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The importance of play

Why early manipulative play is important

In the early stages children learn to use their hands. They develop fine motor skills through different stages from sensory awareness to in-hand manipulation and tool-use.  Children need these essential skills for the development of daily living activities.

Below are some play activities to help your child develop these skills.

Reach, grasp, release

Children must develop these skills from an early age. These skills form the building blocks for complex fine motor skills and participation in their daily activities.

Finger isolation

This is an important stage in grasp development. It’s the ability to move certain fingers apart from the rest of the hand/fingers.

When children begin using their hands, they move all their fingers together at the same time. As they grow and develop, they gain the ability to move individual fingers.

This helps them to:

  • fasten and unfasten buttons
  • hold and control a pencil for drawing and writing
  • cut with scissors
  • type on a keyboard
  • play a musical instrument
  • tie shoelaces.

Find out more about finger isolation and how to help your child develop this skill.

Pincer grip

This allows you to pick up small items between your thumb and index finger. It’s is an important stage in hand function development.

We use a pincer grasp to hold a pencil, thread a button through a hole and pick up coins.

Find out more about the pincer grip and how to help your child develop this function.

Bilateral skills

This is an important stage in the development of fine motor skills.

Find out more about bilateral skills and how to help your child develop these skills.

Construction play

This involves manipulating one or more pieces of play materials to create something new. Construction play might involve stacking, sticking, putting together, taking things apart, sorting or moulding.

Construction play helps children develop:

  • motor skills necessary create and manipulate items
  • imagination skills.
  • planning skills
  • the ability to try out and test ideas
  • perseverance when things do not work
  • taking turns and collaborating when playing with others.

Find out more in our guides about how children develop fine motor skills:

Playing with technology

Using the right kind of technology can help with creativity, problem solving and visual thinking. It can also help develop your child’s learning and skills and make learning fun.

Technology can help the child develop fine motor skills including:

  • letters, numbers and shapes
  • colour recognition
  • eye-hand co-ordination
  • reading
  • writing
  • planning
  • problem solving.

Arts and crafts

These activities can help to develop your child’s imagination and creativity, their planning and organisation skills and fine motor skills.

Energetic play

Children learn how the body works and moves through active and energetic play.  They learn to run, jump, throw and catch and kick.  It can include mastering ball games, playground equipment, riding a scooter or a bike.

Energetic play develops into sporting, fitness and exercise activities for young people and adults, for example, football, rugby, tennis, swimming, dance and martial arts.

Social play

Social play begins early with smiling and cooing, imitation and peek a boo.  Children learn to share toys during play with others and develop social skills that involve turn taking and following the rules. As children grow and develop, their play moves from solitary to parallel play where they play alongside but not with each other. Children then move onto social play where they share and interact directly.

Young peoples pend a significant amount of leisure time with friends doing activities they enjoy together.  They might not consider this as ‘play’ but it’s still classed as social interaction.

Pretend play

Through pretend play children learn to express themselves and practice adult and cultural roles. Children start by pretending to do everyday activities. They then participate and play with figures/dolls/teddies.  Children progress to linking pretend play into action sequences and finally join in pretend games with other children.

Find out more about why play is important including strategies and ideas