6 Important Types of Play for Your Growing Child

Posted by Bobbi Williams on

Plus our Favorite Toys to Foster Your Child’s Development 

There’s no doubt that children love to play! On top of being...well, fun! Play is an essential part of your child’s growth and development. 

Even simple activities like stacking blocks, digging a hole in the sand, or drawing a squiggly line on a piece of paper...help your kiddos to learn key developmental skills. Because through play, children learn gross and fine motor skills, develop a sense of self, and practice getting along with others.

Why is Play Important for Your Child’s Development? 

Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) once said,

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children — play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” 

And we couldn’t agree more. We love seeing our children having fun playing independently or with others...but play also has amazing developmental benefits for your little one. When your child plays, they’re learning and practicing key social, cognitive, organizational, physical, and emotional skills. Play allows them to foster their creativity, develop their imagination, and practice problem-solving.

Play truly sets the stage for lifelong learning and development. That’s why it’s so important to allow your child to engage in different play activities on a daily basis. 

Important Types of Play for Your Infant, Toddler, & Child

The simplest toy can be full of wonder. And even the most basic types of play give your child the freedom to think, move, and imagine. Here are 8 important types of play for your little one, along with our recommended toys to foster their growth and development: 

1. Active Play

Do you remember playing Duck-Duck-Goose? Climbing the jungle gym at recess? Bouncing on your parents bed? Playing tag with your friends? 

Whether playing Simon Says, dancing, riding a scooter, or participating in ball games... Physical play may be one of the most memorable aspects of childhood! And it’s also one of the best ways to support your child’s physical growth. 

So encourage lots of movement, all day long! Because getting your kiddos moving has lots of benefits for their health and well-being:

  • Builds strength/muscles/bones
  • Develops hand-eye coordination
  • Improves balance
  • Develops gross motor skills
  • Lays groundwork for an active lifestyle
  • Builds confidence
  • Improves sleep
  • Relieves stress
  • Fosters an appreciation of our bodies

From push toys for the earliest walkers to bikes and scooters, whether indoors or out, there are lots of fun ways your children can take part in physical play...and burn off a little extra energy! 

Our favorite toys to encourage physical play are:

2. Pretend Play

Where can you find superheroes, veterinarians, princesses, karate instructors, and chefs all happily working side-by-side? In the land of make-believe! Or possibly the play area of a child’s classroom or even your living room!

Pretend play does wonders to develop your child’s imagination...honing skills that they’ll use long into adulthood! Think about the last time you had to visualize something, solve a problem, understand someone else’s perspective, or come up with a list of ideas….

Guess what? Those tasks required using your imagination!

When your child uses their imagination, they’re learning to solve problems, coordinate, cooperate, and think flexibly. Here are some more amazing benefits from pretend play:

  • Fosters communication skills
  • Helps children make sense of real life situations
  • Teaches empathy
  • Promotes independence

We agree with Albert Einstein, that

"imagination is more important than knowledge"

That’s why we wanted to share some fun toys that can foster pretend play. Try out: 

3. Constructive/Creative Play

Constructive or creative play is serious business for young children….as you may have noticed from watching your child get engrossed in an arts and crafts masterpiece, go “all in” to recreate their favorite movie scene, or transform your dining room table into a fort!

It’s an amazing feeling to watch your little one create magical worlds simply by building, stacking, constructing, or drawing…all types of constructive play! 

We asked our kids about some of their favorite types of construction play, and here’s what they had to say! They love...

  • Stacking blocks
  • Creating construction brick scenes and structures
  • Making sandcastles and playing in the sand
  • Creating sculptures or art with recycled materials
  • Drawing and painting pictures
  • Creating an obstacle course

Whether your child is a toddler or a 10-year old...constructive play offers an unlimited world of opportunities for exploration and discovery with many wonderful benefits for your child: 

  • Develops fine & gross motor skills
  • Helps kids practice problem solving and planning
  • Develops visual-spatial skills
  • Teaches logic
  • Enhances creativity, curiosity and imagination
  • Rewards persistence/perseverance
  • Utilizes mathematical skills
  • Promotes color recognition

So, how do you encourage your children to enjoy, explore, and experience the thrill of constructive play? Here are 3 easy ways to foster this type of play: 

  1. Provide spaces that are safe, accessible, and full of open-ended materials.
  2. Encourage construction play activities whether inside or outside.
  3. Interact with your children — without directing! — and ask open-ended questions.

Pro Tip: Inspire new types of constructive play by providing a variety of materials! Continually adding new and stimulating elements while removing others keeps it fresh and exciting.

And you don’t have to overthink it — ideas for creative play are all around us… Especially in the simple objects, that to your child, are not so simple! Try using some of these items that you probably already have around the house:

  • Sponges, paper, tape
  • Cardboard and boxes
  • Markers, crayons, pencils, paint
  • Molding materials like clay

But we also love some classic, simple toys that are wonderful for construction play:

  • Blocks
  • Stackers
  • Nesting toys
  • Play dough

Need some inspiration? Check out the constructive play section of the Natural Resources boutique!

4. Musical / Auditory Play

From lullabies, sing-a-longs, nursery rhymes and more...music is an instinctive way that parents calm and soothe children as they grow. It’s a way we engage and interact with each other expressing love and joy.

That’s why exposure to music from a young age — even before they’re born! — is a wonderful way to foster your child's ability to play and appreciate music. Babies use their sense of hearing to take in lots of information about the world around them. Even a simple rustling sound is enough to activate their brain! 

Dancing and listening to music are both important for your child’s development and come with some amazing benefits for your little one: 

  • Fosters creativity and self-expression.
  • Develops sensory development/brain development, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination.
  • Builds patience/perseverance, language skills, and mathematical skills.
  • Expands collaboration skills, family bonding, mind-body connection.

And you can start as early as day one! If you’re expecting or have a newborn, here are some easy ways to stimulate your baby’s hearing:

  • Talk to your baby.
  • Play music.
  • Shake a rattle or ring a bell from different areas of the crib.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Expose your baby to different sounds.
  • Spend time in nature taking in the sounds. 
  • Read a story to your baby.

And if your little one is a toddler or a bit older...Encourage your child to sing, drum, rattle, shake, clap, and bang!

There are a million toys out there that make sounds to stimulate your little one’s hearing. We prefer the classics — ones that don’t necessarily need a battery! Check out some of our favorites: 

If (when?) you get tired of hearing the same children’s songs played over and over...Try these fun music-makers with your baby or toddler to keep things interesting!

  • Shakers or castanets
  • Xylophones 
  • Tambourines
  • Playsilks for dancing

Check out our Musical / Auditory Play Collection.

5. Infant Clutching / Grasping Play

Initially your baby is a professional sleeper and eater... Soon your little one will start to learn how to hold things and grasp objects! And the speed at which they’ll develop their motor skills may surprise you. One minute they’ll instinctively grab your finger...and before you know it they’ll be manipulating a toy with ease!

Gaining coordination to grasp and hold objects is one of your child’s first developmental milestones that will lay the foundation for feeding themselves, playing, reading, and drawing. This skill comes with lots of benefits for your child:

  • Early development of fine motor skills and dexterity
  • Brain development
  • Multisensory stimulation (tactile, visual, often auditory)

That’s why it’s helpful to have some fun first grasping and clutching toys for your baby to explore & manipulate on their own. 

6. BONUS! Reading

What was your favorite children’s book growing up? Goodnight Moon? Where the Wild Things Are? Green Eggs and Ham? 

While not officially “play” it’s so important & enjoyable we think reading counts!  It’s never too early — or too late! — to start reading to your little one. By the time they reach their first birthday your baby will have learned all the sounds they need to speak their native language. 

So, the more stories you read aloud, the more words your baby will hear and the better they'll be able to talk! Reading out loud to your baby will help them with: 

  • Language development
  • Cognitive development
  • Bonding
  • Empathy
  • Social & emotional development
  • Expanded vocabulary
  • Increased attention span
  • Listening skills
  • Concentration & focus
  • Reflection
  • Imagination

It's also important that children have the opportunity to see themselves and their families reflected in the books they read. That's why we feature books with a wide diversity of characters and different kinds of families. We also feature books (for kids and for parents!) to help parents broach complex topics in age-appropriate ways, such as race, gender identity, consent, bodies, or the pandemic.

From your baby’s first books to childhood favorites….We have TONS of books available in the Natural Resources online book store.

Need Help Finding the Perfect Toy or Product?

We don’t think you need a ton of stuff for your baby or growing child. But there is something to say about having the right toys to foster your little one’s development at the appropriate time. 

But it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the thousands of toys and products out there. That’s why we have safe, effective, best-in-class products to rent or buy for pregnancy, birth + early childhood. 

If it's in our store, it's been vetted. You can buy with confidence knowing that it will support your child's optimal wellness + development. 

Plus, we feature brands that align with our values — that are handmade, organic and non-toxic — from businesses we believe in: small businesses, woman-owned businesses, fair-trade businesses, and businesses that use sustainable forestry and offer good working conditions. 

Shop Natural Resources online or stop by our brick and mortar physical location to browse and get help from our knowledgeable staff! We’re located at 1051 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA 94110.

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