Benefits of Play for Different Age Groups

Different aged kids playing together.

Playgrounds encourage an environment where kids of different ages and personalities can play together. There are opportunities for new experiences and learning, whether it is through independent play or in a teamwork situation. Kids are naturally self-motivated to explore and learn on their own, and a playground is an ideal location to motivate inner growth.

Below we discuss the benefits of play for different age groups by looking at the different types of play kids engage in at different ages.

The Benefits of Play for Child Development

There are lots of positive focus points for kids to be playing outside. Just a few of those benefits include:

  • Physical development: Outdoor play encourages increased physical strength, and supports reflexes and muscle function. Kids that have an active lifestyle throughout childhood are also more likely to have a good relationship with exercise later in life.
  • Social development: Kids that can play together have an excellent opportunity to learn social skills such as empathy, cooperation and friendship.
  • Emotional development: Kids who play outside have more opportunities to learn about emotional processes, for example, using all their senses and having time to self-reflect on situations.
  • Intellectual development: A lot of learning happens outside. There are experiences to be had and the world to observe. Kids will have space to improve their interpersonal skills and expand their learning with outdoor activities.

There are six different stages of play throughout earlychildhood.

Play Through the Ages

Not every kid is the same. Some prefer imaginative play, others like to be social and then there are those who are more independent. As they grow, these traits will slowly become more defined as their personalities develop.

There are six different stages of play throughout early childhood. Creating an environment where kids can interact with one another and giving them opportunities to explore who they are helps them learn about their emotions, interest and values.

The different developmental play stages start when a child is a baby and continue past four years old. In the beginning, they are just discovering how to use their bodies through unoccupied play. Later, they learn solitary play up to the age of two. After that, they start becoming aware of others and learn from older children. In return, older children that play with younger kids learn to be supportive. All children develop at their own pace and therefore may progress through these stages at different rates.

Benefits of Play for Different Age Groups

The wonderful thing about free outdoor play is that it offers different benefits to different age groups. Some of the benefits of playing outside include:

  • Learning opportunities on how the world works
  • Experiencing social skills
  • Developing language and communication
  • Interacting with other kids in different age groups
  • Developing physical skills

The outdoors allows children to experience a wide variety of different play types from being creative and imaginative to more structured or independent play. As your child ages and plays, they learn new and vital skills at each level. Researcher Mildred Parten identified six stages of play that children move through as they grow. Consider the following age groups and how they correspond with the various stages of play.

1. Infants

In the first few months, a baby enters the unoccupied play stage. It may look like they’re just making random movements with no specific purpose, but they are learning how the world works, and they are building the foundation for the other stages of play.

From birth until about 2 years old, children are also in the solitary play stage. They may not even notice other children who are sitting or playing right beside them because they’re exploring their world. At this point, they have limited physical, cognitive and social skills, but the time spent is part of the developmental benefits of play.

During unoccupied play they are:

  • Developing their fine motor skills
  • Building their cognitive skills
  • Solving problems

2. Toddlers

When kids are around 2 years old, they move into the “onlooker” phase. They watch other kids play because doing so helps them learn how to relate to others. They’ll frequently ask questions of the children they’re observing but typically make no effort to join in the play.

Another type of play at this stage is parallel play. They’ll play alongside other kids but with no interaction. This process will provide a toddler with opportunities to role-play and begin to understand the idea behind the concept of “mine.” This time is also when parents will come to dread the word “again.” While it may be frustrating, repeating actions is essential for your kids because it helps them learn to master a skill or task.

Older kids will learn patience when playing with toddlers. It might seem that the toddler is not interacting at all, but there is constant observation going on. The toddler is learning from watching the older kids perform tasks and seeing how they interact with one another.

3. Younger Kids

Once your child is around the age of 3 or 4, they start to become more interested in other kids than in their toys. Young kids continue to engage in parallel play and they also enter the stage known as associative play. During this stage, kids take what they learned from the earlier stages of play and use it to engage with other children and practice playing.

They start to learn how to share and develop rudimentary problem-solving skills. This kind of play has no formal organization, although kids often have similar goals. They want to play with the same toys — maybe even trade them back and forth.

The other type of play you see at this age is the beginning of cooperative play. Kids learn rules about cooperation and the give-and-take process during this time period. They are taking the first steps toward learning how to use moral reasoning to determine values.

4. Older Kids — Up to Age 12

While the importance of playgrounds and free play in child development is clear for all kids — including those above the age of 12 — it’s critical during the early school years. Play is how kids learn to socialize. It improves their thinking and problem-solving abilities and helps them develop many skills they’ll need in adult life. This process is especially important for older kids. One of the ways they frequently explore new roles, complex emotions and even new vocabulary is through fantasy play.

As kids grow up, their play becomes more complex and layered. They start to assume adult roles and think in abstract ways about play. This time is when they’ll also begin to learn about gameplay and rules. Games like Simon Says help kids learn there are sometimes rules everyone must follow. But it also helps them learn when it’s OK to break away from rules that may not be fair to everyone.

Sadly, as kids grow older, you may need to encourage them to find time for outdoor play. Once they enter school, they’ll begin to deal with peer pressure and being part of the crowd. In the 21st century, this frequently manifests as less time spent playing and more time spent texting or playing computer games. Take them to parks and playgrounds where they can see other kids at play, and encourage them to join in.

Mixed Age Play

Mixed-age group play encourages young kids to learn from older groups. It also allows older children to teach younger children and enhance their empathy and emotional development. Even when they are not interacting with each other, kids are constantly observing how different ages are working together.

Older kids also learn to lead and instruct, passing on their knowledge to younger children. This kind of give-and-take interaction is beneficial to all age groups. Communication skills such as vocabulary are also increased.

Younger children who see older kids reading, for example, or doing more physical activities on the playground are encouraged that they too will get there in time. They start reaching for these objectives as well and the older kids will show them how they learned. These experiences will strengthen the connections in the brain that help children learn.

Miracle Recreation Want to Help Your Kids Have Fun

Miracle® Recreation Wants to Help Your Kids Have Fun

For over nine decades, Miracle Recreation has been in the business of providing families, schools and communities with playground equipment that encourages the benefits of outdoor play. One benefit is allowing children of all ages to mix and mingle on the playground. Generations of families have grown up using our playground equipment.

Because we are one of the largest playground equipment manufacturers in the world, we can provide a wide variety of thrilling, exciting outdoor playgrounds that will entertain kids of all ages and abilities and encourage them to use their imaginations in new and creative ways. No matter the size of your project, our team of talented representatives can help you every step of the way in creating your ideal playground. Contact us today to get a quote on the playground of your dreams!