The Importance of play in Early Childhood (and why kids need more of it)

The Importance of play in Early Childhood


The importance of play in early childhood should not be minimized.  Play needs to be a part of every day. What we have to remember is that play is not a trivial activity but the way young children learn. Toddlers learn through play. Young children are not made to sit still. They need to move, play and learn at the same time. The best way for toddlers and preschool children to learn is through play.


Importance of play in child development pdf. Get animal movement cards for a new way to get your kids playing. Download and print these cards to help your kids play.

Animal movement cards for toddler movement activities


Around 18 months children should start to have more independent play time. This could be anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour. Try to encourage a little bit of independent play each day. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a different room, it just means that you are not guiding what your child is playing with. Be in the room together and let them explore on their own. If they put the toy apple into the toy garage… its ok. Don’t join in and assist or correct. Let them figure it out on their own.



Kids sitting in a circle playing. The importance of play in early childhood

Independent play is an important part of development. They need to learn and explore on their own. This builds creatively and critical thinking skills. Children will be more excited about the outcome when they figure it out themselves instead of being shown.


Related Reading for High Contrast Toys for Babies 


You don’t need to have millions of toys for independent play to be successful. A few different toys are all you need. I also do toy rotation. If they get toys for Birthday’s or Holidays I don’t let them open them all at once. I give a few toys right away and put the others away for later. When they seem to be tired of the current toys I switch to other ones. Your kids will get exciting that it’s a new toy.


Playing in the bedroom or playroom is perfect. You can also provide an activity for your child to explore on their own. You want to encourage activities where it is the child’s choice, not yours. By playing a child driven activity you can see the world through their eyes. The interaction through play shows your child that you are fully paying attention to them and allowing them to make some decisions on their own. Even children that are less verbal can express themselves through play.


Free play does not include time on screens or using technology.  It’s when a child is playing with toys and household items.


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Play in the Early Years



Over the last 10 years, the amount toddlers and preschoolers play has significantly decreased. Children are not playing as much as they should. This is not only sad but affecting children’s development.  Unfortunately, many adults feel that when kids are playing not much else is happening.  That is completely untrue.


Related reading about how much play time children are getting 


Children need unscheduled time, without screens to explore and play. They need time each day for independent, active play where they can use their imagination and be creative. You don’t need an overwhelming amount of toys either. Focus on toys like blocks, legos, and play kitchens that encourage imagination.



For more information on Toddler development look into the Toddler Enrichment Ebook. Let’s build and encourage learning through play. Everything in here you can do right at home with minimal supplies. Build memories while your child is learning.

Toddler Enrichment Ebook. Help your child learn while maintaining your sanity.


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The Importance of play in the early years

  • Helps children learn to think independently and make decisions for themselves
  • Teaches children how to entertain themselves
  • Allows children to explore and find their own interests.
  • Develops social skills and collaborative play skills
  • Free play allows children to develop conflict resolution skills and learn to take turns.
  • It helps develop their skills as leaders and as followers
  • Play is important for healthy brain development.
  • Allows children to use their imagination and be creative.
  • Play is how children learn and interact with the world.
  • When play is child-driven, children practice decision-making skills and can move at their own pace.
  • Play builds active, healthy mind and bodies.
  • Active play helps build coordination, balance and motor skills.
  • Children learn to cope with different emotions.
  • Play is a way children can communicate through actions, signals, and language.


Related Reading of Play Promoting Healthy Child Development from the AAP 



6 Different Types of Play

Girl playing chess showing the importance of play in early childhood


1. Unoccupied Play

Basic play where children observe the world around them.


2. Onlooker Play

This is where children observe other children but are not interacting and playing with them.


3. Solitary Play

The child is playing alone.


4. Parallel Play

Where children play with the same toys next to each other but not together.


5. Associative Play

Play similar activities.


6. Cooperative Play

They use teamwork and play together.


Watch this video to learn more about the different types of play.

How you can Encourage Free Play

  • Start to play with your infant. Play peek-a-boo and make noises together.


  • Make play part of every day


  • Put away the screens and tablets.

Young children should be limited to screens.  Try not to use screens for play time.


  • Use all those toys cluttering up your living room

Allow your child to explore.

Toy tip:  Rotate or hold off on bringing toys out all at once.  If it’s a holiday or birthday don’t give your child all the gifts right away.  Hold a few toys back to bring out a few months later.  Then it’s a new toy for them which brings more excitement.


  • Use household items

Toys don’t have to come from a kid store they can come right from your kitchen.


Ex-Give your toddler a bowl of ice cubes and an empty bowl.  Have them sit on a towel and try and scoop up the ice cubes to put into the other bowl.

Ex- Balloons.  The wonder of balloons.  Have a balloon toss, don’t let the balloon touch the ground and use fly swatters to play balloon tennis.


Related Reading for Free Play Activities for kids

Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers

Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers



Interested in more independent activities be sure to look into the Toddler Enrichment Ebook.  Dozens of activities to keep your toddler busy every day.

Toddler Enrichment Ebook. Help your child learn while maintaining your sanity.


How Fun and Games Help Children Thrive 



Free Play activities to do at home

Think of toys that allow imagination and don’t come with directions. Some ideas to help you get started:



Kitchens or grills

Musical Instruments



Dolls and Super Heroes

-Act like an Animal

Get these animal cards to play animal games with your little one.

Animal movement cards for toddler movement activities



We as parents and as a society need to change our thinking on play.  To reboot our thinking and remember the importance of free play for kids.  Give kids every opportunity to play. Kids need more play time not less. To not forget that science has shown the direct relationship between play and healthy development. When your child wants to play with you, don’t pass that up.


The Importance of Free Play for Kids and why they need more of it


Comment below and tell me your child’s favorite way to play.



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Importance of play in early childhood. Child playing with blocks

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