community helps children to not only be accepting of themselves but also to be accepting of other children's ethnic backgrounds.

Related Links.

Here are some links that you will find useful about child development and selecting suitable educational toys.

The Child's Development Guide

Jean Piaget Theory of Cognitve Theory.

Eriksons Stages of Psycho Social Development.

Activities By Age

Good Toys for Young Children.

Develop Your Child's Full Potential.

Major Psycologist and Researchers
Jean Piaget
Theory of Intellectual Development of Childen
Erik Erikson
Psyco social development Phases
Lawrence Kohlberg
Kohlbergs Theory of Moral Development.
Kolbergs theory is an individualistic theory and may not be always applicable in a collectivist culture.
Types of Development
Brain Development
Gross Motor Development
Developing larger muscles
Fine Motor
Small muscle development - Developing precise hand-eye co-ordination controlling hand, fingers and thumb.
Social Emotional
Interacting with others - balancing and controlling inner feelings.
Major Milestones
Under 6 months
Sensory Development
7 months-one year
Sitting, crawling, walking
12-24 months
active, teething, labelling objects, ,
24-36 months
larger muscles more stable, understands most sentences, separates easily from parents/caregivers.fantacy play, matching and sorting things.
36-48 months
Rapid development of speech and language, can control body well - kicks ball- balances on one leg, can throw and catch a ball, can do threading and button shirt.
5-6 years
Good command of language, enjoys being active and needs support and encouragement

Picture Source.


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Children require playtime as much learning time to cope with their daily activities. A very interesting guide to parents.

    • Raine Law Yuen profile imageAUTHOR

      Raine Law Yuen 

      4 years ago from Cape Town

      Thank you I am glad you found it interesting.

    • Shibboleth profile image


      4 years ago

      That's thoughtful!


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