"Play is how children of this age learn, by trial and error, repeating actions to develop their muscles, hand-eye coordination and their general understanding of the world," says Dr Amanda Gummer a research psychologist specialising in child development.
She is author of Play: Fun ways to help your child develop in the first five years and founder of the organisation Fundamentally Children.
"They are sponges at this stage and love watching and absorbing what they see around them," adds Amanda. "Parents shouldn’t feel under pressure about giving them constant stimulation as they don’t need it because if they are involved in normal life they will pick up lots of things."
Different types of play
Dr David Whitebread is director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning at the University of Cambridge.
Through psychological research he has established there are five types of play - physical play, play with objects, symbolic play, pretence play and games with rules.
"In the first 2 years you see a lot of physical play like tickling, whizzing children around like an aeroplane, the use of bouncers," says David. "It gives children a sense of their own body in space and better coordination and balance."
"By 6 months old babies will be exploring objects, picking them up and putting them in their mouths," adds David. "Symbolic play involving language, music, drawing and painting generally starts in the 1 to 2 year old age range and even at this age games with rules are played, for example peek-a boo has a nascent rule structure."
Children in this age group although they benefit from the company of other babies and toddlers seem to play in parallel rather than co-operatively.
"One and 2-year-olds tend to play alongside each other rather than jointly," says Anita Cleare, child development expert and blogger at Thinking Parenting.
"They like to observe and take the lead from other children, which is why they will often want the exact toy another child is playing with!" adds Anita. "Two-year-olds can be very repetitive and seem a bit obsessive in their play, insisting on playing with the same toy again and again or repeating the same activity over and over. These repetitive actions are called 'schema'and they help toddlers learn how to categorise and understand basic physical principles."
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