Children play in lots of different ways. Play can be quiet, noisy, creative, imaginative, sociable, solitary, calm or chaotic. The ways children play change at different ages and stages in their lives. Other things change their play, too – for example, who they are playing with, what sort of stuff they have around, where they are playing, and how they feel that day.

Different kinds of play are great for your child’s development

Playing supports every aspect of your child’s development. Playing in different ways is good for your child’s health, learning, relationships and for their enjoyment of life. You can’t always tell what benefits your child is getting from their play, so it’s good to help them play in a range of ways.

Think about whether your child gets the chance to play in a variety of different ways. Does your child get to play indoors and outdoors? Do they have opportunities to play with a wide range of stuff? Can they play with children of different ages, cultures and backgrounds?

Playing includes lots of different things

Children’s play can involve talking, making things, rough and tumble games, play fighting, role playing, and being sociable, dramatic, silly or serious. It can use imagination, fantasy, creativity, language and numbers.

Feeling that play is okay helps children play

Children are quick to realise if adults approve of what they’re doing. If your child feels they are allowed to play without being judged they’re more likely to feel able to really enjoy their games.

Some of the ways children play

Playing that explores the physical world

You might notice your child playing creatively, exploring objects and materials. They might test what they can do to things in the environment, for example building a moat or damming a stream.

Playing that explores roles and relationships

Much of children’s play is about their relationships with other people, and the things they have seen or experienced. This kind of social and communication play changes at different ages and stages – from your baby babbling and laughing at a funny face, to your child playing at being a shopkeeper or teacher, or putting on a show they’ve made up.

Playing that is active and physical

Physically active play includes things like playing chase, running, jumping, skipping and climbing trees. It is important for your child’s health that you give them lots of opportunities for active play, especially outdoors. Other active play includes rough and tumble games like play fighting, tumbling, tickling, and play that involves body contact but no deliberate hurting. Rough and tumble games are important for trust, bonding and relationships, too.

Playing that explores different sides of being human

Your child may play at games that explore what it is to be human, or that may seem connected to the past – this includes rituals, hunting, inventing languages, or making swords and arrows.

Playing that tests the limits

Your child’s play may involve taking risks and testing their limits– for example, jumping over a stream or riding a bike with no hands. Or they may play at having superhuman powers and special abilities like being able to fly or having x-ray vision.