11 Types of Play for Overall Child Development

11 Types of Play For Child Development

Children love to play, and while play may be just for fun, that’s not the case. Playtime is crucial for the growth and development of children. Through play, children learn to develop a sense of self, participate and socialise with others, take turns, be a part of a team, cooperate, and share or withhold crucial information. There are types of play in children; like all things associated with human evolution, play is also complex, can involve several stages and be divided into various categories. In this article, we will look at eleven types of play that are crucial for the development of children.

What Is Play?

In simple words, play can be defined as a voluntary activity actively pursued to derive pleasure. Play is crucial for the development of children, as it teaches them self-awareness and social and problem-solving skills. In addition, it helps them relax their mind and bond with other kids of their age.

It is also believed that it helps them learn essential motor skills like balancing and improve their concentration. This further aids in learning and school activities.

Why Is Play Important for Your Kids’ Development?

In his book ‘Playful Parenting’, Lawrence Cohen points out the three main purposes of play, which are as follows:

  • Play is a fundamental part of learning and allows children to try to emulate adults and learn new skills.
  • Play allows the child to have attachment and affection with his peers and parents.
  • Play helps him overcome emotional distress.
  • It improves the gross motor skills in children.
  • Play improves children’s reasoning, memory, and thinking.
  • By playing, kids form their personalities and gain independence.

This makes it very important to engage your child in activities daily. As these help kids stay alert, schools have made playtime an essential part of the day, especially for younger kids.

Types of Play Important for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Play actively engages a child’s mind and develops creativity and imagination, whether it is a simple act of rolling a ball aimlessly or engaging in role-play by putting on a costume. Given below is a list of 11 types of play for child development.

1. Unoccupied Play

Unoccupied play is best described as a child making random movements like waving his hands and kicking his legs. While these may seem like random movements, they are a form of play. This type of play is usually seen in newborns and infants.


  • Explores movements and intuitively learns about the excitement
  • Sets the stage for play activities in the future


  • Random movement of hands and feet
  • Being occupied with seemingly nothing

2. Parallel Play

Usually seen in children who are one or two years of age, parallel play is when they play side-by-side but have limited interaction and seem to be doing their things without involving others. During parallel play, children may occasionally observe each other and change their play based on that but will not attempt to influence their peers.

Parallel Play


  • Learns to socialise with children of his own age
  • Understands possession
  • Learns role play


  • Sharing the same toys
  • Dressing up and role-playing
  • Building individual sand castles while working with the same box

3. Associative Play

Associative play is when children show more interest in other children and pay less attention to toys. While children seem to be engaging with each other, there are no set rules of play or structure, organisation or common goal. This form of play is commonly observed in children who are three or four years of age.



  • Children playing with the same toys
  • Exchanging toys
  • Actively talking or communicating with each other

4. Solitary (Independent) Play

Solitary play is usually observed in children who are two or three years of age. Children are engrossed in holding toys and lifting and observing objects during solitary play. They do not take any interest in other children around them. Solitary play is important for children who have not yet learned physical and social skills and may be shy to interact.

Solitary Play


  • Learns to be self-reliant
  • Makes his own decisions
  • Develops the confidence to interact with others
  • Improves imagination and creativity
  • Learns new things by himself
  • Learns to relax and reflect


  • Playing out an imaginary event
  • Rattling toys
  • Sketching, drawing or scribbling

5. Dramatic/Fantasy Play

During dramatic play, children often imagine situations and people or imagine themselves in a particular role and then act out those imaginary scenarios. This type of play prompts children to experiment with languages and act out their emotions.


  • Increases curiosity in things beyond the self
  • Cultivates imagination and creativity
  • Improves problem-solving skills
  • Improves language skills
  • Encourages empathy for others


  • Role-playing
  • Talking to dolls
  • Taking care and showing affection to stuffed animals

6. Onlooker Play

Children are said to be engaging in onlooker play when they are not actively taking part but are keenly observing other children play. Most often seen in toddlers, children who engage in onlooker play learn by observing.

Onlooker Play


  • Learns by observation
  • Acquires language skills by listening and learning


  • Taking a keen interest in watching other children play but not participating

7. Competitive Play

Competitive play is when children learn to play organised games with clear rules and guidelines for winning and losing. Ludo, snake and ladders, and football are all forms of competitive play.


  • Learns to play with rules
  • Learns to wait for his turn
  • Learns to work as a team


8. Cooperative Play

As children grow, their social skills develop, and they eventually learn to cooperate, interact and play together. Cooperative play is when children engage in teamwork towards a common goal.

Cooperative Play


  • Learns to share and understand his peers
  • Develops communication skills
  • Learns the value of team-work
  • Develops self-expression
  • Improves confidence


  • Building sandcastles together

9. Symbolic Play

Symbolic play is when children use objects to perform actions. For example, playing music, drawing, colouring, and singing are all forms of symbolic play.


  • Self-expression
  • Explores new ideas
  • Experiments and learns emotions


  • Drawing
  • Singing
  • Playing with musical instruments

10. Physical Play

Physical play is a form of play that involves some degree of physical activity.

Physical Play



11. Constructive Play

Any form of play that involves constructing or putting something together is called constructive play.


  • Encourages focus on achieving an objective
  • Helps to learn planning and cooperation
  • Teaches persistence
  • Encourages adaptability


  • Putting together building blocks to create something with aesthetic appeal
  • Making a sandcastle

As play is crucial for the growth and development of children, it is recommended that parents not stop their children from playing. In fact, parents should try and play with their kids whenever possible as it makes bonding easier. Always supervise young children when they play with toys to avoid any accidents.


1. What Age Do Children Learn To Play?

There are different types of play in early childhood that are beneficial for children in their formative years. Between the ages of 3 and 5, this typically occurs. Taking your child to a playgroup will encourage associative play. 

2. What Happens If Children Don’t Play?

If children are not encouraged to play, they make face the following issues:

  • Lack of independence and autonomy
  • Lack of imagination and creativity
  • May feel socially awkward
  • Poor gross motor skills and social skills

Ensure that your child has good opportunities to play and interact with kids of the same age by taking him to parks or playdates. This further helps him build social skills and teaches him to share. Select schools that focus on the child’s overall development and give equal importance to play and academics.

Also Read:

Important of Toy Rotation System
Fun Beach Games and Activities for Kids
Importance of Functional Play in a Child’s Growth and Development

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