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Arguably one of the most important parts of a child’s day is playtime!

Children learn an incredible amount of information, language and other developmental skills through play. And as simple as it may seem, there’s a little more to a child’s play than might meet the eye.

Here are 3 different types of play that children usually show as they grow and develop!

#1: Functional Play

Functional play happens when a child plays with a toy in the way it’s meant to be played.

Some examples? Pushing a toy car, stacking blocks, throwing or rolling a ball to someone.

How to develop your child’s functional play skills in those early years? Do lots of modeling – show your child how to play with toys in the way their intended. Help your child hand over hand with play like pushing a toy car, if you notice they aren’t doing things like this on their own.

#2: Pretend Play

Use that imagination! Pretend play is an important part of development, and helps children process the world around them.

Playing pretend might be anything from pretending to feed a baby doll to your child dressing up as a firefighter or princess and acting the part!

Encourage your child’s pretend play skills by starting a pretend scenario, like building a fort in your living room and pretend that you are camping. As your child becomes interested and adds to the story, ask open-ended questions to fuel their imagination!

#3: Symbolic Play

This type of play involves imaging that one thing symbolizes another. This type of play is more advanced, and it’s expected that your child will show functional play and pretend play before this kind of play comes about.

Help your child develop symbolic play by adding lots of language during playtime, describing what you are doing and what different things are called or you are imagining them to be. Pretend, for example, that you’re having a picnic with some of your child’s dolls or stuffed animals, and that some small blocks symbolize ice cubes in your cups.

So next time you sit down to play with your child, keep some of these types of play in mind! By knowing what’s expected and encouraging that type of play through modeling, your child’s play skills (and language skills) will grow!


Amy Yacoub, MS, CCC-SLP | Speech Pathologist

Proud Member of The Story Box Family