Enhancing Development through Play
Opinion World

Enhancing Development through Play

Two girls playing with plastic blocks with their friends in the background

By Rana Hasnain

Play has significance place in children learning as it contributes to brain development and facilitates physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. Play activities provide the freedom to explore, experiment and discover varied concepts. Early years of child development from birth to seven years are building blocks of socioemotional, cognitive and physical development. Child’s play nurture child’s development. Psychologists and Educationist realizing the importance of play in child’s life made several researches to finds its influence on the personality of child and developed the Theories of Play. They are as following:

  • Surplus energy theory —– Schiller 1873 & Spencer 1875
  • Recreation theory ——— Lazarus1883 & Patrick
  • Growth theory ——– Appleton 1919
  • Recapitulation theory——– G Stanley 1906 & Wundt
  • Cognitive Theory ……………   Piaget – 1962)

Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) characterized children’s play an activity having these characteristics: (a) that is desired by a child, (b) always involve an imaginary situation (c) at all times include rules which are in the mind of player, and  may or may not be laid down in advance. All the educationist have come to conclusion that play activities accelerate physical & intellectual growth and children learn best with challenging activities.           

Physical Development: Physical Development include the perceptional growth, progression of motor skills and coordination of movements

Play activities whether individual or group involve movements of muscles thus developing gross and fine motor skills and coordination of movements. Perception refers to the process of taking in and organizing sensory information.

Planned play activities provide opportunities for interaction with each other; children learn to cooperate, share and experiment. New ideas are formed and assisting in conceptual development the knowledge and experience gained through play are building blocks for future learning.


Children’s play changed as they developed, going through six distinct stages that generally, but not always, corresponded to their ages. “Socialist Mildred Parten 1932”

Types of Play                     Age               Benefits
Unoccupied play: Plays single-handedly with or without a toy Infants, toddlers (zero to two years). Movements become perfect with repetition. It is vital for future play exploration and development.
Solitary play: Often plays alone, with toys different than others, unaware of what others are doing. Two to three years Solitary play is common at a young age as cognitive, physical and social skills have yet to fully develop.   This type of play is important because it teaches children how to entertain themselves.
Onlooker play: a child observes others playing but does not join the play This type of play is common in younger children between the ages of 2½ and 3½, but can take place at any age.  Children engage in other forms of social interactions such as conversations to learn more about the game or play that is going on. 
Parallel play: children play side-by-side from one another, with similar toys but there is a lack of group involvement amongst them. Parallel play is common in children between the ages of 2½ and 3 ½ but can take place at any age. Parallel play is important as a transitory stage for the development of social maturity and social skills.
Associative play: Children may play or trade with the similar toys or actively talking with or engaging one another, but no rules of play are being set. This type of play typically begins around ages 3 or 4, extending into the pre-school age
  • This is an important stage of play because it develops necessary skills such as cooperation, problems solving, and language development.
Cooperative play: Children enjoy the company and the activity at hand.  The game become organized with a leader, as well as other assigned roles. They play   to accomplish group goals or specific tasks Cooperative play begins in the late preschool period, between the ages of 4 and 6 Cooperative play provides the opportunity of interaction, and socialization. It develops organizational skills and a higher degree of social maturity.

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” Maria Montessori

Intellectual Development

It is defined as one’s capacity to understand communicate and the growth of language skills. It can be more generally described as the ability to create and the progression of calculative and manipulative skills.

Physical and intellectual development are linked together as learning does not occur in isolation. It happens when a child explore and experiment in his environment for as he long he wants. Child works physically with his hands but his movements are coordinated by his brain being the center of intelligence. The more the child uses his hands the better is the development. In early years education the emphasis should be on skills development, conceptual growth and refinement of senses. Indoor and outdoor activities even for language and math are required to be planned keeping in view child’s age, interest and the topic.



In a day’s routine small children (three to four years) need more play activities; e.g. from eight math period six should be essentially for the indoor and outdoor activities. Indoor activities may be tracing the numbers with paints, cut and paste of the shapes and making the balls with play-dough or clay etc. Number games could be played as outdoor activities e.g. the child is shown a number he runs to get the same number balls from the environment. The concepts of balance, height, length, width and depth can all be introduced through activities.    


Elaborated games whether indoor or outdoor are enjoyed by the children of six years and more. For language activity treasure hunt or Scrabble may be played.  Small children have short attention span and therefore the activity must be brief half an hour or so is sufficient.


Indoor and outdoor activities facilitate learning by making dull and boring topic interesting to the children. Number work topics like skip counting, odd & even numbers, backward counting, tables etc. are grasped easily if introduced through play. Role play, Dramatic play, and Dramatization of stories create confident and expressive children; grooming them to be future leaders.

L.S. Vygotsky suggests that intellectual development may be largely influenced by a child’s interactions with others: a child sees others thinking and acting in certain ways and then internalizes and models what is seen

Emotional & Social Development and Cognitive Growth   

Brain research indicates that emotions and cognition are interwoven processes. Child’s regulation and management of emotions is known as socioemotional intelligence. The ability to establish positive, pleasing and satisfying relationship with others. Emotional intelligence is the capacity of an individual to recognize and regulate their own and other people emotions.  


Play events provide activities to facilitate, to communicate and interact from an early age of two Years. Different interactive plays such as solitary play, parallel play, associative play and cooperative play offer a ground for socialization and communication for children. Children absorb and get to know about the norms of a culture, acceptable behavior, tolerance and emotional stability.

Following play activities are essential for developing a balanced personality and ought to be included in the daily routine of the children
Activities For

Physical Development:

Activities For

Intellectual Development:

Activities For

Emotional  & Social Development:

Play activities to promote development of gross motor skills are running, jumping, hopping, skipping, climbing, balancing, ridding, crawling, scooting, or  swinging etc. Sensorial activities to provide provision for the development & refinement of senses, visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell) gustatory, (taste) and Streognostic Sense. Streognostic games: Blind folding the child and ask him to do sorting activity of alike objects, fruits, vegetables or solid shapes   Communicating and talking to new born child is essential to develop his language skills, as the child absorbs the language from his environment.

Soft music, Nursery rhymes & Lullabies all have attraction for the child

Organized sports such as soccer, football, hockey, netball, throw ball, badminton facilitate the development of large muscles. Natural material e.g. clay, water, and mud

Sensory table: Material with different textures, (rough & smooth wood, sand paper etc.) Objects with different shapes & sizes and form,(macaroni, marble, beads buttons)

Verbal language and cognitive skills making him / her emotionally stable and social:

  • Bee Bop  songs  
  • Hide & Seek,
  • I  Spy with my little eye,
  • Simon Says,
Activities involving small muscles, fine motor, and pincer grip are squeezing, pounding or molding play dough or clay. These activities aid in developing imagination and perception

Constructive toys, puzzles and Lego, building towers, bridges, gates building etc. with blocks and geometrical solids.

Board Games aid to communicate & develop spirit of healthy competition.

  • Scrabble
  • UNO card game
  • Monopoly
  • Ben domino
  • Snake ladder
Repeating an activity like pouring of water from jar to jar, or beans or transferring water with sponge from a bowl to another develop small muscles and coordinate the movements Enhancing free expression through art & preparing hand for holding a pencil

  • Making designs with lines and shapes
  • Expressing through Free hand drawings
  • Painting with fingers or brush  
Activities such as Role play & Dramatic play provide a ground for interaction, expression and enrichment of vocabulary.   
Activities ForPhysical Development: Activities ForIntellectual Development: Activities ForEmotional  & Social Development:

Perception refers to the process of taking in & organizing sensory information.

Arranging a gradation tower according to sizes, or grading colours tablets from dark to light or vise versa.

Working with puzzles from simple to intricate

Calculative and manipulative skills are developed through following activities:

  • Different number work activities of matching, sorting, & grading
  • Sorting, matching and categorizing objects according to   shapes, sizes or colors  It
Music and movement activities channelize energy and its natural outlet for self-expression and creativity.   

Rhythm Band Activities offer an opportunity to coordinate and communicate with their classmates. This musical activity teaches patience and tolerance.


Play is vital for a child’s life, it provides recreation, relaxation; and is a source of inspiration. Play is closely tied to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development, especially in the areas of problem solving, language acquisition and numeracy. Thus a day planning must include various forms of play to make learning meaningful and attractive. Each teaching program has resolved and developed their version of play that’s suits their children’s needs. Play will look different in a Montessori environment  to a Reggio Emily work plan. Nonetheless all the varied program provide meaning full, developmentally appropriate play activities, in a safe, and maturing environment. The child feels loved and his ideas valued are some of the steps towards right directions.  

According to Patricia G Ramsay “Play while it cannot change the external realities of children’s lives, can be vehicle for children to explore and enjoy their differences and similarities and to create even for a brief time a more just world where everyone is an equal and valued participant”.

Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology…. Mildred Parten 1932
Care and Education in Canada: edited by Lorry Procher and Nina Hove
101 Rhythm Instrument Activities for Young Children…Abigail Flesch Connors


Rana Hasnain is an academic coordinator at Angus Glen Montessori, Toronto. She has worked on behalf of children for four decades, first as a teacher, a master trainer, a curriculum designer and more recently in setting a learning environment and grooming of  teaching staff in Pakistan and Canada.

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