From UBC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Play is a fundamental part of the healthy growth, development and learning of children (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002). Play is essential to child development as it allows children to use their creativity while developing their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional abilities (Ginsburg, 2007). It is acknowledged by theorists that play and its various forms, occupy a central role in children’s lives (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002). Research has shown that play during early childhood is necessary for humans to reach their full potential. With that being said, opportunities to play continue to diminish (Goldstein, 2012). The absence of play today is an obstacle to the development of healthy and creative children (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002). Society should seek every opportunity to support play, as it is critically important to all children and their development (Goldstein, 2012).


Play can be defined as a “freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behavior that actively engages the child” (Potter et al., 2000). Play is a “spontaneous, voluntary, pleasurable and flexible activity that involves a combination of the body, object, symbol use and relationships” (Smith, 2013). Through play, children are able to explore the world around them and collect information from their surrounding environment, which ultimately facilitates the physical, mental, social and emotional development of the child (Metin, 2003).

Types of Play

Unstructured play

Play associated with personal freedom and the absence of outside constraints. Unstructured play, also referred to as spontaneous and free play, occurs when a child engages in play freely at his or her own will. This type of play has no specific learning objectives – here children ‘just play’. Examples of unstructured play include make-believe games, building something out of blocks, or any other activity free of rules, instruction, or objectives (Carlisle, 2009).

Structured play

Play that is regulated by adults. The physical and social interaction among children during structured play is adult supervised, and rules are made and invigilated by adults. Examples of structured play are physical education class or any form of adult led or supervised activity (Hoffman, 1997).

Symbolic play

Play that allows children “control, exploration and increased understanding”. Children here use objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions or ideas. An example of symbolic play is a child pushing a block around the floor as a car (Hughes, 1996).

Physical play

Play which involves children developing and practicing movement and control of their body. This may include whole body movements, coordination, and balance. Through physical play, children are able to test and develop their strength, as well as gain control and begin to refine both their gross and fine motor skills. Physical play is any activity that involves bodily movement/physical activity, for example playing on a playground (Hewes, 2006).

Rough and tumble play

A form of physical play that involves touching, tickling, roughing, gauging strength, and discovering flexibility. Adults often mistake this type of play for aggression. Examples of rough and tumble play include wrestling, chasing or play fighting where the children playing are unhurt and enjoying themselves (Potter et al., 2000).

Socio-dramatic play

Pretend play with peer’s that involves children taking on social roles. Here children perform real or potential “personal, social, domestic or interpersonal” experiences. Such play may include the development of complex scripts/narratives that children act out in small groups (Hewes, 2006). Examples of socio-dramatic play include playing house, being mothers or fathers, and playing store (Potter et al., 2000).

Social play

Play involving social interaction. Those involved have expectations that everyone will follow rules. Social play forces children to come together, communicate, and develop an understanding of social and cultural rules. During social play, children develop various skills, attitudes and social relationships. Examples of social play include activities that involve making or building something together, and games (Metin, 2003).

Creative play

Play that involves children exploring and using their bodies and materials to make things and do things, as well as share their feelings, ideas, and thoughts. Examples of creative play include dancing, painting, playing with play-dough, while using their imaginations (Potter et al., 2000).

Communication play (or language play)

Play that involves children using and manipulating sounds and words. Examples of communication play include jokes, miming, singing, or play acting (Potter et al., 2000).

Dramatic play

Play involving the dramatization of events. Such play may include inventing scripts and playing many roles at once. Play may be supported by the use of toys or props. An example of dramatic play may be presentation of a play, TV show or a movie (Hewes, 2006).

Deep play

Play where children encounter risky experiences. This type of play works to develop a child’s survival skills and fear conquering. An example of deep play could be balancing on a high beam (Potter et al., 2000).

Exploratory play

Exploratory play involves children using their skills and senses to find out what can be done with objects or areas. Includes behaviors such as handling, throwing, mouthing or banging objects to access information about the object or area. An example of exploratory play could be engaging with an object or area and assessing what can be done with it, such as stacking blocks or bricks (Potter et al., 2000).

Fantasy play

Play where children rearrange the world in their own way, one that is not realistic. An example of fantasy play is a child acting as a superhero or a princess (Potter et al., 2000).

Imaginative play

Play where the rules that normally govern the physical world don’t apply. An example of imaginative play is a child pretending to be a flower or a tree, or petting a cat or dog that isn’t there (Hewes, 2006).

Locomotor play

Play involving movement in various directions. Examples of locomotor play include chase, tag and hide and seek (Potter et al., 2000).

Mastery play

Play involving control of the physical environment. Examples of mastery play include digging holes and building fires (Potter et al., 2000).

Manipulative play

Play involving the use of interesting sequences of hand-eye movements and manipulations. This type of play involves practicing and refining motor skills leading to improved dexterity. An example of object play is using a paintbrush (Hewes, 2006).

Role play

Play that involves exploring ways of being and behaving. An example of role-play is driving a car, or dialing a telephone (Potter et al., 2000).

Constructive play

Play that involves building and constructing things using various materials or toys. Examples of constructive play include Lego, working with playdough, and building a fort (Hewes, 2006).

Games with rules

Play where children participate in formal games in social groups. Such games have rules that are predetermined and fixed that guide their behavior (Hewes, 2006). Game play is organized and meets the social needs as well as the intellectual needs of children. Games with rules usually involve two or more sides or teams, competition, and result in a winner. Such play helps children concentrate, understand their limits, and control their behavior to follow rules. Examples of games with rules include board games, card games, or team games/sports such as soccer and hockey (Metin, 2003).

Play and Child Development

Play is essential to child development as it contributes to the social, emotional, physical and cognitive well being of children and young people. Particularly in a child’s early years, play has been recognized as a significant dimension of learning (Hewes, 2006).

Physical development

As play often involves physical activity and exercise, it is related to the development of children’s physical strength, coordination, gross and fine motor skills, as well as their body awareness (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002). While playing with/in and manipulating materials, toys, objects and space children practice and reinforce their motor skills. Children learn to control their bodies and move their bodies in space to accomplish the tasks as they explore their environment (Metin, 2003). In this way, play supports children’s healthy physical development (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002).

Cognitive development

Cognitive development is the change in mental abilities such as learning, language, reasoning and thinking (Metin, 2003). Evidence indicates a positive relationship between play and improvements in cognitive abilities. Providing opportunities for cognitive development through play will allow children to develop their focus, planning skills, problem solving skills, attitudes, creativity, critical thinking, perspective-taking, memory, and language development (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002).

Social and emotional development

Human beings are social organisms, thus we have a basic need to belong to a group and feel a part of a group. Play serves not only a function in satisfying this humanistic need but also in developing the social and emotional life skills necessary to belong and function in our social world. Play socializes children, giving them the opportunity to observe behaviors, and develop emotional intelligence, which is the understanding of others emotions and intentions (Goldstein, 2012). Social play environments, such as playgrounds, promote the development of various social skills such as cooperation, sharing, turn taking and understanding rules (Metin, 2003). Through verbal and physical interactions, play provides the experiences that children need to develop their social skills, become sensitive to others’ needs, handle exclusion, handle control, manage their emotions, learn self control, and share space, ideas and objects with other children (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002).

Benefits of Play

Listed below are a number of emotional-behavioral, social, and physical benefits that can come from play.

Emotional-behavioral benefits

  • Play can reduce fear, anxiety, stress and irritability
  • Play can create pleasure, intimacy, self-esteem and mastery
  • Play can improve emotional flexibility and openness
  • Play can increase calmness, resilience and adaptability, as well as the ability to deal with change
  • Play can help with the management of emotions

Social benefits

  • Play can increase compassion
  • Play can increase sharing
  • Play can create choice
  • Play can develop relationships
  • Play can improve verbal and non verbal skills
  • Play can increase attention
  • Play can increase attachment

Physical benefits

  • Play can increase a child’s strength, range of motion, agility, coordination, balance, flexibility, and both gross and fine motor skills
  • Play can decrease stress, fatigue, injury and sadness
  • Play produces positive emotions which can better a child’s immune system, endocrine system and cardiovascular system

(Goldstein, 2012)

Play Deprivation and its Possible Implications

Despite the many benefits that are derived from play, children’s time for free play has been significantly reduced (Ginsburg, 2007). Over the years, the physical and social environments of childhood in society have changed, posing a threat to children’s opportunities for play (Hewes, 2006). Children’s opportunities for play continue to diminish due in part to fewer spaces for play, less freedom to roam outdoors (safety), decreasing school time for play, busier lifestyle, changes in family structure, and an increased focus on academics/enriching activities at the expense of recess or free play time. Play deprivation can have negative consequences on children. Children who don’t play or lack the opportunity to play are at an increased risk for abnormal development. Without adequate play time, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self-control, and other cognitive functions may not develop properly for some children (Goldstein, 2012). Children may be negatively affected in the following ways depending on the types of play experiences that are lacking:

  • Motor skills
  • Levels of exercise and physical activity
  • Stress management
  • Risk management and assessment
  • Social skills
  • Conflict management

(Potter et al., 2002)

Facilitating Play

Children need to be provided opportunities for various kinds of play, both indoors and outdoors. The following points are meant to assist parents, caregivers, teachers, educators and play advocates in properly facilitating children’s play:

  • Provide young children a minimum of 45-60 minutes of uninterrupted unstructured play
  • Provide children a variety of materials and equipment to support different types of play. Some examples include:
  • Blocks or bricks for constructive play
  • Clay, sand, water, play dough, paints for exploratory or creative play
  • Props and dress-up clothes for dramatic or imaginative play
  • Balls, hoops and sandbags for physical play
  • Challenge young children – encourage them to take risks
  • Ensure that children have the opportunity to play and are included
  • Allow children to play for their own purposes – let them play freely
  • It’s important to play with children, and do so on their terms – for example dress up and play a part in their pretend play, or play on the monkey bars with them.
  • Create safe and inviting play environments for children

(Hewes, 2006)


Carlisle, R.P. (Ed.). (2009). Encyclopedia of play in today’s society. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:

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

Goldstein, J. (2012). Play in children’s development, health and well-being. Retrieved from

Hewes, P.J. (2006). Let the children play: Nature’s answer to early learning. Canadian Council on Learning. Retrieved from

Hoffman, L.A. (1997). The effects of substituting structured play for unstructured play on the attitude of students and teachers (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from

Isenberg, J.P., & Quisenberry, N. (2002). A position paper of the Association for Childhood Education International. PLAY: Essential for all children. Childhood Education, 79(1), 33-39.

Metin, P. (2003). The effects of traditional playground equipment design on children's developmental needs (Master's Thesis). Retrieved from

Potter, M., Melville, S., & Gill, T. (2000). What play provision should do for children. Retrieved from

Smith, P.K. (2013). Play synthesis. Encyclopedia on early childhood development. Montreal, QC: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development and Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Early Child Development.