The Five Different Play Categories of Early Learning

Did you know that there are five different play categories of early learning? These categories can be combined or practiced individually. Does your early learner encounter all of these categories each week? See below to find out!

11232723_438185523030112_7436690434790842227_n-374601-edited.jpg1. Dramatic Play

As many parents already know, unstructured dramatic play, or pretend play, is essential to the social and cognitive development of early learners. While most adults imagine children’s pretend play as being full of magic and fantasy, it rarely is. Instead, pretend play generally involves early learners reenacting situations that they see every day. This includes pretend cooking, cleaning, talking, shopping, and taking care of children. Allowing early learners to have the opportunity to practice pretend play not only helps brain development, but also boosts self-esteem by evoking feelings of competence and control. Adults must facilitate dramatic play by providing safe materials and challenging the imaginations of early learners.

282-791485-edited.jpg2. Social Play

Social, or cooperative play, is an integral part of early learner development as it trains your child in advanced social skills. Paired with dramatic play, social play allows early learners’ imaginations to run wild with different situations and different reactions to those situations. Each child in cooperative play changes the dynamics of the scenario, allowing the other players to adapt to the new situation. Toys like blocks, dolls, play tool sets, and dress-up clothes encourage social play and the development of necessary social skills.

3. Large Muscle PlayCCC 2018 (23)a climbing

With the removal of recess in many schools, large muscle play, or activities that involve the entire body, is often left by the wayside. Luckily, most parents and early learning centers know the value of burning off energy through exercise with both indoor and outdoor play. This play isn’t just running, but involves pulling, pushing, and manipulating objects to increase range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Muscle development can occur through playing with wood (not plastic) blocks, using wheeled objects like tricycles and wheelbarrows, using tools in a sandbox, and playing on age-appropriate swingsets that allow the early learner to practice climbing and balancing skills.

Messina_2009_3-915973-edited.jpg4. Creative Play

Creative play, such as painting, music, building, making sand castles, and using a water table, are essential to the development of expression, communication, and self-confidence in early learners. While their vocabulary may still be limited, providing early learners with attractively displayed art supplies can help them to express their thoughts and emotions when words fail them. Creative play with art supplies can be used to combine dramatic play, social play, and large muscle play--particularly with the water table or the sandbox.

Messina.jpg5. Sensory Play

Utilization of the five senses (taste, feel, touch, hearing, and sight) is essential to the cognitive development of early learners. One of the best versions of sensory play comes from sand and water tables where the water temperature, types of sand, and amount of water can be frequently changed to allow early learners to experience of a variety of stimuli. Nature walks allow early learners to see wildlife and greenery, smell outdoor odors like fresh flowers and leaves, and also feel moisture or dryness in the air. Finally, listening to music or poetry, which can be done collaboratively or individually, allows early learners to expand their horizons in hearing.

What is your early learner’s favorite combination of play categories? Let us know in the comments!



Posted 10/18/16

Topics: Learning, Play, Development

Claudia Auger

Written by Claudia Auger

A volunteer for Child Care of Southwest Florida