List of Four Functions of Play in Childhood Development

While play might seem like a trivial pursuit, this favorite kid-friendly pastime actually has a substantial role in childhood development. Whether your little one is getting a day full of play at preschool or daycare, or she enjoys fun-filled activities at home, she is actually learning and developing in ways that aren't always obvious at first glance.

Social Development

When your child plays house with her preschool classmates she isn't just wasting time making silly pretend-food concoctions or dressing baby doll after baby doll. By the time that children reach age 3, they are typically able to act out specific social roles, interact with others and learn rules such as sharing and turn-taking through play scenarios. This is evident during group pretend or dramatic play activities in which young children must navigate other peers' behaviors and needs.

Motor Development

Young children can quickly develop new motor skills, both fine and gross, through a variety of different types of play. Manipulatives such as stringing beads, building blocks and lacing games can assist preschoolers and toddlers who are building eye-hand coordination, dexterity and hand strength. Likewise, sports and movement type activities such as:

  • balance
  • coordination
  • strength
  • agility


One of the key pieces to a child's emotional development is building self-regulation and self-discipline abilities. While running willy-nilly around the preschool classroom may seem counter-intuitive when it comes to building regulatory behaviors, play can actually help this type of disciplined development. For example, childhood games such as "Red Light, Green Light" that call for the child to stop and start on command can help to develop listening and responding skills that are useful when follow rules.


Watching your child try out a new task will certainly show you the importance of building self-confidence. A not-so-confident child may shy away from a new type of play or activity. On the other hand, as that same child begins to master this new task, through play, she can build a new sense of confidence in her own strengths and abilities. Whether your child is building a teetering block tower for the first time, completing a shapes and patterns computer game or painting a self-portrait, play can help to instill a sense of self-confidence in the act of mastery.

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