Stages of Play Development in Children | Kids Clinic Singapore


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(Last updated: 13 Jun)

Play: How Your Child Plays from 0-5 Years

Types of Play Stages in Children

As your child grows, they will develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically through a series of sequential stages. Play requirements will then vary according to age and the child’s developmental level. Play should advance accordingly as your child moves through these stages.

A Boy Playing With Toys As A Way To Learn
Children engage in different types of play according to their age and developmental levels.
  • Exploratory Play is the very first type of play a baby or toddler will engage in. A baby learns about his environment through the senses. It is important that he gets the right stimulus by being provided with appropriate toys like mobiles to look at, musical toys to listen to, and toys to grip, touch and suck. A baby may look at a toy, suck, feel and smell it. In this instance, the baby is developing the use of his senses. A growing baby will grasp for toys and reach out for objects. Toddlers will enjoy playing with moving objects like balls and cars. They will also delight in action / reaction games like pop-up toys, activity centres and musical screens.
  • Constructive Play shows the first signs of planning and conscious use of materials and toys. By building towers from blocks, the child gets an idea about sizes and shapes. The first planned pleasure is in knocking the tower over and re-building it again.
  • Energetic Play. When your baby starts to crawl and walk, he will be more mobile, exploring the area he is in by moving and touching everything. This is the age when you do not have enough eyes to watch your exploring child. It is also at this stage that toddlers make you feel desperate and you think that your child is being naughty. What your child is doing here is learning and exploring his world that’s growing bigger and bigger each day and offers so many new possibilities. The child is also getting to know his growing abilities and thinks he can do everything. Setting the limits is important for him to learn limitations while offering safety in the expanding world, which can sometimes become overwhelming for your child. Toddlers love to exercise their growing motor skills and are very energetic. Going to the playground offers full opportunity for movement and joy.
  • Modelling Play. It is cute to see how children start to copy the actions of the caregiver and learn the different roles in life. Your child will follow you everywhere and want to do what you are doing. It is good to have a few jars and bowls in a special drawer or cupboard for your child so that he can join in cooking and washing the dishes when you are doing so.
  • Pretend Play. When imagination develops and children can distinguish the real world from their world of fantasy, pretend play will develop. The chair becomes a car, various chairs in a row become a train and your child pretends to be the driver blowing a whistle when the ‘train’ leaves. In pretend play, the child learns about different roles and how to make sense of everything that happens around him. He is free to create new situations and learns in free play how to master them.
  • Social Play. When children go to primary school, friends become more and more important in the daily interaction. It is important for children to belong to some social group, be with their peers and to have a certain role in this group. It is through trial and error that children learn their place in their environment. Attending clubs or other activity groups will help to further develop their skills and enhance their interaction with different peer groups in various contexts. Thus, the child learns about people’s uniqueness and social acceptance.
  • Skillful Play. During the primary school years, your child will further develop accomplished skills through activities that require specific skills such as handicrafts, thinking games and sports.

Your child will further refine his motor skills, intelligence and creativity. Specific skills will help him define his personality, strengths and weakness.

Play in Children according to Age:

Play is the way a child learns about the world around him. This section shares how children of different ages (from birth to 24 months) play and the typical play activities that develop according to the age level.

In the first months, the baby’ senses are not fully developed. He can only see things that are about 30 centimetres from his eyes. He enjoys soft sounds and music, your cooing and singing. At about 3 – 6 months, your child can suck his fingers and grasp a toy that has been put in his hand. He is also beginning to reach for toys and pass it back and forth in his own hands. Provide toys that are big, colourful, full of sounds and music and preferably moving, like a rattle. Toys at this stage also need to be safe for chewing.

At about 9 months, the baby becomes aware that objects still exist even though he can no longer see them. You can hide his favourite toy under his blanket and he will lift it up and voila, he has found it! Your child is also becoming increasingly mobile – crawling, pulling to stand and cruise. He is also becoming more adept with his hands, picking up whatever he finds on the floor and putting it into his mouth.


Balls are a favourite at this stage; he can crawl after them, throw them and watch them drop with a bounce. From about 9 months, he also enjoys ‘peek-a-boo’ and copies your hand-clapping action. At 12 months, your baby is starting to solve ‘problems’. Play a simple shape sorter game with him and you will see him trying to fit the shape into the correct hole through trial-and-error. When he is beginning to walk, he will enjoy push toys as he leans on them and takes a few steps forward.

He can explore all corners of the house. His hands have also become more coordinated, he can scribble a drawing and start to sort out his toys. He is more experimental in his play – what happens if I drop this bowl? You will see more pretend play in him, such as pretending to drink from empty cup and pushing toy car. His curiosity motivates him to try things repeatedly to gain mastery over it. As he reaches 24 months, he is continually testing his limits and begins to insist on his independence. He will have the infamous temper tantrums as he begins to let you know what he thinks!


At this age, child’s play is more active. He is also an imitator of the parent in everyday life. He may like physical games. Provide the child with push and pull toys. Give him large building blocks as his hands are more coordinated and are beginning to stack more effectively. Give him lots of crayons and paper to start scribbling. Provide your child with a safe area where he can climb, hide, slide and practise all his emerging gross motor skills. Puzzles will be intriguing at this age, as he is more capable of problem solving and learning from trial and error. Making music with tiny instruments is a thrill as they learn rhythm and tune.

The pre-schooler is a social being. Hence it is important that they are exposed to group activities. At this stage, he is also able to run, climb just about over anything, walk up and down stairs one foot at a time without holding onto rails and ride a tricycle. Hand skills improve tremendously at this stage. The child is able to stack 9- 10 blocks, copy 3 – 4 block designs and fix 8-20 piece medium-sized jigsaw puzzles. He also begins to try colouring within the boundary instead of scribbling random strokes. He is able to trace simple dot to dot designs such as that of a dog. Scissors skills can be introduced as they start to cut strips and gradually progress to lines and curves.


A good mix of gross motor and fine motor activities will suit the child. Playing in the park or playground with the neighbour’s children, kicking the ball, chasing each other will allow the child to test and develop his gross motor skills. Sitting down at the table to trace, colour and try out the new jigsaw puzzle with an adult teaches him at an early stage to have good sit-down behaviour. With this, his creativity, hand skills and problem solving abilities are given an opportunity to develop as well.

At this stage, children start to take up roles in group play. They also start to understand and follow rules. Games like hopscotch, Snap, hide and seek, snakes and ladders, Let’s Pretend are some examples of what they enjoy. Give your child lots of opportunities to mix with other children. Your little one is on his way to being a very sophisticated social creature. He is already able to read body language, emotional cues, make decisions on how to act based on the situation he is in and the cues he is picking up.


The ages of 3 – 5 is an exciting and fun time. The primary role of the parent is to be present, give the child lots of opportunities and then let nature do the rest. If your child likes airplanes, then spend time with him folding it and decorating it. It is the process of doing things together and building the relationship that creates a strong bond between you and your child.

Role of Parents in Play

Parents are a child’s best playmates. Creative children are usually the result of adults who have involved themselves in the child’s play. The parent must join in and play at the child’s level. Daily playtime is a great way to bond with your child.


It is important for children to play. Adults should guide children and stimulate them by offering time, space and company. It is important to follow the child’s interest and introduce new types of play to him in order to help him grow according to the various developmental stages. Play is fun and helps the child develop his abilities in his or her environment. It is definitely most enjoyable to share play experiences with your child.

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