7 types of play

Overview: Children need uninterrupted time to play every day. The way they choose to play is up to them and can show a lot about the way they learn. There are 7 types of play you may see a child exploring.

Welcome to the Learning Through Play Series where we are exploring everything you need to know about play. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series.

  1. The Importance of Play in Early Childhood: Why You Should Just Let Them Play
  2. The Importance of Sensory Play
  3. Play & Learn: Can You Really Do Them at the Same Time?
  4. 6 Stages of Play
  5. 7 Types of Play
  6. Imaginative Play: What You Need to Know

Play is the work of the child

– Maria Montessori

There has never been any truer words spoken. Play is important work for a child. It’s where the learning happens, even if we can’t see it.

There are 7 types of play and all 7 of them are equally important and valuable to the learning process. A child spends time exploring each type of play in their childhood. Each child is unique and will favor one type of play over another.

Each type of play is similar to the learning styles. A child will have one strong learning style. The same applies to their favorite type of play. Sicily spends time in each type of play on a weekly basis, but the majority of her time is spent in fantasy play.

Knowing this helps me plan activities that will best suit her needs and unique learning style. I know she will learn faster and more deeply through a small world experience or dramatic play experience.

Use the 7 types of play to your advantage when planning your daily activities to maximize the learning experience.

The 7 Types of Play

Physical Play

This is the rough and tumble play, but also includes the fine motor play. During physical play, your child is working on gross motor and fine motor skills. They may be running around in circles or concentrating on putting pipe cleaners in a colander.

types of play physical

Physical play supports coordination, body control and awareness, a sense of self, risk taking, boundaries, and impulse control. Children who spend a great deal of time in physical play know their bodies and capabilities well.

Language Play

3 year olds especially love language play. You can find children in this type of play using rhymes, syllables, and songs. They create new words and sounds. Children who are exploring language LOVE silly sounds and jokes.

Language play includes reading, writing, and all the pre-reading and pre-writing skills like building letters and salt tray tracings.

language type of play

Exploratory Play

This type of play is all about exploring. It could be exploring letters, nature, or the zoo. Exploratory play develops curiosity and strongly supports a love of learning.

Sensory play, testing hypothesis, and asking questions are strong indicators of exploratory play. This type of play helps children learn how to learn and become life long seekers of learning opportunities.

exploratory type of play

Constructive Play

It’s all about building here. Anything a child builds or constructs fits under constructive play. This is more than just building with blocks. It’s constructing using clay and playdough.

Tinker trays and using loose parts to design a structure are part of constructive play. Art experiences that involve constructing something such as a bird house or a leprechaun trap, fall under this type of play as well.

constructive type of play

Constructive play supports fine motor, hand-eye coordination, engineering, creativity, and self-expression. Children also practice trail/error, planning ahead, visual-spatial learning, and math with constructive play.

Constructive play can incorporate fantasy play and exploratory play as well. It’s a great way to include play into making their learning visible.

Fantasy Play

This is Sicily’s favorite type of play. It’s all about using their imagination and exploring how the world works. You will often see the child acting out experiences that have happened in their life.

Right now Sicily is into being mommy. She dresses, changes the diaper, and feeds her babies just like I do with her baby brother.

fantasy type of play

Fantasy play helps them think outside the box, a highly sought after skill in the 21st century. It helps them explore all the different possibilities and challenge the norm.

Fantasy play is an important part of developing pre-reading skills. Being able to create their own stories helps support comprehension later when they begin to read.

Social Play

This type of play is all about playing together with others. Children work cooperatively in the other types of play. They hone their communication and negotiation skills. They learn how to be in competitions, taking turns, sharing, and cooperation.

Problem solving is a huge component of social play. They learn how to work through their problems and work together.

Expressive Play

Children express their personalities and feelings through art, music, and when they get older, through writing. Expressive play strengthens creativity and problem solving. It’s a way for children to make their feelings and learning visible. Expressive play is a great calm down mechanism too!

Children need time to explore each type of play. But keep in mind that they will choose one type over another. Use this to your advantage to plan activities that will make learning more enjoyable and deeper for your child.