Why Play Matters in Early Childhood

Text & Photos By Caroline Essame, Occupational Therapist & Art Therapist


When children play they are working hard trying to make sense of their world”.

This quote by Doug Goodkin sums up the key reason why play is important for our children. It is the way they understand and explore the world around them: whether that is through exploring chocolate spread on the table, understanding cause and affect and realising that they can make an impact on their environment, or understanding through jumping and rolling how their body moves in space, lining up farm animals in sequence to appreciate shape, form and order, or through creating a Lego kingdom feeling a sense of ownership and power in their own small world.

All children given the chance will play it is an instinct and the language of childhood. Through play children learn about their physical, cognitive and social/emotional worlds.

Play occurs in three main developmental stages:


Stage One: Sensory motor play – where they learn about their bodies and how their senses work, it is cause and affect play and how they learn about themselves and the outside world.






Stage Two: Objects play- this is where children play with toys and objects, learning about relationships through a tangible object and building expressive and communicative skills. This develops an understanding of others, symbolic thought and builds visual and creative memory.



Stage Three: Imaginative play – this is where children can play roles, imagine and create ideas and games. It is higher thought, the underpinning of social understanding and empathy and the development of the critical and symbolic thought needed for schooling and adult life.


More information on play and why it matters is available on www.createcatt.com or https://www.facebook.com/CreatePlayMoveandLearn.

Caroline Essame is a creative arts therapist and occupational therapist currently completing her Masters in Education thesis on creativity and play in early childhood learning.

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