There are so many things kiddos learn while they play that affect their early years of development: motor skills, how to solve problems, how to use your imagination, creativity, social skills and much more. As a child plays and learns, these skills start to stack up and add to their overall growth.
Depending on their age, mood or social setting, you may notice that your child expresses a certain style or styles of play. Watchful parents might even notice when their children are starting to grasp and develop a new play style as they grow. But know this: Play should be encouraged and supported, but parents don’t need to actively teach these lessons. Learning the skills that come with play is something most kids can and will figure out on their own.
That said, a backyard playset is like a garden for your child to grow and develop new ways to play with the world around them. Here are five play styles that come to life in a backyard play space and how parents can identify them:
Solitary play, also known as independent play, occurs when a child plays alone and does not interact with those around them as they play. This sometimes worries parents, but it’s perfectly healthy. In fact, according to Vanderbilt University, solitary play promotes the development of creativity and imagination, persistence, a sense of initiative, concentration, problem solving and self-esteem. Parents can support solitary play by providing children with time, space and age-appropriate toys.
Next up is symbolic play, which includes things like using an object in an unconventional way (like the classic banana-as-a-telephone or cardboard tube telescope), or more artistic endeavors like singing, drawing or even counting. Symbolic play helps children learn how to express themselves, and parents can encourage this style of play by letting their children integrate household items into their toy time.
Physical play is just what it sounds like - running, throwing a ball, climbing - anything that uses and develops motor skills. Providing space or time for a variety of physical activities not only keeps kids from getting bored, but can also help round out motor skills as they grow and help develop healthy fitness habits. Our Blue Squirrel clubhouse swing, soccer net, rock wall, and monkey bars offer plenty to keep your child moving.
Remember playing “dress-up” as a kid? That’s called dramatic (aka fantasy) play. Playing house, pretending to be a doctor, a cashier or a captain of a pirate ship are some classic examples of dramatic play, and are great for growing your child’s imagination. Dramatic play can also instill social skills like taking turns, sharing and communicating. Parents can encourage dramatic play by playing along and pretending with their child.
Cooperative play is what happens when kids play together and work toward a shared goal instead of competing against one another. Things like backyard treasure hunts, making a fort, or playing follow the leader are cooperative play activities. All the skills your child has learned through playing start to come together in cooperative play stage around the age of four, so you may notice a few different styles pop up during cooperative play.
There are many more play styles children practice, but these are some of the most common styles we see on the playground or outdoor playset. The most important thing a parent can do to enhance their child’s play experience is to simply encourage play in whatever style presents itself. Giving a child time to play, space to play, and someone to play with, like you, will help them progress in their development.
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