Games for all ages!

Games for all ages!
At first, all babies play on their own. But as they grow, children gradually change the way they play to include others.

At first, all babies play on their own. But as they grow, children gradually change the way they play to include others.

During their first year, babies play alone. They are discovering their bodies and the things around them. To encourage your baby, place her on the floor surrounded by brightly coloured objects that are easy to grab. “My 4-month-old daughter picks things up and looks at them from all angles. They fascinate her,” says Jasmine’s mom, Valérie Lamarche. “She can also entertain herself quite happily for a few minutes on her play gym mat.” At this age, babies are also very interested in the faces of the people around them, like Jasmine who bursts with laughter when her parents play hide-and-seek with her and make funny faces. Towards age one, babies start to enjoy observing other children as well, but they still aren’t ready to play with them.

17-month-old Jessy loves to watch older kids. “He’s very curious to see how they play,” says his dad, Alexandre Provost. “I even get the impression that he envies them! But he doesn’t play with other children yet, not even those his own age.” It’s normal: the stage of parallel play occurs between about 18 months and 2 years old. Toddlers play alongside each other, but their games remain individual. Their thoughts are egocentric and they haven’t yet acquired the notions of ownership and sharing. When they see an object that interests them, they’ll take it without asking whom it belongs to. Towards age 2, children have a better idea of what belongs to them – but they still have a hard time sharing because they’re afraid they’ll never get their toy back.

A child learns to play with others gradually.

Towards age 3, children begin cooperative play. They start having fun with other children, but it never lasts very long and conflicts are frequent. They also generally prefer having just one playmate as opposed to several. Between the ages of 4 and 5, as their language skills develop along with their knowledge and social skills, children play for longer periods together. This is what 4-year-old Gaël’s mom, Valérie Dionne, has noticed. “My son has changed a lot in just a few months. Now he shares more easily and waits his turn without complaining. Playtime with others is a lot more fun. And he can even play board games, with our help, and follow simple rules.”

Does your child refuse to share or wait her turn? She may simply be too young. You need to be patient. A toddler of 2, for instance, doesn’t have the psychological maturity to share yet. Instead of forcing her, you can suggest she lend a toy in exchange for another. Exchanging is the first step towards sharing. Praising your child when she shares something is another way to encourage her to share.
And what if she’s a sore loser? “It’s better not to always let her win,” says educational psychologist Rolande Filion. “A child needs to learn to behave properly when she loses. You can play games with her where it’s just a question of luck, such the card game War. One time she’ll win; the next time she’ll lose. This will help her better accept losing.” With your help, your child will slowly learn what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t when playing with others.

What shall we play?

As your child grows, her way of playing evolves and becomes more complex. There are four main types of play: physical play, symbolic play, constructive play and competitive play.

When they’re babies, children love to move, above all else. They are first attracted to games that allow them to develop their physical abilities and stimulate their senses. For example, they’ll play with their hands and feet, put objects in their mouths, play with a rattle, have fun on a play gym mat, play with a ball or with toys they can push and pull, and so on. Later, other physical games will become part of their lives; for example, bike riding, sliding, swinging, jump-rope, water play, sports, etc.

At around 2 years old, symbolic play appears. “Children begin to play daddy and mommy or at preparing a meal for their stuffed animals,” explains educational psychologist Rolande Filion. Children entertain themselves by reproducing the simple acts they see every day, such as feeding their doll or rocking their stuffed animal. As they grow, they also start to invent scenarios and role-play. This is the case for 4-year-old Gaël. “He gets dressed up like his favourite character and invents all sorts of adventures,” says his dad, Jean-Éric Barabé. “He often gets me involved in his scenarios and tells me to do this or that. And he likes to create stories with dinosaurs, trucks and action figures too.” Drawing, crafts and play-dough are also part of symbolic play.

At around 2 ½ years old, your toddler is ready for construction games such as puzzles, blocks and other constructive play. It’s important, however, to suggest games adapted to her age. For example, you can give her wooden lift-out puzzles with handles before showing her puzzles with two or four pieces. Finally, towards age 5, children start to become interested in more competitive games with rules, such as card games or board games, but also physical games that include rules, such as tag and team sports.

Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, December 2015
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Sarah Landry, Professor, Department of Educational Psychology and Adult Education at Université de Montréal

*Below: Damien and Thomas-Olivier, CPE L’Ours, la fouine et le lion, Beloeil. | Photo: Maxim Morin