The importance of play for child development

The importance of play for child development

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Play and activities play a major role in children's development. Both independent and cooperative play help children develop cognitively, motorically, emotionally and socially. CompaNanny, a Dutch childcare centre with more than 20 years of experience, explains why play is so important, what types of play there are and which activities suit children's different developmental stages.

We know that children love to play. Whether it is playing with toys, going outdoors or socialising with friends, there is a wide range of options for them to choose from. But why exactly do children play? And what effects does it have on their development?

Why do children play?

Playing is an essential part of child development. It is a way for them to discover and understand how the world around them works. Through play, children learn skills that they will need later in life. Think writing, reading and maths, but also developing insight. Therefore, play is not only fun for children, but also very important!


Passive toys

Passive toys are toys that do nothing on their own. Think of natural products like pasta or rice, wooden blocks, cloths or balls. Passive toys can be used by children in many ways and it challenges them to be creative. With these toys, children can choose for themselves what to do and stimulate their fantasy development. Therefore, using passive toys is good for a child's development.

Playing outside

Playing outside is a fun and exciting activity for most children. Outdoors, children have extra freedom of movement and the fresh outdoor air is healthy for their minds and bodies. Many daycare centres and primary schools in the Netherlands offer an outdoor playing area, such as a garden or a field. 

Independent play

Playing is often understood as interacting with other children. However, independent play is also crucial for a child's development. Playing alone allows children to relax and unwind. Additionally, they can also practice their self-soothing skills. By being creative and finding solutions, a child's self-confidence grows.

Here are five tips to encourage independent play:

  1. Provide challenging toys: Consider whether your child has enough challenging toys. This way, you ensure that your child can entertain themselves well.
  2. Give space and avoid unnecessary interruption: It is beneficial for your child if you allow them the space to play independently. No matter how well-intentioned, sometimes a simple remark like "What a high tower!" can disrupt your child's play.
  3. Create a designated play area: By having a designated play area, your child knows that they can always play there. In addition, your child will more easily engage in play because this is what they associate this area with.
  4. Be clear: Clearly indicate when and for how long your child should be playing independently. Is independent play new to your child? Then start small. A few minutes can be enough.
  5. Stay nearby: If your child is nervous when you leave, it can help to remain close by. This way, they can experience playing independently while still feeling looked after and supported.

Independent play is an important step for developing children, and parents should sporadically support their children by giving them space to grow on their own.


Toys for each age and developmental stage

Children have different needs for each developmental stage. Below are explanations of toys that are suitable for each stage.

Toys for babies (0 - 1 years old)

Babies go through various and quick changes, from lying on their backs to crawling and from tipping to walking. You can use toys to challenge the youngest children to roll, reach and grab. Think wooden rattles, iron bowls and soft cuddly toys. When babies start crawling, it becomes interesting for them to grab and throw objects. Suitable types of toys include: balls, bags, soft building blocks and buckets.

Toys for toddlers (2 - 4 years old)

Toddlers are getting better at playing independently and they discover what they can do with different objects. Therefore, choose toys they can stack, knock over and open and close again. They also discover different structures, fabrics and shapes. This is where sensory motor toys come in. These toys stimulate children's senses and encourage brain development, hand-eye coordination and memory. Some examples of sensory motory toys are: bean bags, brushes and cloths.

Toys for ages 4 - 12 (primary or after-school care age)

Children going to primary school or after-school can be offered progressively more educational toys. For instance, you can give toys that involve counting, reading or logical thinking. Stimulating creativity and a sense of responsibility is also good for your child's development. Examples of toys for this age are dice games, magazines and letter boards or even a kitchen garden to grow their own vegetables.

Finding a suitable daycare

When looking for a daycare centre for your child, it is important to find one that offers a lot of stimulating play options. Having a large variety ensures that your child's development is encouraged.

Are you interested in a childcare that pays attention to different types of play? CompaNanny offers Daycare, Kindergarten and After-school care.

Britt van Wijngaarden


Britt van Wijngaarden

Britt van Wijngaarden is Content and communication specialist at CompaNanny. She studied communication at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. She lives in Utrecht and enjoys playing tennis, going...

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