9 Important Types of Play For Your Child's Development

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Play is a fun activity that keeps the child engaged while also stimulating their developmental skills. Each child may have a different preference when it comes to playing, and it is okay. Any activity, whether organized or unorganized that children enjoy and find exciting, can be called play (1).

Whether it is playing with a ball, pretending and acting like a superhero, or just trying on the clothes of their siblings, play could support a child’s learning and development. Read on as we tell you about the various types of plays, their benefits, and the importance of playing for children.

Why Is Play Important For A Child’s Development?

Children usually learn new things and forge social relations by engaging in different types of play. It could help exercise a child’s problem-solving skills, risk-taking capabilities, creativity, conflict resolution, effective communication, and cooperation.

Playing may also affect various academic skills related to maths, science, language, and reading (2). Since play affects multiple attributes, a child could experience physical, intellectual, and social development through play. Moreover, playing relaxes a child and strengthens their muscles (3).

The following are the effects of play on key areas of a child’s development (4).

  • Gross motor skills development: Children learn motor skills, including balance, movement, and lifting objects. Physical plays help them stay active and healthy and strengthen their bones and muscles as they grow older.
  • Fine motor skills development: Right from toddlerhood, certain games like sorting, beading etc can help in tuning the child’s finer finger movements.
  • Intellectual development: Play improves children’s reasoning, memory, and thinking. Interestingly, toddlers between the ages of two and three may learn to identify shapes and sizes, count, and enhance their imagination while playing.
  • Social development:Children develop their personalities and become independent while playing. It can positively affect their social interactions. Also,they learn to care and become social or friendly.

Play activities need not be for a longer period of time. Multiple short durations of play spread across the day could be beneficial, as well. Also, if, as a parent, you are unable to spend time with your child, you may allow them to help you with household chores, such as cleaning. It could make for a playful way to teach your little one some essential skills (5).

Different Types Of Play

There are different types of play, depending on the way the child plays it. Most children prefer a type of play at a certain age. The following are the different types of play and their benefits (6).

1. Unoccupied play

Babies usually experience this type of play. It seems less like a play and more like experimentation. Babiesare almost still, and their activities seem less integrated or organized. For instance, you may see babies just making a lot of movements with hands and legs.


  • In this type of play, babies explore the tangible materials around them and discover how their body works.
  • They also learn to manipulate objects around them and self-control. It helps them prepare for future exploration.

2. Solitary play

This stage occurs in toddlers often between two and three years of age. In solitary play, they engage in self-entertainment and don’t require anyone’s involvement. They also might not notice other toddlers. Parents may worry about their child’s self-isolation, but it is quite normal. A few examples of solitary play is when a toddler is alone and flips through a book, plays with Lego sets, or solves a puzzle.


  • It prepares them to play with others in the future but, most importantly, makes them self-sufficient.
  • When children play independently, they exercise their motor and intellectual skills.

3. Onlooker play

During onlooker play, the child acts as a spectator and observes other children play rather than participate. It is a normal stage in a child’s development and does not necessarily indicate that the child is hesitant and scared to engage with others.


  • By watching, they learn about other children, the use of materials, and social interaction between people.
  • They learn new ways to explore the world and manipulate objects by observing others.

4. Parallel play

It is when children play close to each other, but they don’t engage with one another. During parallel play, they learn to play without disturbing or affecting each other. An example is when two children play with their respective toy cars but without interacting with each other.

The children might try to observe and copy each other out of curiosity. Another example is when a child goes near a group of children, picks a toy, and starts playing alone without talking or interacting with others.


  • It appears more like a warm-up, that is,they are silently learning about different ways to engage or interact with others.
  • This type of play also helps them practice their new skills.

5. Associative play

It is the first step towards learning to have fun with others. During associative play, the child is interested in doing the same activities or using the same toys as others but without interacting with other children. For instance, children playing on the same slide in the playground but each performing a different activity, such as sliding, climbing, or jumping.


  • It allows them to practice what they have been observing in onlooker and parallel play.
  • It lays the foundation for the development of new communication and social skills to engage with adults and children.

6. Cooperative play

During cooperative play, children learn to coordinate and cooperate with others. They are not only interested in the activity but also in children involved in the activity. Since the child is still learning to socialize, it could be difficult for them to share readily, take turns, negotiate, and compromise on control. This type of play, therefore, involves conflict, which is quite normal. For instance, if a group of children is building something with building blocks, they may constantly have conflict about the placement of the blocks.


  • It helps them observe and learn problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork.
  • It teaches them to create group goals or set rules for a game.

7. Digital play

There are different forms of technology that offer good content with high scope of engagement and learning for children. Although digital play, including video games, has limitations in terms of physical activity, it does provide cognitive stimulation when used correctly and under parental guidance.


  • It creates a new level of interaction and a distinctive learning experience.
  • It enhances digital literacy and IT skills. It could also improve learning and academic performance.

8. Active play

It involves the physical movement of children and can take place indoors or outdoors. It can include sports and activities such as playing football, obstacle courses, and tug of war. Active play could help a child acknowledge their own limitations and exercise the skills learned in other types of play. The child can also exercise and practice their gross motor skills.


  • It enhances persistence, perseverance, and attention span. It also makes them accustomed to the happiness of winning and frustration of losing.
  • This type of play improves healthy competitiveness among children.
  • This form of play is most conducive to enhancing stamina and physical health of the child.

9. Creative play

It involves the utilization of a child’s imagination, creativity, and inventive ideas. It could also provide an outlet for a child’s thoughts and expressions. Creative play consists of several artistic activities, such as painting, dancing, singing, and acting.


  • It inspires children to be innovative and think out of the ordinary.
  • It can motivate children to pursue their interests. It may lead to future inventors and innovators.

Play is an integral part of a child’s growth and development. They engage in play right when they are babies and go through different stages to acquire new motor, cognitive, and social skills. Every child is different and is likely to have a different approach to play. As parents, provide them a supporting environment, avoid imposing your expectations, and help them discover new objects.  If you have any concerns about your child’s skills and learning abilities, speak to a pediatrician.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. How Kids Learn to Play: 6 Stages of Play Development; Pathways
2. Rymanowicz K.,The power of play – Part 1: Stages of play; Michigan State University
3. Rodrigo G.,How To Learn And Benefit From Different Types Of Play; Fun Academy
4. Development through play; Health Service Executive
5. Your child learning through play; Health Service Executive
6. Different Types of Play for Toddlers 12-36 Months; Healthy Families BC


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Dr. Neha Bhave Salankar

Dr. Neha Bhave Salankar is a consultant psychiatrist at Bhave Institute of Mental Health based in Nagpur. Having been a meritorious student throughout, she bagged the prestigious gold medal for medicine in MBBS as well as in MD psychiatry. She also took training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. She is... more

shreeja pillai

Shreeja holds a postgraduate degree in Chemistry and diploma in Drug Regulatory Affairs. Before joining MomJunction, she worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. As a writer, she aims at providing informative articles on health and pharma, especially related to... more