The Play Diet: Everything you need to know about balanced play

August 3, 2016 Published by

What is the Play Diet?

In the same way that nutrition is about getting a balance between the food groups, a healthy play diet requires a good combination of all the different types of play.

Every activity has different benefits to child development – painting is great for creativity and self-expression, while doing a jigsaw puzzle helps develop logical thinking and problem solving skills. A range of different play activities means children get a little bit of everything, supporting well-rounded development.

Not everything has to have a purpose though. Chocolate provides little nutritional value, but is great as an occasional treat. In the same way, watching TV or playing a computer game can be enjoyed guilt-free as long as this is part of a play diet filled with free and active play.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers

At this age, playing is a full-time occupation. A lot of what a child learns will come from their play activities, and this will provide the foundation for developing skills as they get older. Children will need to master basic skills to broaden their abilities – for example, learning to grip and control the movement with their hand (known as fine motor skills) is needed for everything from self-care to writing.

child blowing bubbles

Active Free Play

You may have seen little ones running around and screaming. This is good exercise and strengthens the large muscles in their arms and legs, needed for advancing their physical skills and smaller movements too.

Imaginative Play

Children will use pretend play to make sense of the world around them, by acting out situations they have seen (e.g. role-playing mum and dad cooking dinner). They will often play imaginatively together, so this is also important for developing social and communication skills. 

Team Games

Simple sports are good for exercise, while playing with others helps children start to learn valuable social skills like taking turns.

  Board Games

Simple board and card games can be introduced as children reach about three to four years-old. They help children learn to take turns and share, and some have additional educational value (such as counting spaces to move)

Construction

Building with various construction toys, such as building blocks is good for developing small and large muscles, and hand-eye coordination. It also helps children think logically to build successful structures and lets them experiment with the world, e.g. seeing how the blocks fall when you knock a tower down 

Reading

Being read stories is a great way to encourage a love of reading while promoting language skills. It is also good for developing listening and attention skills, as well as inspiring imagination.

Creative Play

Making music or art is ideal for self-expression and lets children explore different ways they can make sounds or patterns. Using tools such as a paintbrush is good for encouraging the grip and control needed for writing too.

Quiet/ Solitary Play

Playing alone is good for developing independence and lets children go at their own pace. Quiet activities like jigsaw puzzles help develop concentration skills.

Educational toys and games (including digital)

Children at this age don’t need to be bombarded with learning, but familiarising them with letters, shapes and numbers can build their confidence ready for school

Passive screen time (TV, solitary video games)

A little bit of screen time is fun for children, and gives them (and parents!) the chance to relax a bit. Often, children’s TV shows will cover important topics so will still have some value to their development.

5 to 12 Year Olds

As children get older, the way they play changes a lot, but it’s still important for them to enjoy a variety of different activities.

Children Jumping together

Active Free Play

This is good exercise for keeping growing bodies fit and healthy. Children will often play together, so this is also important for developing social skills and making friends.

Imaginative Play

This allows children to be creative. It is also good for problem solving, e.g. if they don’t have the prop they need for their game, how can they make one? Again, imaginative play can often be social.

 Board Games

Simple board and card games can be introduced as children reach about three to four years-old. They help children learn to take turns and share, and some have additional educational value (such as counting spaces to move)

Construction

Providing fun for different ages, board games are brilliant for encouraging families to play together, developing social skills and building relationships. They help children learn about friendly competition, and how to approach goals strategically.

Reading

This is a really important skill for learning new information and can also be a fun hobby for children to explore their imaginations. 

Creative Play

An enjoyable way for children to show their personality and make a final piece (such as a dance routine or a drawing) they can be proud of, developing confidence.

Team Games

These help children learn not just how to play together, but how to make the most of each other’s skills, consider other people’s feelings, and communicate effectively. They can also be good for learning strategic thinking.

Educational toys and games (including digital)

Outside school, a small amount of educational play can support children’s learning. This is particularly good for areas that a child is struggling with, and toys like science kits can make learning more fun.

Quiet/ Solitary Play

Activities like puzzles, writing or crafts are a good way to improve concentration.

Passive screen time (TV, solitary video games)

Fun for fun’s sake lets children have a bit of a break, particularly if they have had a heavy day at school.

How to get a balanced play diet

Children don’t need lots of products – a few well-chosen ones will help to facilitate a balanced play diet. So it’s worth doing your research to find age-appropriate products which will help your child get the most out of play.

Our Good Toy Guide, Good App Guide and FC Endorsed sections will be able to help.


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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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