While parents may be the first playmate (or play thing), as your child develops youll start to see him or her engage with peers and playthings in different ways. Heres how the evolution progresses:
Baby see, baby do. Parents are a baby's first and most favorite playmates and playthings. From birth, kids are ready to play. Songs, rhymes, peek-a-boo, and finger plays are simple social interactions that are stimulating, soothing, and fun for both parent and child. As your child grows, the way you may engage in play will change. Jump into that game of tag on the playground, don a crown and cape for a royal procession, or tell a collaborative story at the dinner table.
Babies love babies. Sit two six-month-olds together and they'll reach out to touch each other. By 18 months, it's important that children spend time with children of a similar age even if all they're doing is playing in parallel -- meaning next to one another rather than together. By age three, children begin to interact and, while still possessive, start to share their toys. By age four, they are real social butterflies, engaging others in fantasies, playing games and taking turns. Around age five, children begin to form real friendships. School-age kids can feel true empathy, not just for close friends and family but others less fortunate.
Toys are important tools for children as they act out their feelings and their fantasies and ready themselves for human society. For babies, begin with mirrors and cuddly soft animals and rag dolls. Toddlers, as they start to role-play, need dolls, kitchen sets, doctor kits, cars and trucks and other realistic playthings. Preschoolers can use props for their make-believe, like dress-up clothes, puppets, and people play sets, and multi-player games and toys. School-age children benefit from activities such as crafts and games that they can share with their friends as well as solitary activities that enhance their confidence, competence and sense of independence.
Many thanks to Nancy Stanek for her contributions to this article.