7 Types Of Play Activities for Kids

Why they're awesome and how you can build a variety of play activities into your day!

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My story:

Before I started grOH!, I often felt completely overwhelmed with all of our options. I was working full time and had NO brain space or energy to search my long index of fun play ideas and educational activities. I WAS SO FRAZZLED! I would randomly pull out this toy, do this art craft, plan this music activity, do this gross motor game and my tired mom brain would think... AM I FORGETTING ANYTHING!?? I wanted to give my kiddo the best experiences so we both could figure out what he loved doing!

I know that I am no where near alone! Once I quit my job and started working with and thinking about PLAY and the playrooms and play areas our kiddos play in 100% of my time... the fog started lifting! I am so excited to share all of the knowledge that I can with our community to lift some of the mom-fog and give everyone some ideas about ALL of the amazing experiences you can plan for your kids!

At grOH! We often get asked the question, “Help! What type of play should we be doing?”

Well, I have good news and bad news. My answer is ALL OF THE PLAY! And a lot of they types of play and learning activities we could (and should) do as parents actually begins before kiddos turn 1…GASP!

Maybe this is earlier than you thought. But don’t let this intimidate you! You don’t need to rush out and purchase one of every type of educational toy to support every type of learning… NOPE, don’t do that!

So much of the rich play that you do has many different types of AMAZING skill building play naturally integrated. Open ended toys and art materials naturally support integrated skill-building play. E.g. if you and your kiddo are creating finger painting artwork with multiple colors, you are practicing fine motor skills (controlling fingers), sensory skills (touching paint), language skills (ALL the describing, narrating & conversations you have) and science skills (hello cause & effect and color mixing) at the same time!

Skill Practicing Toys

**I do want to quickly acknowledge that some toys are meant for specific skill practice, and kiddos go through phases of working on mastering specific skills - so, I don’t want to discount the importance of these toys - like stackers or a tricycle (though both of these toys can be integrated into imaginary play.**

Let's Talk Different Types Of Play Activities For Kids

In this post, I will go over the many different kinds of skill building activities that you can plan for playtime! If you want to answer the question, when should I start this play with my kiddo?” or “what can I expect to see when this play starts vs. by the time they’re older?”

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Let's Talk Play:

Sensory Play Activities

Sensory Play is any play that stimulates your child’s senses. Many of us know about the 5 senses - sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Less commonly discussed is Balance (how the vestibular system of our inner ear informs us of our body position) and Body Awareness or Proprioception (how our the stretch and pressure receptors in our muscles and joints tell us where we are in space).

Sensory play begins as soon as babies are born, as they touch, smell and experience everything and continues through school age! It helps them build up a tolerance and understanding of the different senses. The more practice kiddos have with each sense, the more input their brains can process and information about the world kids understand. Playing with the different senses allows kiddos to experiment with the different senses in a low-risk way.

It’s important to keep in mind, like all skills, some kiddos need more practice than others to develop a tolerance. Touching cooked spaghetti may take some practice for some kiddos - but little for others.

Visual Art Play (Art Crafts!)

Massive Valentines Day Art Project @ 11 Months

Visual Art Play includes various modes, methods, and materials to create a visual piece of artwork. Regular art with kiddos not only provides authentic fine motor skill and sensory practice, it encourages problem solving and creative thinking. Additionally, art creation requires a lot of social emotional skill practice as art creation does not always go to plan. It requires perseverance, risk taking, and delayed satisfaction.

Visual Art Play can begin as soon as babies are sitting up well on their own and eating some solid food because you can make “paints” from foods by adding food coloring to yogurt or applesauce and using the table top or a shower curtain as a canvas. Visual Art Making continues through school age!

Gross Motor & Fine Motor Activities

Motor Play includes both fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills include play and tasks that use and develop the muscles in the hands, wrists, and fingers. Many tasks in school require developed fine motor skills paired with visual integration skills, or our brain connecting how we see the world with how we use our hands. Gross motor skills include play and tasks that involved the movement of the large muscles of the arms, legs and torso.

Motor Play begins as soon as babies are born, building head and neck strength in tummy time or grabbing your finger and continues through school age. Building these skills helps kids fine tune how they move through and experience the world around them. It allows them to interact with their surroundings, peers, and environment safely and with purpose.

Math Activities and Play

Math Play is any play that involve solving problems by finding patterns. Math is not limited to counting, quantities, and number recognition. Think about it as pattern recognition. You can stack measuring cups together from smallest to largest, pour sand from one small vessel into a larger one, sort blocks to put similar shapes together, or build the tallest or shortest tower. All of this is math play!

Math Play begins when children sort, match, and classify which begins in infancy, really as soon as kiddos being to notice similarities! You can engage in hands on math play with your kiddo early, between 6 and 9 months, as you build block towers and talk about their height and length, group items by size, shape or color or start to do simple puzzles! Children will start to draw their own conclusions and describe them as they develop the language to do so. Building these pattern observing skills early encourages brave and risk-taking mathematicians as they become school age.

Science Activities

Science play is any play that involves making observations to answer questions. Science is not limited to chemistry - how substances can interact and change, but think about physics - how things can move and interact, or biology - what exists in our natural world. Observing, jumping in, making art from, or talking about leaves is science!

Really, if you think about it, babies are tiny scientists. Constantly observing and theorizing about their surroundings. Fostering the curiosity early and ask kiddos grow, encouraging question asking and observation notebooks is an amazing was to encourage children as they become school age scientists.

Imagination Play

Imagination Play is like a mix between acting and storytelling. It involves creating storylines, putting yourself or other objects into the stories, and actively pursuing the stories. Imagination play can range incredibly simple to very complex. Every type of imaginary play helps kids express their understanding of their world and, sometimes, work through difficulties or problems that they are having. You often see children put the challenges they are experiencing into their play. IF you’re involved in the play, it provides a low risk opportunity to help them sort through complicated feelings they may be having or situations they may be facing e.g. having a sibling, moving, or dealing with a death in the family. It is amazing to encourage imagination play, not only does it foster creativity, but it bolsters communication and cooperation skills during peer play as well as provides ample opportunities for creative problem solving and flexible thinking.

Imagination play changes a great deal as kids get older. It begins with mimicking of actions they see their loved ones do constantly - like talking on the phone or stirring a pot. This behavior can begin slightly before or after baby turns 1. After that, kids move from holding a block to their ear like a telephone to pretending they are a superhero saving the world from dragons as they are school age.

Musical Play

Musical Play is any play that involves making music, which may include physical instruments, vocals or body percussion! Integrating Music Listening and Musical Play into your routine encourages listening skills and math skills… as music is full of auditory patterns!

Percussion instruments, like small hand drums, egg shakers, or xylophones are wonderful to introduce to kiddos between 6-9 months of age. As kiddos become school age, you can move them toward more complex instruments like a ukulele, violin, or piano! Again, introducing instruments and music in low-risk play situations helps build bravery and curiosity as children get older and begin experimenting with more complex sounds, music and instruments and may choose to commit to lessons.

Outdoor Free Play

Moving freely to explore the natural environment!

Think about outdoor free play as any outdoor space with no play equipment. Kiddos have to create their own play from what is around them - Digging in dirt, climbing rocks etc. Play equipment can be hugely beneficial for many reasons, but it should be balanced with free outdoor play because it encourages ingenuity, muscle strengthening, and balance skills. Outdoor free play can be guided (meaning you can offer up ideas and follow your kiddo’s lead) or completely independent, though should be supervised!

You can being Outdoor free play as soon as you want to do some tummy time on a blanket with baby’s toes or fingers in the grass. However, real exploration stars when baby is more independent and mobile. Once babies start to walk, they balance on uneven terrain and observe the natural world around them. Just keep an eye out for rock eating! This play can grow into family hikes and nature walks as kiddos approach school age!

See, it actually is less complicated than it seems! So much of what we do with our kiddos includes the variety of skill building activities that our kiddos need, want, and deserve! Likely, you are doing amazing skill building play without even knowing it!

(Yay you!)

But we are here to help! To get more specific examples of what each type of play looks like at different ages,

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