If you have a preschooler, you know that they love to play! Whether they are outside or in, at the dinner table or in the bathtub, everything can become a game. Do children need to be restricted on play? Absolutely not! In fact, studies show that children at this age learn through play, and play is an integral part of brain development and growth during this time. If you want to learn more about the importance of play, read on for some great insights into the world of preschool play!

Toddler Play

Up until around three years, physical activity is the main way that little ones play. Running, jumping, skipping, climbing, and riding are all great activities to keep them interested. Toddlers mainly engage in “parallel play” where they are absorbed in their own interests and don’t really need to interact directly with other kids to have fun. They may have fun in a group for one activity, and then wander off to pursue other interests. This is completely normal and at this age, and the traditional idea of friendship doesn’t really apply. Toddlers are still very dependent on their parents and teachers, and are pretty self absorbed. If they want a toy, 

they grab for it. If they don’t like someone, they just walk away. However, toddlers change rapidly, and as they enter the preschool years they start forming distinct friendships and having more control over their emotions.

Preschool Development

The preschool years mark the fastest growth period for the brain, and this is when memory, processing speed, and problem solving are all increasing. By six years old the brain weighs 90 percent of what it will in adulthood. This period also marks a dramatic increase in imaginative and interactive play. Play helps the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well being of children, and is so important that it is recognized as a right of every child by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights! Play is a child’s work, and is important for them to grow and learn during this time.

Cognitive Skills

Play increases your child’s cognitive skills, and paves the way for reading and writing that are to come. Your child uses play to problem solve, even if it is just to find the right sized blanket for all of their teddy bears. They use mental planning skills to decide who is playing what role in different imaginary situations, and someone has to be the shopper and someone the cashier when playing store. They also correct each other, and notice either grammar, math, or other mistakes in their peers that help them continue to grow cognitively. Play actually requires a lot of thinking, the same thinking that adults use every day in the workplace. Even if some of the games preschoolers play may seem trivial to adults, they are actually extremely important.

Language Skills

The best way to learn language skills is to practice them, and play with other preschoolers is a great way to do this. When children play, especially in pretend-play situations, they must utilize communication to figure out their roles, the rules of play, and the desired outcomes. Play helps kids find different ways to express what they are feeling, and they learn new words when playing with friends. As they develop their language skills they eventually will love trading jokes, riddles, and learning the popular rhymes of their peers.

Reading Skills

Yep, it’s true. Children don’t just learn to read with lessons that are explicitly about letters, words, and pronunciation. Early engagement in play helps kids have an interest in stories, fantasy books, and understand that symbols represent their world. The development that takes place in the brain during preschool play is paving the way to be ready for, and excited by, literacy learning in the coming years.


Preschoolers may struggle to build a block tower, or arrange colored tiles in a particular pattern, but once they master a skill they gain confidence that they can conquer tasks set before them. Having games that they can increasing do better with teaches them the importance of perseverance and the good feelings that come with success. Preschoolers may not be able to excel at the same activities as adults, but let them enjoy the successes of their play knowing that they are 

gaining self-confidence.

Social Skills

As kids transition into more cooperative play, they learn a lot about social interactions and relationships. To be able to play with others takes self control, communication, listening, and negotiating. Although preschoolers still struggle with effective communication, they are forming a foundation for working with others. Through play they realize how their actions affect others, and that having solid, consistent friendships is fun!

Physical Skills

Lots of physical development takes place through play. Both fine and gross motor skills are learned during this time, and kids love to jump and balance on playground equipment, stack blocks, and start to use small objects to make intricate designs or orderly rows. Most kids love little toys, either dinosaurs, Legos, Polly Pockets, or other small treasured items that require dexterity. All of this play readies your child for writing, which requires a good amount of fine motor control. Plus, kids use play to get out energy, express themselves non-verbally, and explore the world around them. With obesity rising in this country, having kids be physically active from a young age is a good way to set them up for a healthy adulthood. Learning to love being outdoors and being physically active is great for your little one, and can help combat the temptations of screen time as they get older. Even children experience anxiety and stress, and physical movement is a great way for them to work through those feelings that they might not know how to express.

Play in the Reggio Emilia Approach

The Reggio Emilia approach does not separate the ideas of learning and play, and rather sees them as integral in the growth and development of young children. Reggio Emilia believes that children have a hundred different ways of thinking, learning, and discovering, and play is the perfect vehicle for exploring their environment and gaining knowledge. Whether through dance, painting, singing, pretend play, or jumping around outside, kids are learning. If you have ever watched preschoolers play you know that they are incredibly creative and imaginative, and can turn sticks, rocks, paper, or really anything into a toy or a game. Let kids play, because that is how they learn! At Child Time’s preschool programs in Salt Lake City your little one can use play to reach their full potential, and have so much fun doing it—contact us today to enroll!