The four types of play in child development

Posted in Play. Posted on by Jacob Lett

Why play is important for a child’s development

Play, or autonomous choice of activity, has been identified by child psychologists as the primary mode in which young children construct their understanding of their world. Art is unique from the other types of play in that the child makes something with their hands. This requires focus, determination, and creativity to produce. The finished artwork is a snapshot of an emotion, experience, or story they have had.

The four types of play are:
  1. Arts and crafts – Expression of creativity by creating something with your hands and imagination
  2. Active play – Doing something active in a fun or creative way
  3. Imaginary play – Pretend or make-believe scenarios with the use of puppets, toys, costumes, dolls, and stuffed animals
  4. Sports & games – Games and sports teach children how to follow rules and how to handle winning and losing

In the book titled Children’s Play and Learning: Perspectives and Policy Implications, the authors believe a child’s ability to interact with adults and their peers effects their success in school. Play is known to have a large role in social development in children. Play helps a child cope and express feelings with the use of their imagination.

When young children use their imaginations in play, they are more creative, perform better at school tasks, and develop a problem-solving approach to learning.
J.L. Dansky

Play also benefits a child’s body awareness and develops hand-eye coordination. While holding a pencil or cutting with scissors, a child develops their fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are developed during sports and activities such as jumping rope and skipping.
During play, a child will use their imagination to reenact past experiences to further clarify them in their mind. Examples of this would be pretending to be a doctor or a grocery store cashier. Pretending also presents opportunities for your child to solve problems and work out possible scenarios. J.L. Dansky in his book Make-believe: A mediator of the relationship between play and associative fluency, says “when young children use their imaginations in play, they are more creative, perform better at school tasks, and develop a problem-solving approach to learning.”

Structured and unstructured play

Structured play has a set of rules and objectives the child must follow. Sports and games, puzzles, coloring books, and following directions to build a lego set are all examples of structured play. During this form of play your child will develop skills to achieve the best outcome following the objectives and directions given.

In contrast, unstructured play has little to no objectives and the child must use their creativity in their play. Blank sheets of drawing paper and art supplies, blocks, toys, and active play are all examples of unstructured play. This form of play allows your child to take their play wherever they would like to go and workout emotions and thoughts to help them better understand their surroundings.

Both structured and unstructured play are beneficial to your child’s development and should be explored to see which your child engages in more. Unstructured play will be the primary focus of UpliftingPlay as I believe it to have a major impact on building strong character in children. The use of their creativity and imagination help them solve problems, take initiative, and envision possible outcomes.


What ways do your child play the most?

Leave your answer in the comments below.