What is your Preschooler’s Favorite Type of Play?

In the preschool years, play becomes more sophisticated, and so does the learning process behind it. What your preschooler enjoys most at playtime can tell you a lot about what is going with his development and learning. Children at this age engage in several different types of play, and each provides a different method for a preschooler to learn about his world and how to become a part of it.

Symbolic Play

Does your little one like to pretend his building blocks are a birthday cake, or his teddy bear is a baby? He’s engaging in symbolic play. This important stage in cognitive development is allowing your preschooler to place a symbolic value on an object, which is important for his understanding of how the world works. By pretending his teddy bear is a baby and imitating the same behaviors he has seen in you and other mothers, he developing an understanding of his place in the world, and the roles of others around him.

Parallel Play

You may notice that when you get your young preschooler together with other kids, he doesn’t really play with them so much as next to them. This doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of the presence of his friends, or that he doesn’t want to play with them. This type of side-by-side play is just the beginning of social play for children. While two children may sit next to each other playing with different toys, they are learning to share space with others and also the very first rules of interaction, which they will build upon later in the preschool years.

Watch for things like imitative play, verbal communications that may seem unrelated to the play at hand (but make perfect sense in your little one’s mind) and the important first steps towards sharing. When the little girl next to him suddenly develops an interest in the toy he is playing with, he will likely be defensive of it. But this reaction is an important starting point for learning about cooperation and sharing, so as much as you can, let the kids work it out amongst themselves. You might just catch the kid who took away your son’s truck offering him another toy in return!

Imaginary Play

Is the bathtub an ocean or the couch a space ship? Does your preschooler present you with invisible cookies to eat, or talk to someone who isn’t there? She is developing her imagination, an important tool for her social development. The ability to imagine herself in the shoes of another person is the beginning of developing empathy. Imagination will also help her to begin anticipating events and guessing (correctly!) at the outcome of her behaviors.

If your child has an imaginary friend, don’t worry about it at all. This natural phase of development is a mark of a very active imagination, which research shows is a positive sign for future social interaction.

Collaborative Play

As your child head further into her preschool years, you will start to see more direct interaction with other kids during play. As she plays more with other children, she will learn all about the rules of society. This play is crucial to helping your child learn how to have successful work and personal relationships.

She is learning things such as sharing, taking turns, how to work out differences through negotiation and compromise, and how to follow social norms and rules. Collaborative play will help her to learn to keep her impulses in check and delay gratification, all things which are difficult for children, who are naturally self-centered.

Every type of play is important to preschoolers, but if your child enjoys one type more than another, don’t worry. Remember that personality plays a role as well, and your little one might be focused on one area of learning right now, but will move on soon.

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