How to Play – age by age

kids are from plutoWhatever happened to the good old fashioned word “play”???  No, not “playing” organized sports, or “playing” with computers, TV, and obviously the iPads.  I mean, PLAY in the most simplest form.  Open-ended, unstructured, free-play.

It’s true that classes, supervised sports, and even technology games can have a useful place in childhood.  Extracurricular activities can put kids on a path to academic success. But too much of even a good thing makes us forget what we know is as crucial for kids as food, water, and air is plain old play.

Playtime isn’t necessarily a “to do” penciled on a parent’s list and programmed into a child’s daily routine but rather it’s just the opposite.  Providing playtime is easy as 1, 2, 3’s and A, B, C’s.  It encourages what comes natural to your child, age by age:

BABIES (Birth to 12 months)

How they play:  At this age, infants are very curious of their surroundings where they use all their 5 senses.  Kicking, grabbing, putting anything and everything in their mouths may not look like much but their brain is working and organizing information into meaningful patterns that helps them grow.

    • Have fun every chance you get!  Playtime should fill most of your baby’s waking hours aside from feeding.  You don’t have to work too hard to “play.”  Peek-a-Boo, patty-cake, you know…the oldies but goodies!  And remember their favorite plaything is YOU!
  • Pick toys for their age range that stimulate the senses, like infant gyms, rattles, and textured board books.  An all time favorite toy is Sophie the Giraffe.
  • Infants are usually carried or strapped into a seat…practice their pre-crawling and motor skills by hitting the floor.

TODDLERS (1-3 years)

How they play:  The toddler’s world is their oyster.  Toddlers learn the best when they make up their own games.  It might look like just child’s play, but toddlers are hard at work learning important physical skills as they gain muscle control, balance, and coordination whether it’s helping you clean the house or playing kitchen.

  • Play with “fun starter” toys.  These are simple playthings such as blocks, balls, and dolls and even everyday items like wooden spoons, pots and pans, and tissue boxes.  Spark the imagination like talking with stuffed animals or motorized cars.  You’ll see how creative your toddlers can get!
  • Playtime can happen anywhere not just in a sandbox or with a toy.  Playtime even includes pouring water from plastic cups in the bathtub, chasing bubbles, and watering the garden together.
  • Go outside everyday!  Rain or shine, hot or cold, toddlers need the stimulation of nature and the chance to burn energy.
  • Go easy on the TV and computer.  A show or two here and there won’t hurt, but every hour spent in front of a screen is an hour not spent in active play. Try to watch together and talk about what you see.
  • Rotate toys.  It’s amazing how toddlers will remember what toys are missing and which toys are new.  See their reaction and their new way of playing.

PRE-SCHOOLERS (3-5 years old)

How they play:  Their language skills are now developing which turns them into little storytellers: fantasy play and role-playing become more elaborate and they can understand more complicated concepts such as time and the relationships between objects.  With better motor skills, they can be more physical, learning to ride a trike or accurately throw and catch a ball.  This is also when many of them form first friendships.

  • Find ways your kids can play with other kids besides preschool and the playground.  Playdates, music class, art class, the library…anywhere!
  • Encourage creative play by art, drama, or music.
  • Accept their obsessions whether it’s dancing, sports, drawing…they’re in the stage of mastering their skill or concept.

GRADE SCHOOL (5 and up)

How they play:  Kids are all about friends now, especially those who share are now in a group and know who their “best friends” are.   Expressing individuality becomes at this age.  They have a more complex understanding of how the world works and now know the meaning of jokes and rules.

  • Get their blood moving.  Exercise will benefit their energy, mind, health, and body.
  • Regulate screen time.
  • Don’t overbook your kids with too many extracurricular activities.  The best way is to separate the different types of skills like social(boy scouts), athletic(sports), artistic(art, music, or dance).
  • Help your child be well-rounded with sports, education, and social skills.
  • Watch for moodiness, nervousness about an activity, and making excuses.  This may mean your child needs more free time.
  • At least once a week, play together as a family, whether you go for walks, go on a mini weekend camping trip, or even to the zoo.

I forget how simple playing really is.  It’s so important to a child’s development — it improves they way their interact, communication, and key life skills.  Play should be instructional and inspirational, but most importantly, play should be fun.


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  1. […] Don’t underestimate the number of fun activities you can do in the comfort of your home.  Kids are a special breed; they perceive the world much simpler than adults. Compounded with their amusing imaginations, it is quite easy to entertain young children. This is why your toddler can laugh every single time you play peek-a-boo. […]

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