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The Importance of Play in Early Childhood

By Apricus Health

29th June 2022

By Kate Ross, Occupational Therapist


Play, although it may seem insignificant, is vital for a child’s development. So vital in fact, that the United Nations deemed that it is a human right for children to have the opportunity to play back in 1989. As occupational therapists, we pay close attention to a child’s play skills as play is the primary occupation of children.

 When a child engages themselves in play, specifically pretend play, for long durations, they develop a range of skills that can be translated into all different areas of their life as they grow and expand the list of activities they participate in.

Play skills can be developed in a variety of different ways, and although children need time to play by themselves, it is important that parents, carers and family members take the time to play with children as well. Play between a child and their carer helps them to develop their social play skills whilst also building strong, healthy relationships. It also gives them a chance to express some of the creativity and imagination that we lose touch with as an adult! 

Key benefits of play for children:
  • Language development
  • Self-regulation
  • Emergent literacy skills
  • Social skills – sharing
  • Fostering creativity
  • Builds resilience
  • Problem solving and decision-making skills
  • Promotes physical development – fine and gross motor skills


Pretend Play

Toys do not have to be expensive or very fancy, as one of the main aims of effective, pretend play is for children to be able to keep themselves engaged with different toys/items by being creative with them – for example finding things around the house to use for play is part of the game such as a tissue box as a car or using a wooden spoon and bowl to stir imaginary cake batter for a doll/teddy’s birthday party, a sheet or blanket for a den or cubby house.

Free Play

Time for free play in older years of schooling has been dramatically reduced over the years, which is why it is really beneficial for children to be exposed to and develop their play skills early. Although children develop skills at different rates, early difficulties with play skills can also be indicative of future difficulties the child might experience. By noting whether the child gets distracted from play easily, if they lack creativity or find it difficult to play with others, you may be able to gain some early intervention from a health professional specialised in the area (such as an occupational therapist, paediatrician or psychologist). These professionals can assist you to put strategies in place so that these difficulties do not continue to impact the child as they grow and mature.


Guirguis, R. (2018). Should we let them play? Three key benefits of play to improve early childhood programs. International Journal of Education and Practice, 6(1), 43-49.


Ginsburg, K. R., (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.