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Preschoolers are very good at playing, They love to play with parents, other children, and on their own with toys and other objects. Play helps preschoolers learn about social relations. It also teaches them about sharing and taking turns.

Young girl playing with cups

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Growth and learning for preschoolers still occurs mostly through play – even though preschool and school are just around the corner.

 

What preschoolers like to play

Preschoolers love:

  • dramatic play – preschoolers use games like dress-ups to act out scenarios that are confusing or scary
  • messy play (with paints, water or in the sandpit) – this is also a great outlet for expressing emotions
  • physical play – clambering over playground equipment teaches a lot about coordination, balance and how far physical abilities can be pushed.
  • simple board games – these give preschoolers the chance to learn about taking turns, following the rules, counting and being a gracious loser
  • songs, books, riddles and silly rhymes – these are great fun to share as your preschooler’s sense of humour comes to life. They’ll also extend your child’s vocabulary and understanding of words.

Play with others

By four, your child will be much more interested in playing with other children and making up games together. Even though you’ll notice improvements in sharing and taking turns, your child will still need your support and encouragement.

At five, children are much more aware of their place in the world and are keen to fit in. Your child will be eager to follow the rules at home and at preschool or school.

Most preschoolers understand that other people have feelings too, and will show sympathy towards them. As much as your child might seem clever and accomplished, home is still the centre of your child’s world. Your young child relies on the love and support of parents and carers to develop emotionally, physically and academically.

Ideas for playing with your preschooler

  • Give your child a cardboard box. Children can create just about anything from a boxand their imagination – a play house, a boat, a car. A small table turned on its side with a blanket or sheet draped over can be dad’s house, a pirate’s cave or the local shop. Why not check your local supermarket for spare boxes if you don’t have any?
  • Put together a box of old clothes, cast-off shoes, old football jumpers, boots and handbags, high-heeled shoes and other odds and ends. This is great fun for your preschooler to rummage through at any time. A homemade eye patch transforms your child into a pirate. A towel makes a caped crusader. Dress-ups will help your child express emotions and act out imaginary things.
  • Introduce new challenges. By four and five, your child might want to try new activities like bike-riding and board games.
  • Talk with your child while you’re cooking dinner or doing the shopping. Let your child help by measuring, stirring or helping think up a list for the shops.
  • Other ideas for things to play with:
    • play dough – suggest your child roll it into little balls and put it on toothpicks (great for developing fine motor skills)
    • a homemade sand pit
    • plastic containers or any household boxes with lids, and plastic eating utensils
    • kitchen pots and pans (with smooth edges)
    • Duplo (large Lego)
    • simple puzzles and jigsaws
    • coloured blocks.
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  • Last Updated 16-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Child and Youth Health South Australia (1996). Practical parenting 1-5 years. Melbourne: ACER.

    Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

    Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J.G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships and groups. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (eds), Handbook of child psychology, vol 3: Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed). New York: Wiley & Sons.

    Thomson, R.A. (1998). Early sociopersonality development. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (eds), Handbook of child psychology, vol 3: Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed). New York: Wiley & Sons.