Play is children’s work

Play is an essential part of childhood development and early literacy. Play provides children the opportunity to explore learned concepts further, try out new vocabulary, imagine and create the fantastical, collaborate with others, and practice storytelling; all while having fun!

There are multiple types of play. Constructive play involves building and creating objects that last beyond the actual playing (if the child chooses). This type of play usually involves props like LEGO® bricks, blocks, dough or clay, cardboard boxes, and even toilet rolls or paper towel rolls. Exploratory play includes activities that encourage children to use their physical selves, including their senses, to figure out how things work. Jumping in a pile of leaves or digging in the sand at the beach are two examples.

Dramatic play happens when children take on roles and act them out. Sometimes these roles are based on real life experiences and other times they are completely imagined. In dramatic play, children often use easily available props to stand in for objects and characters in the story they create. Puppets, stuffed animals, and dolls are common props in dramatic play, as are common household items repurposed to fit children’s needs.

In all types of play, open-ended opportunities are important. Open-ended play is undirected play with props that have multiple possibilities. At the library, families will find boxes of LEGO® and Duplo® bricks in a variety of colors that children can use to build whatever they imagine without rules to follow. During storytime, children are invited to experiment with a variety of art supplies or explore a sensory bin filled with dried beans and small treasures — often without a prescribed goal, which is a key aspect of open-ended play.

Low pressure, open-ended play experience can happen at home, too. Make a variety of child safe materials available — crayons, a cardboard box, paper, and tape, for example — and let your child decide how to use them they are used.

Your child may want to retell a story you read together or design a completely imaginary world. Join in when you can to share the fun!

Share This Book!

Mac Barnett is the author of multiple picture books for young children and fiction for older kids. He demonstrates his love of the playful in his word craft. In “Count the Monkeys,” he and illustrator Kevin Cornell produced an interactive experience that draws readers into a raucous world full of rowdy grandmas, lumberjacks, beekeepers, and even a cobra.

In search of the elusive monkeys, readers end up counting the increasing number of non-monkey characters without feeling like the book is a math test. Barnett and Cornell reward readers at the end. The book is well suited for repeat reading and repetition strengthens the many neural pathways which develop during the early years.

Share This App!

The developer Toca Boca designs apps for children that exemplify open-ended dramatic play in the digital world. Toca Hair Salon Me, an almost wordless, hairstyling app is simple and easy to navigate, but offers unending opportunities to create and experiment. The app animates portrait photos taken with a mobile device or uploaded from the photo library — the sillier the better. Players then wash, blow dry, curl, brush, cut, accessorize, and color the hair layered on the photo. The app is surprisingly entertaining for a wide range of ages.

Toca Boca apps include the multi-touch feature which allows multiple points of contact on the device’s screen to cause an effect. For example, multiple kids or a child and adult can manipulate the photo’s hair at the same time, making the experience collaborative and even more fun. Co-play, when two or more play together, is made possible with features like multi-touch. Co-play supports learning and encourages social interaction and conversation during app play.

Claudia Haines is the Youth Services Librarian at the Homer Public Library. Have a question about early literacy, reading, or digital media use with kids? She can be reached at 235-3180 or