What does this feel like when I touch it? What does this sound like when I squeeze it?
What will happen if I push this or pull that? Crawl over there? Pull myself up on this?
Exploration is the heart of play, and in your child's mind any experiment counts, even hurling a bowl of cereal off the highchair tray. Development experts are fond of saying that play is the work of children (and cleaning up after play seems to be the work of parents).
As your child moves into the toddler years, his play will become more imaginative and complex. Through play, he'll exercise key skills and qualities, such as independence, creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving.
It can also be an important place to explore feelings and values and develop social skills. Long before your child feels comfortable sharing his favorite toy with his sister, he may offer it to a doll.
His first spontaneous "please" and "thank you" may slip out at an imaginary tea party. And what parent can resist wasting a perfectly good bandage the first time her child says his teddy got hurt?
What types of play are best for my child?
It depends on the stage of development. Since play is the tool your child uses to learn about the world, the skills he's working on right now are your biggest clues to choosing the best activities.
For instance, if your 3-month-old is learning how to grab objects, let him play with large soft toys. If at 12 months he's exploring cause and effect, play a simple version of hide-and-seek under tables and chairs.
Here are some guidelines for the types of play your child may be most interested in at different stages, according to Catherine Marchant, a play therapist at Wheelock College in Boston:
Interacting with you and others is important throughout the first year. Infants like to smile, look, and laugh. Older babies enjoy games such as peekaboo and itsy-bitsy spider.
Touching, banging, mouthing, throwing, pushing, and otherwise experimenting with things is fascinating for the 4- to 10-month-old set.
Functional and representational play
Pretending to use familiar objects in an appropriate way – pushing a toy lawn mower over the grass, or calling Grandma with a hairbrush, for instance – is the height of fun for 12- to 21-month-olds as their imaginations begin to blossom.
Early symbolic play
This type of play, common around the age of 2, creates something out of nothing. Your child might play with a shoebox as if it were a school bus, complete with motor noises, for example, or pretend to eat a plastic ring, insisting it's a doughnut.
Around 30 to 36 months your little actor will begin taking on new roles. Playing doctor, teacher, or mommy is common now.