There are a myriad of developmental skills that children learn through play. From their infant to Pre-Kindergarten stages, children are experiencing and learning new things each and every day. With play consuming most of their time, there are different things children learn during every stage of their growth.
Infant to Six Months: Everything is a baby’s first. For example, the first time a baby opens his eyes in his bassinet, he discovers something new – an animal on his mobile. The next morning, there it is again. Will it be there tomorrow? Yes, and then baby learns to trust that when he opens his eyes he will always see the mobile’s giraffe looking back at him. Babies will engage in play first by responding to sounds, then by following objects and people with their eyes. Your baby will demonstrate his memory by repeating an action that made you laugh yesterday. Once infants can hold a rattle a whole new world opens up – you will watch them turn it over, bang it, shake it and even taste it. Rolling over also widens a baby’s world from what is placed before him to 360 degrees of eye-catching curiosity. The new world is fun.
Six Months to One Year: Baby is now his own driving force to play. He no longer needs an adult or older sibling to spark his interest. Rolling over and sitting up has created choices and as he discovers how to move from lying to sitting, he is covering ground and taking aim at his own source of interest. Place toys within and outside of your baby’s reach to encourage self-discovery and motion. Your child is brilliant and will look at a familiar object when called by name. Babies not only want to turn objects around, they want to talk to them and use them the way you tell them to use them. See my hands! You say “clap” with a smile on your face and baby wants to clap and smile, too.
First Steps (12 to 18 months): No longer a baby, a First Stepper “steps” into everything. A First Step child will play with water, smell a flower (which is not as easy as you think) and recognize animals like the ones from the mobile. He will join in the conversation with simple words and phrases and respond to “bye, bye,” with an unsolicited wave. One-year-olds love to demonstrate their knowledge – they will point to anything you name and find body parts, like their ears, when they cannot even see them. They have learned to trust their own experiences with their ears. Your one-year-old will play with you and imitate your actions. Watch your child reflect your love a baby doll with “hugs and kisses” and help you the way you have guided him.
Toddler (18-30 months): A toddler’s world is all about ME – “Me do it”! This demonstration of independence is an exercise in trusting the child’s own limits. A toddler will speak on a play phone and answer questions such as “Why?” and “Where?” Playing is on his terms – when and how. Toddlers love new experiences, too. They have graduated from ‘turning it over and tasting it’ to doing it right. A toddler will put a puzzle together, hold crayons in his hand, hum and sing as he plays, and join activities without prompting. Give your toddler plenty of opportunities to join in imaginary play – pour from one cup to another and manipulate play dough.
Get Set (30 to 36 months): Just like the name states, get set for more play. The Get Set child is truly developing an identity. He knows his own name – first and last – and can tell you where his friends are playing. Get Setters know ‘they can do it’ and want to be like adults. They will share and wait turns, communicate in short sentences and demonstrate their personal understanding of the world around them in their play. Get Set children will soak up any information you share with them. They can understand words like “under” and “over” and the description of how a plant grows. Art is no longer about exploring the material itself, but rather what they can do with the material. They will even paint with the opposite side of the paint brush just to see what it will create. Get set for your child to amaze you with his knowledge of good hygiene and specific book choices. A Get Set child can also multi-task now; try singing and doing the motions to the song or have a conversation while he paints.
Preschool (36 months +): This is the age of expectations. The preschool child’s play looks like going to work. As he mingles among the Interest Centers he is also playing out a role. Preschoolers have a large vocabulary and understand the intonations of language. As they act out a role, they will try on different emotions and see how they fit into their own personality. Preschoolers have begun to connect the spoken word to written language and can orally retell a favorite story. They are interested in cause and effect and can identify their colors, shapes, sizes and weights; and they want to explore what happens when they change them. A preschool child may remain in a particular Interest Center for long periods of time until he has exhausted his curiosity. Don’t forget to stand back because the preschool child also needs his space to move. Watch as he develops rhythm and tempo as both an individual or group learner. Either way, preschoolers are movers and shakers.
Pre-Kindergarten (48 months +): Complexity is the nature of the Pre-K classroom. Pre-Kindergarteners are complex social beings wanting to play with specific friends and still identifying when they want to do it alone. They can recognize how objects and people are the same and different simultaneously, and they can appreciate those attributes. Playing is beginning to turn into concepts. For instance, all of the exploration at the water table develops into an understanding of water – floating, sinking, absorbing, dissolving, etc. Pre-K children use their four years of play experience to develop an identifiable knowledge – they can match by relationships and verbalize invisible concepts, such as time and calendars. They no longer need to see or hold the toy to play; they can recall previous experiences and use the knowledge. While listening to music they can name the instrument, move to the beat and sing along. In Pre-K, phonemic awareness and the written word are magical – writing words is play.