Identify your Child’s Types of Play

Types of play

Who among the four (below) are playing?

An infant twiddling her mom’s nipples

A toddler hiding behind the curtains

A little boy mimicking Dora

A little girl combing her Barbie’s hair

Yes – like you guessed -they all are playing!

Small children live in a world far different from ours. They are free from the instinct to control what their bodies want to do. That is why they don’t feel shy to hop like a frog while walking on the road or to dance when everyone’s watching.

One moment they make faces at the mirror; the next moment they crawl under the chair and yet another moment they sing aloud their favourite rhymes. Of course, we’ve observed enough of all their little acts. However, do we know that all that we see as their random acts of childishness, Bob Huges, a play theorist and researcher, has characterized into different types of play?

Bob has over forty years of experience in working with children. In his book, A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types, he talks about 16 types of play. Every silly act our little ones amaze us with, will fall under one or more of these play types.

The next time you watch your lo play something, identify which of the following types of play he is into. Well, if you are wondering why you should know about the types of play or why you should identify them, here’s a quick reasoning:

First of all, take my word, you really need not know or identify your child’s play types.

But, when you do:

  • Watching your little ones play becomes all the more interesting.
  • You get a better understanding of what kind of development is happening in them.
  • You get a fair idea of whether their activities cover all types of play. If not, what kind of play are they missing as a child and if it has an impact in their development.
  • You shall fall in love with children and their world, to the extent that you won’t mind becoming their playmate often.


Symbolic Play

symbolic play
Source: Infogram

Have you observed your little boy using a television remote as a phone? Most of us would have! This is a classic example of symbolic play. That is, when children make use of an object or an action to represent another object or action or idea, it can be termed as symbolic play.

Symbolic play helps children give form to the idea they want to manifest. My girl as an infant (habituated to observing her big brother playing with cars) would sometimes drag a wooden block on the floor as if she was pulling a toy car. Here, she makes use of the wooden block as a symbol of a toy car to manifest her instinct to drive a toy car.

Symbolic play makes the foundation for pretend play and socio-dramatic play as children age. It also has been found to be associated with the development of language in children.


Rough & Tumble Play

rough and tumble play
Source: Early Years Professional Development

Do you feel worried when your boys wrestle with each other with bouts of laughter in between? They are, after all, playing a rough and tumble play. It is an aggressive form of physical play which is associated with positive feelings between the playing children.

It is common among boys, like chasing each other, racing or wrestling, though girls too can play vigorously. I remember my sister and I, as kids, hitting each other with pillows while laughing our bellies out throughout, until we were tired of laughing any longer.

Rough and tumble play may seem a wasting of energy in children. However, studies show that it plays an essential role in their cardiovascular health and motor skills development.


Socio-dramatic Play

socio dramatic play
Source: Kaplan Early Learning

“I am the doctor. Open your mouth, ahhhhh……”

Sounds a familiar play conversation of our children, right? When children imitate a person whom they have observed in real life, it is called a dramatic play. Involving another person – a parent, a sibling or a friend – makes it a socio-dramatic play.

Socio-dramatic play helps children to reflect in action and words what they observe around. It is also an aid for them to express and understand their inner emotions and experiences.


Social Play

social play
Source: First Leap

Yesterday, I observed a group of four boys (including my son) taking turns to jump forward from a start line. The one who jumped the farthest was the winner of that particular round. If two boys did the same distance, it is a tie and they will do a re-jump. A play which involves well-laid rules like this one while promoting interaction and social engagement between them is called a social play.

Social play is crucial for the development of social skills and nurturing relationships among children.


Creative Play

creative play
Source: Brooklyn Library

Give children a set of paints and brushes, a clay kit or a cardboard box. And you know what beautiful imaginations can pop out of their hands! Creative play is the use of tools and materials to create new things from their imagination. It helps them evolve as creative thinkers and doers.


Communication Play

communication play

Have you listened to a bunch of children developing a new mystery language with weird-sounding words? Have you watched your girl holding a torch light as a mic and singing her heart out? These come under what is called as communication play.

Communication play is the use of words and gestures in playing, like to mimic a cartoon character or to tell a story. They help children in their verbal expression of their fantasies.


Dramatic Play

dramatic play
Source: The Perpetual Prechool

“No job is too big; no pup is too small.”

How many of your boys have pointed their fingers upwards and exclaimed this statement? If they are Paw Patrol fans, I am sure they must have dramatized as Ryder at least once. Re-creating a scene or event from a movie, television show or an event they attended – mostly like a performance for an audience – is dramatic play.

Dramatic play fulfills their fantasy to be someone else they desire to be. It also encourages them to observe a character or event to an extent where they get inspired to play the role on themselves.


Deep Play

deep play
Source: Huffpost

A play which involves taking risks, even if it is life threatening, is called a deep play. Climbing tress and walking on the parapet wall are classical examples of deep play. Though on the outside, it may look potentially dangerous, deep play gives children an in-depth sense of satisfaction, confidence and helps them acknowledge their emotions from within.


Exploratory Play

exploratory play
Source: Montessori of Minot

What do children do when they try to stack wooden blocks one above the other? They explore the size, shape and property of the object and understand how they can be used. This is exploratory play. An infant using a spoon to feed herself is doing an exploratory play. A toddler mashing cooked potatoes with both his hands is doing an exploratory play.

Exploratory play helps children to understand the world around them, using all of their senses.


Fantasy Play

fantasy play
Source: The British Psychological Society

A pretend play which involves a scenario or event that is unrealistic, like fighting with a lion or driving an aeroplane is termed a fantasy play. It could be solely from their imagination or a reflection of what they hear or see. The point is it is way unlikely from the current reality.

Fantasy play helps in the development of creative thinking skills in children.


Imaginative Play

imaginative play
Source: The Reading Eggs Blog

Imaginative play is playing from the imagination. I don’t quite get how it is different from fantasy play but Bob Hughes explains it as, ‘Play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply.’ When kids imagine themselves as a ship or a tree, it comes under imaginative play.

Imaginative play helps children in developing social skills and problem-solving abilities along with encouraging creative abilities.


Loco-motor Play

locomotor play
Source: The Art and Science of Teaching

Movement, movement and movement! Loco-motor play is all about moving hands, legs and entire body in play. Climbing a tree, playing football, running as in chase – loco-motor play is common among kids.

Loco-motor play largely aids in co-ordination of the physical body parts and training of muscles.


Mastery Play

mastery play
Source: Be the Best Sport

If you have observed children building a meticulous sand castle, you will know how focused children can become in mastering an activity or skill they are interested in. This is mastery play. Learning to ride a bike without the stabilizers or mastering archery using a bow and arrow are examples of mastery play.

Mastery play builds confidence in them as they learn to become an expert in a particular ability.


Object Play

object play
Source: Bill’s Backyard

My sister, as a child, often used to make use of a half coconut shell as a seat to sit on it. This, an apt example of object play, demonstrates how children manipulate objects and bring out a novel use of them. Like how early human beings must have tapped the potential of stones to produce fire, object play in children forms the foundation for learning science and experimentation in the future.


Role Play

role play kid mopping the floor
Source: Scary Mommy

Role play is quite a common thing we see in our children. A child trying to imitate mopping the floor or driving a car is doing role play. Role play is different from dramatic or fantasy play in that  it is not as intense as the other two.

Role play helps children to see the world through someone else’ eyes and be in another person’s shoes. It builds empathy in them and helps them relate to the thoughts, roles and emotions of people around.


Recapitulative Play

recapitulative play kid playing bow and arrow
Source: Kindling Play and Training

My son occasionally plays like a knight. He wears his play armour and pretends battling the enemies with his play sword and shield. Called recapitulative play (because it gives him an experience of how knights of olden years lived) is defined by Bob Hughes as, ‘Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. It enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.’

Do you recollect interesting memories of your children’s play types?

Please share in the comments below.

There are a tons of mommies waiting to read exciting stories from fellow mommas!




The info graphic below shows the original definition of Bob Hughes for each of the play types:

types of play
Source: Finger Print Projects

Types of Play

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