What is Play?

Play is an activity with which a child explores his environment, manipulates it and derives pleasure in doing so. Researchers define play as ‘a process encompassing children’s behavior, which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated’.

Adults assume that play is purposeless and is an unstructured activity that has no result. Often we adults fail to realize that children learn by playing though you can’t always tell what they learn through a particular play activity. Learning is normally associated with books, school, study and work, and not with play. It’s time we understand that play is a source of great learning and learning always leads to pleasure!

Children are natural learners and discover the world through their encounters with the things in their environment. They learn about space and movement through their reflexes and sense of sight and sound. They learn about the qualities and behaviour of objects by shaking a rattle, rolling a ball across the floor, playing with sand and water, and lining up rows of toy cars and boxes. Through such sensorimotor experiences with things that are hard or soft or things that roll or bounce, the child pieces together very important general concepts about the world.

Play is a great contributor to the child’s social and emotional development. The parent-infant bond is strengthened through play. As infants become more able to process more sensory experiences; they make discoveries that evoke curiosity, surprise and pleasure. You must have not missed signals from your children that invite you to become a part in their development. The feeling of success that infants experience through play gives them the confidence to try new and more challenging tasks. As a result of rewarding and pleasurable encounters with things and people around them, children become more independent and learn to cooperate with others. Cooperation enables older children to play with others, to play games with rules, and to play without always having to have the game their own way.

Play is a reflection of a child’s age, behaviour and cognitive abilities. Infants play by repeating actions that are pleasurable in themselves such as sucking. After this stage play involves a purpose as the senses become more coordinated and infants can control their movements to reach a goal. Slowly the infants acquire experience and they learn to vary their actions. When two or three year olds are able to represent actions mentally, they begin to engage in symbolic play or make believe. This gives them further opportunities to assimilate more complex social and emotional experiences. At first, the child’s make believe play often reflects an inaccurate and exaggerated concept of reality. Gradually, this play begins to mirror a more neutral view of the world. Along with this, the child is able to play games that have rules and require cooperation.

Children go through different stages of play as they grow and develop – socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically.  There are four main stages of play which may be observed at various stages of development that children go through, all of which are valuable for growing children.


Solitary Play
Parallel Play
Associative Play
Cooperative Play

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