Hey hey hey, it’s Time to Play

by | Dec 7, 2022

Are you feeling a little stuck when it comes to gifts for little ones? Whether they’re your own or children of loved ones, with all the choices available, shopping for children can leave us scratching our heads with no idea what to buy. Here’s a breakdown of how children play at various ages, and in our next issue, we’ll give you an age-by-age gift guide for that gift-getting store dash.

Types of play

According to Professor Sara Smilansky, there are various types of play in which children engage. While other scholars and behavioural psychologists have expanded on this, her breakthrough work is the foundation. She identified functional, constructive, dramatic (symbolic) play and games with rules. We’ve taken the liberty to add more layers as determined by other behavioural psychologists.

  • Unoccupied play. This is between 0-3 months. Limbs are being kicked and swung about, almost at random, as little ones discover their bodies in relation to the world. 
  • Functional play (or practice play): In this instance, toys and objects are nothing more than what they are. A block is a block to a toddler under 12 months. Everything is an item to be licked, squashed, banged on the table and so forth. Children at this stage explore objects for nothing more than what they are. In essence, functional play constitutes discovering what objects are and how they work. It’s learning that cloth is soft, rubber balls bounce, or everything falls when you drop it. 
  • Solitary play is from birth to two years. At this stage, little ones are happy to play by themselves.
  • Constructive play is where children create or assemble a structure or object. They love blocks, puzzles, drawing and crafts.”
  • Exploratory play. This is when children almost “hone in” on a toy and study it to ascertain how it works. They’re trying to figure out the angles of the toy, how it opens and closes and so forth. “Exploratory play helps children learn cognitive and language concepts such as shape, size, colour, function, and spatial awareness.” 
  • Parallel play refers to playing side-by-side. Children are playing alongside other children. They’re likely not to engage in playing games with one another but are happy to be in one another’s company. You will notice this at around two years old. 
  • Associate play. Between two and four years old, you will observe your little one interacting with others while at play but still not fully engaging in the same game. They may all be paddling about in the splash pool but only sometimes engage with one another to continue doing so. 
  • Dramatic or symbolic play. This is a lovely phase of play. Children start activating their imaginations. They start imitating others and animals. As they start engaging in pretend, you may see them “talking on the phone” and expecting you to do the same. They will “feed you” during playtime. This is an essential part of your baby’s development with many benefits: helping language development, nurturing social and emotional development, and encouraging creativity. 
  • Co-operative play refers to when children actively engage with one another. 


So mom’s and dads, with a little bit of knowledge on how your little one’s play, you holiday season shopping will be a little bit easier.