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Blog – Typical Play Development: From Birth to Pre-School 

November 2, 2018
Blog – Typical Play Development: From Birth to Pre-School 

This month’s blog article was written by Speech Pathologist Alexandra Crea.

Typical Play Development: From Birth to Pre-School

Imagine your 3 year old child making you a pretend tea and sandwich to eat on his kitchen set. Think about your young 1 year old baby, who is rolling a ball around and banging blocks, giggling at the seemingly simple routine. And picture your 4 year old child, running around the house with a box on her head and a blanket tied around her neck. Play can look like many different things across the ages, and is usually filled with lots of chattering, laughter and fun! Play is a major element of childhood, from birth all the way through to adolescence, and is an assumed part of “being a kid”. As adults, we expect that children will just know how to play, and it is as simple as that! However, play is in fact a developmental skill that expands and becomes more complex as a child grows. As play develops, it also contributes in developing a child’s cognition, physical well being, social skills, emotional wellbeing, and of course their language. Below is a simple guide to how your child may be playing between one to five years of age;

At around one and a half years of age, we would expect to see children using toys to act out routine tasks such as brushing their teeth or hair, or feeding themselves .These play games generally reflect typical day-to-day activities that the child experiences. Between one and a half, to two years of age, the attention shifts from doing these play sequences on themselves, to showing pretend play on a toy, like a teddy or doll, or on a familiar adult. The child grows from brushing their own hair or pretending to eat, to brushing the doll’s hair or pretending to feed teddy.

From about two, to two and a half years of age, children may start to mimic less frequently experienced events in their play. This might look like taking the doll shopping, or making the teddy see the doctor. Your child may also start to combine several steps in a chronological sequence within this play, for example sitting the teddy on the doctor’s bench, taking her temperature and putting on a bandage.

At the age of three, to three and a half, children will begin to give their toys voices, shifting from the child talking to the toys, to the toys having their own personalities and scripts. They may start to act out scenarios that they have heard or read about, but have not personally experienced. This may look like Lego man being a firefighter, and telling his team to turn the water on and save the people in the building! They may also be able to create the firetruck out of a shoe box, and the building may actually be a kitchen chair. This is called object substitution, which is using objects for an alternative purpose.

From the ages of four and five years, children are creating highly imaginative play ideas, with lots of different characters, roles, and sequences. You might observe some cause-effect sequences, which are actions that result in an event or a problem. Children will also be able to start using their language to create a more detailed background story for their play ideas, and to create complex dialogue between the characters in their play.

This simple timeline shows how your child’s play may evolve as they develop and grow. If you feel that your child’s play isn’t developing typically, it is recommended that you contact a Speech Pathologist for an assessment.