Different Types of Toddler Play

The Many Ways Your Toddler Plays

Play is an extremely important, yet often underestimated, part of adolescence. Children learn through play, but how they play changes and evolves as they grow. As your child grows out of early infancy when play centers around interacting with you, they progress through different types of toddler play and early preschool activities. In each of these specific phases, your child will learn about the world and strengthen their physical and cognitive skills.

How your child moves from one stage of play to the next is not necessarily linear. Your child may straddle two different types of play at once or begin to play in one way today and go back to an old way of doing things tomorrow. Eventually, children who are developmentally on target will move beyond each of these early stages and into more sophisticated ways of interacting with others and their environment.

1
Parallel Play

Toddler playing with building blocks
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Around the time of you child's third birthday they'll begin sharing toys and playing with other children. Before then, children usually play near - or parallel to - each other. This doesn't mean your child doesn't like their companion(s) or isn't social. It's just the way toddlers do things and a completely normal part of development.

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2
Collaborative Play

By the late toddler and early preschool years your child will probably begin to grow more and more interested in playing with siblings and friends; not just near them. This transition can be a bit bumpy as they start to learn what it means to share, take turns, play by specific rules and negotiate with others. Like most life lessons, your child will need your help to master these skills.

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3
Functional Play

Sometimes referred to as "first play," this stage of play begins during infancy. It's marked by your child deliberately trying to entertain his or herself with a plaything versus just looking at it or chewing on it to teethe. Of course, that plaything might not be the expensive toy you bought for their birthday. It could very well be a sock or the packaging the gift came in.

At this point, what delights your child is anything that engages their senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing or touch. Just be sure that the makeshift toys and playthings you let your child explore are safe for young children since this is an age where they reach for anything that catches their attention.

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4
Constructive Play

At around 2 years of age, your child will have developed a longer attention span and can begin to appreciate toys for more than their sensory value. Constructive play is vital in stretching your child's imagination and creative thinking skills. These traits usher in the next phase of play when they will go from simply exploring an object to finding the object's purpose.

Watch your child start constructing towers with blocks not just to make them higher, but to give dolls a place to stand. See as they go beyond just feeling playdough to trying to make a ball or create something with a mold.

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5
Dramatic Play

Toddlers and drama undoubtedly go hand-in-hand, but the term "dramatic play" doesn't have anything to do with those sudden temper tantrums and tears when your little one doesn't get another cookie.

Dramatic play refers to the phenomenon of make-believe games your child begins to enjoy around age 2. It includes dress up, playing with dolls, pretending to be a superhero and acting out or "telling" stories in ways that are appropriate for your child's stage of development. It's essential for verbal and intellectual development - and adorable and fascinating to behold.

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