2011 AP Month Resources, References and Research

Families at Play

Why Play?

Play Helps Your Child

  • Understand and care about his peers and the external environment
  • Develop his confidence and self-esteem
  • Develop good physical coordination
  • Develop focus, creativity and independence
  • Prepare themselves for adulthood
  • Discover their talents and passion
  • Communicate their feelings
  • Make decisions on their own

Play Helps Parents

  • Understand their child’s interests, feelings and thoughts
  • Impart values that influences their children’s attitude at home, school and his peers
  • Communicate to their child
  • Learn how their child reacts to success, failures and obstacles
  • Determine the learning style that works best with their child
  • Develop a special bond with their children


“The evidence is broad. It starts objectively by watching animals at play and seeing what it does for them — it improves their performance, immune system, their capacity to remember things. And if you follow that through to a human system, those same benefits appear to us — particularly in fertile imagination, in a sense of optimism, in capacity to persevere and to do things that you enjoy — are all by-products of play. And if you then hook someone up to a brain imaging machine you’ll find out that when they’re at play, the brain lights up more from that than virtually anything else they can do.”

…– if we get fear based, and we don’t access our playful imagination, we’re not going to come up with solutions, which have to be fresh … as far as I’m concerned, the very fact that we humans have play as a part of our nature is to help us adapt to the unexpected and help us be flexible for the future.”

From “The Science of P-L-A-Y.” Dr. Stuart Brown is co-author of the new book, “Play — How it Shapes Our Brains, Opens the Imagination, and Shapes the Soul.” He’s also the founder of  The National Institute for Play.

Seven patterns of play articulated by the National Play Institute

    1. Attunement play:   When an infant makes eye contact with her mother, each experiences a spontaneous surge of emotion (joy). The baby responds with a radiant smile, the mother with her own smile and rhythmic vocalizations (baby talk).  This is the grounding base of the state-of-play. It is known, through EEG and other imaging technologies, that the right cerebral cortex, which organizes emotional control is “attuned” in both infant and mother.
    2. Body and movement play

: Innovation, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, have their roots in movement. The play driven pleasures associated with exploratory body movements, rhythmic early speech (moving vocal cords), locomotor and rotational activity – are done for their own sake; pleasurable, and intrinsically playful. They sculpt the brain, and ready the player for the unexpected and unusual.

  1. Object play:   Along with other special patterns of play, the curiosity about and playing  with “objects” is a pervasive innately fun pattern of play, and creates its own “states” of playfulness.  Early on, toys take on highly personalized characteristics, and as skills in manipulating objects (i.e., banging on pans, skipping rocks, etc.) develop, the richer become the circuits in the brain. Hands playing with all types of objects help brains develop beyond strictly manipulative skills, with play as the driver of this development.
  2. Social play: Play and belonging, rough and tumble play and celebratory play are subcategories of social play.
  3. Imaginative and pretend play: The ability of the young child to create their own sense of their mind, and that of others, takes place through pretend play, which continues to nourish the spirit throughout life, and remains key to innovation and creativity. Deprivation studies uphold the importance of this pattern of play, as understanding and trusting others and developing coping skills depends on its presence.
  4. Storytelling-narrative play: Making sense of the world, its parts and one’s particular place in it is a central aspect of early development. And as we grow, the constancy of stories that enliven and help us understand ourselves and others, from a parent’s telling how it was when they were young, to media-driven stories like Big Bird’s rants to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon yarns; all involve us in a never ending fun-giving experience.
  5. Transformative, integrative and creative play: We can access fantasy-play to transcend the reality of our ordinary lives, and in the process germinate new ideas, and shape and re-shape them. Given enriched circumstances, and access to novelty, our play drive takes us into these realms spontaneously.

The National Institute for Play

Piaget’s four stages of development:

  1. Sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years old)–The child, through physical interaction with his or her environment, builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. This is the stage where a child does not know that physical objects remain in existence even when out of sight (object permanence).
  2. Preoperational stage (ages 2-7)–The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations.
  3. Concrete operations (ages 7-11)–As physical experience accumulates, the child starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects.
  4. Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15)–By this point, the child’s cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning.

Seven Stages of Play
Developed by Mildred Parten in the late 1920s at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota, these stages of play are unlike those of Jean Piaget who saw children’s play in primarily cognitive developmental terms.  Parten emphasized the idea that learning to play is learning how to relate to others.

  1. Unoccupied play: the child is relatively stationary and appears to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose. A relatively infrequent style of play.
  2. Solitary play: the child is are completely engrossed in playing and does not seem to notice other children. Most often seen in children between 2 and 3 years-old.
  3. Onlooker play: child takes an interest in other children’s play but does not join in. May ask questions or just talk to other children, but the main activity is simply to watch.
  4. Parallel play: the child mimics other children’s play but doesn’t actively engage with them. For example they may use the same toy.
  5. Associative play: now more interested in each other than the toys they are using. This is the first category that involves strong social interaction between the children while they play.
  6. Cooperative play: some organization enters children’s play, for example the playing has some goal and children often adopt roles and act as a group.

Eight Categories of play

    1. Physical play. When children run, jump, and play games such as chase, hide-and-seek, and tag, they engage in physical play. This play has a social nature because it involves other children. It also provides exercise , which is essential for normal development.
    2. Expressive play

. Certain forms of play give children opportunities to express feelings by engaging with materials. Materials used in expressive play include tempera paints, fingerpaints, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils and markers, and drawing paper; clay, water, and sponges; beanbags, pounding benches, punching bags, and rhythm instruments; and shaving cream, pudding, and gelatin. Parents can take an active role in expressive play by using the materials alongside the child.

  1. Manipulative play. Children control or master their environment through manipulative play. They manipulate the environment and other people as much as possible. Manipulative play starts in infancy. Infants play with their parents; for example, they drop a toy, wait for the parent to pick it up, clean it, and return it, and then they drop it again. This interaction brings the infant and parent together in a game. Children move objects such as puzzle pieces and gadgets to better understand how they work.
  2. Symbolic play. Certain games can symbolically express a child’s problems. Because there are no rules in symbolic play, the child can use this play to reinforce, learn about, and imaginatively alter painful experiences. The child who is in an abusive family may pretend to be a mother who loves and cuddles her child rather than one who verbally or physically abuses her child. Or in play this same child might act out abusive experience by hitting or screaming at a doll that symbolizes the child. Parents can be surprised by their child’s perception of family issues. Children mimic their parents in certain play; in other games they may pretend they are the heroes they read about in books or see on television. At certain developmental stages children believe they can fly or disappear. Symbolic play may be used by children to cope with fear of separation when they go to school or to the hospital.
  3. Dramatic play. Children act out situations they suspect may happen to them, that they are fearful will happen, or that they have witnessed. Dramatic play can be either spontaneous or guided and may be therapeutic for children in the hospital.
  4. Familiarization play. Children handle materials and explore experiences in reassuring, enjoyable ways. Familiarization prepares children for potentially fearful and painful experiences, such as surgery or parental separation.
  5. Games. Some video and card games are played by one child alone. Games with rules are rarely played by children younger than four years of age. Board games, card games, and sports are enjoyed typically by school-age children. In these games children learn to play by the rules and to take turns. Older children enjoy games with specific rules; however, younger children tend to like games that allow them to change the rules.
  6. Surrogate play. For children who are too ill or incapacitated to play, another child or a parent may serve as surrogate. Watching the surrogate who plays on behalf of the sick child is stimulating to the sick child. When parents engage in expressive art by painting or redecorating a room while the physically challenged child watches, they stimulate the child.

Encyclopedia of Children’s Health:   Play – stages, Definition, Description, Common problems

Parents can

  • Provide playthings that kids can use in a variety of ways: blocks, paper and crayons, dolls and toy animals, balls, playdough, etc.
  • Encourage kids to play with ordinary household objects like pots and pans and outdoor materials like sticks and grass
  • Provide simple playthings that encourage children to be active and use their imaginations, not to watch while the toy does tricks.
  • Play with your children, ask them questions about their play (“What are those animals doing?”), and point out things you notice (“You used a lot of bright colors in that picture!”)
  • Look for child care and preschool programs where children learn through play.Ask: How does this program use play to help children learn?

The Action Alliance for Children:  Play:  It’s How Children Learn

Other easy and fun ways to engage in beneficial play with children:
•  Blocks allow children to experiment with construction techniques while learning the vocabulary of spatial concepts like “inside,” “outside,” “next to” or “on top of.” In addition, blocks help children express ideas and feelings, interpret what they have observed and learn cooperation and planning.
•  Pretend Play with housekeeping equipment, adult clothes and other materials, let children experience role-playing with their own family life or other people they encounter. With the right props, children can become firefighters, grocery clerks, truck drivers, postal workers, fast food clerks or any other roles they want to explore. Creativity flows as children express their feelings, imagination and ideas.
•  Art Materials include a variety of paper, crayons, paint supplies, pens, scissors, markers, collage materials, tape, a hole punch, glue, glitter and any other items that allow children to explore, experience their five senses and enjoy the
freedom of creativity.
•  Sensory Play can include containers of water, sand, dirt, birdseed, rice, cornmeal, ground walnut shells or any other texture that encourages experimentation with volume, measurement and other math skills. Using measuring cups, buckets, water wheels, sifters, spoons and recycled containers, children can pour from one container to another. These activities stimulate a child’s sense of touch and are calming for children who need to relax or spend time alone.
•  Puzzles and Manipulatives like small blocks, Legos®, stringing beads, pegs and pegboards on tabletops or on the floor encourage children to develop their creativity, math skills, small muscles and hand-eye coordination. Watch out for small pieces around younger children.
•  Music and Movement can be encouraged with recorded music, musical instruments (made or purchased), songs, finger plays and other items such as scarves, ribbons or streamers. These activities offer a change of pace, an opportunity to express feelings, release tension and provide fun with vocabulary and nonsense words.
•  Cooking provides an opportunity for children to experiment with science, math skills and measurement. It also encourages them to follow directions, build vocabulary and try new foods. Cooking gives children the opportunity to observe changes from heat, cold or the addition of liquids. Single portion recipes allow children to make their own snacks while developing their reading skills.
•  Books and Storytelling offer a different world to children. Visits to the library during storytelling hour give children a chance to experience the magic of a performance by a storyteller, find books on their favorite subjects and discover new things they would like to explore.

Child Action Inc.

Articles and research about the importance of play and current challenges:

AP Month Research Archives:

2018 AP Month Research – Love Collective: Sharing Experience and Making Parenting Sweeter

2017 AP Month Research – Word Power: Communication for Connection

2016 AP Month Research – Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony

2015 AP Month Research  Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society

2014 AP Month Research – Cherishing Parents: Flourishing Children

2013 AP Month Research – Parenting Creatively:  The (H)Art of Parenting

2012 AP Month Research – Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate: Renewed with Parenting Support

2011 AP Month Research – Families at Play

2010 AP Month Research  – Full of Love

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