St Francis Xavier

Catholic Primary School

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The importance of play

Playing with our friends and independently is important to us. We especially love time outside in the sunshine.

The Importance of Play!smiley

Play is an integral part of a child’s early development. Playing helps young children’s brains to develop and for their language and communication skills to mature. It is important to ensure children have enough time to play. Play not only does it allows children to release extra energy, but it also lets them find out who they are and opens their minds by looking at their environment and taking in their surroundings. Through play, children learn and develop different skills they will need in life, such as:

  • Problem-solving and learning cause and effect
  • Learning how to play with others through compromise, conflict resolution and sharing
  • Development of fine and gross motor skills
  • Nurturing their creativity and imagination
  • Discovering their independence and positive self-esteem.

Mildred Parton's Social Behaviour theory of play. 

Parton established a 6 stage theory of play which children develop through from birth to 4+ years old. Play takes various forms dependent on a wide variety of factors. This can include; the child's age, the participants involved in play, the individual personalities of participants, environmental factors and unique interests of the participants.

Parton suggests that social behaviour develops through age. As children grow older their communication skills and awareness improve meaning that opportunity for social interaction becomes more common.


Below is an example of a learning environment providing an overview of what the various types of play would look like. Along with this is listed Parton's 6 stage theory of play.

Social stages of play

How to support children through the six stages of play.

  • Create opportunities to provide exploration. This can be anything for example providing children with new materials and textures, craft activities, going out for a walk and exploring new environments. This opens children's minds to new ideas and to discover new ways of thinking.
  • Provide children with the opportunity to make their own decisions. One of the best ways to do this is providing optional choices. For example, what toy would you like to choose? Why would you like to play with this toy? By encouraging children to make their own decisions you are also allowing them to take charge of their own learning experiences by choosing activities based around their interests. 
  • Involve yourself in children's play and provide support and guidance when required. Children love for you to be involved in their play and this also provides the perfect opportunity to enhance learning through re-phrasing, key questioning and sharing new ideas. However, it is vital to find the correct balance in adult input when children are engaged in play.
  • Often review your child in play. By regularly observing and talking during play you will be enabled to learn the purpose behind actions. When you find that your child has particular interests in play, this is a great way to then link in new ideas to promote meaningful play through an interest.