We all know play is crucial to a child’s development physically, socially and cognitively. Play is so important, in fact, that the United Nations recognizes every child’s right to play as an official human right. But did you know there are distinct types of play, each with their own characteristics and benefits?
If you’ve seen an infant pull her socks off and wave them around, noticed a young toddler pick up and carry a toy, or observed older children “make a cake” in a sandbox, then you’re already familiar with object play. While easily taken for granted, object play is essential to childhood development and should be promoted in children of all ages.
Object play is essential to childhood development and should be promoted in children of all ages.
Object play is any play involving an object, and it ranges from young infants grasping and mouthing anything within reach, to toddlers stacking blocks, and older children playing with a kitchen set and play food. While object play often involves toys, it certainly isn’t exclusive to toys. After all, we’ve all seen kids have fun with water or dirt, bang pots, and pan, or even play with their food!
Object play is any play involving an object, and it ranges from young infants grasping and mouthing anything within reach, to toddlers stacking blocks, and older children playing with a kitchen set and play food.
As a child grows from an infant to a school child their engagement in object play will develop in complexity and support their physical, cognitive and social development. Infants first engage in object play as early as four months old. Object play at this stage develops infants’ motor skills as they hit, grasp and feel any object they can reach – often with their mouths! This type of play also establishes for infants that they can impact the world around them.
As toddlers, children explore and perfect a plethora of actions as they play with objects. These actions include picking up, carrying, poking, biting, pressing, rotating, twisting, bending, squeezing, rubbing, shaking, pushing, pulling, throwing, sorting and stacking. Who knew our little ones were up to all that while at play?! At this stage of object play, toddlers continue to refine their motor skills while learning to follow their curiosity, experiment on their environment and combine different actions to discover new results.
At this stage of object play, toddlers continue to refine their motor skills while learning to follow their curiosity, experiment on their environment and combine different actions to discover new results.
In older children, this exploration phase of object play evolves into a more creative mode. While earlier object play often aims to find out, “what does this object do?” this later phase tends to explore, “what can I do with this object?” Here object play may lead to pretend play, like when a wall of blocks becomes a fortress or toys in a tub become ships at sea and fish in the ocean. Object play at this age often involves others and can play an important role in developing social relationships and behaviors.
Object play of older children often involves others and can play an important role in developing social relationships and behaviors.
At the Museum, we offer an object-rich environment for children to explore. Whether this means waving and squeezing big, soft toys in our toddler areas, fishing in a pond, or discovering cause and effect with our ball machine, every bit of the Museum is designed to be touched and played with. The only limit to the object play available is imagination!
We also hold our traveling exhibits to the same standards and only invite those that provide the best opportunities for object play. Currently in Curious George™: Let’s Get Curious! kids can hang out in Curious George’s neighborhood and play with blocks and conveyor belts, windmills, a mini-golf course, plushy produce and more.
So next time you’re around a young one at play, remember to marvel! They’re hard at work using the objects around them to explore, experiment, observe, think, create and pursue their goals!
If you’d like to learn more about object play, Chapter 7 of Peter K. Smith’s book “Children and Play” is a great place to start.