How Children Play

A baby of one year has more in common with another baby the same age than he has with the child he will be in four or five years’ time. A child of five years is more like the adult he will be in fifteen years’ time than the new-born baby he was five years ago. Just as children change rapidly as they grow and develop so their play pattern changes. We cannot expect the toddler to play in the same way as a four-year-old or the immature three-year-old to play in the same way as a very mature five-year-old. Another important factor to be borne in mind is that while age groups vary there can be as much variation within individuals. In the home we might expect that siblings with a narrow age gap would play well together. In fact one may be a year ahead, the other a year behind the progress of the average child and the real ‘stage’ as opposed to ‘age’ difference could be two years more than the chronological difference between them. Nursery groups who take children from three to five years old will find their staff having to contend with some three-year-olds who are more like two-year-olds and one or two five-year-olds who behave and have the same needs as a nearly seven-year-old; thus they may at times have to cope with a five-year span of interests and ability rather than the two-year gap there appears to be on paper.

Given that young children only need to be disturbed, distressed, under the weather or just plain overtired and hungry to regress in behaviour , we discover that there is still a great deal of the one-, two-, three-, four-year-old in any five-year-old child. If we add to these differences the fact that the more children are allowed to play the better they become at doing it, that the child from a stimulating home can be far ahead of a child of the same age and innate ability from a home where for one reason or another he is not able to play or a child who is prevented from playing because of some handicap, we can see that it is impossible to state categorically how a child will play and what he will need at any given age. It will depend on who he is, where he is, what has gone before and quite simply what he feels like at that particular minute. Nevertheless there does seem to be a programme of ability and interest if not a timetable and virtually all children follow through the same stages.