The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Development (Early Childhood 4-6 years)

Throughout childhood, play is one of a child’s main occupations.

By engaging in different types of play, children explore, be creative and develop their gross and fine motor skills, cognition, problem-solving, communication and social-emotional skills. These skills are the foundations for general development, as well as social and emotional development that enables a child to interact with others and engage in their environments.

By age four, children are beginning to engage in Cooperative Play.

You will see them starting to become more interested in the people they are playing with and the specific activities they are engaging in. Play becomes more organised, with rules and different roles assigned to playmates.

At this age, children are also transitioning from childcare to preschool where there are more expectations, rules and routine. Promoting healthy development through play is a great way to prepare children for the transition to school and enable them to engage and participate with their peers.

Activities you can include with children of this age to encourage and promote healthy development through play include:

  • Obstacle courses including running, jumping, climbing, crawling, hopping and balancing. This great activity can be completed anywhere using objects and toys that you already have at home. If you have access to a driveway, use chalk to draw circles to hop across, place hula-hoops on the ground to jump in and out of or run, zig-zagging around different soft toys. In an apartment, set up tables and chairs to crawl under and climb over, use pillows or placemats to jump on, and use a laundry basket with rolled-up socks to shoot hoops like basketball.
  • Go to the park and run from swings to benches, climb on the equipment, help your child to hang and swing across the monkey bars, play colour based Simon says e.g. put your foot on something blue, put your hand on something yellow.
  • Animal walks such as bear walks, crab walks, frog hopping, slithering like a snake. Try crab walking from the child’s bedroom to the kitchen to pick up an object and then crab walk back.
  • Have your child lay on their tummy on a scooter board or skateboard and push along to collect objects or toys laid out on the floor.
  • Playdough activities to roll, flatten and form letters, shapes and characters. Playdough can be easily made at home using flour, salt, water and food colouring (complete a quick google search for recipes).
  • Use tweezers to pick up and sort items such as cotton balls, bottle lids or small scrunched up balls of paper into buckets.
  • Drawing, colouring, practising name writing, cutting along lines and simple shapes.
  • Play games with rules such as Simon Says, hide and seek, hopscotch.
  • Imaginative play setting up shops, doctors clinics, cafes using whatever items you have in your home e.g. pull out saucepans, plastic containers, empty and cleaned jars or cereal boxes. Make pretend money using cardboard and paper and use an empty tissue box as a till to slot money into. Give your child a notepad and pen to pretend to take orders, make doctor’s notes etc.
  • Turn-taking board games such as Pop the Pig, Pop up Pirate, Hungry Hippos, Connect Four.
  • Sensory play including splashing in the water, making slime, finger painting, making sandcastles, scooping rice and finding small objects.
  • Singing songs and learning about different emotions such as ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and ‘Emotions Hokey Pokey’ (sing and complete actions to the tune of Hokey Pokey replacing lyrics with “you put your happy face in, you put your happy face out, you put your happy face in and shake all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about”. Change to different emotions each verse of the song and complete with your child so they can copy if needed e.g. sad, excited, angry, surprised).
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