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Types of Play Based on Cognitive Development

Play is considered one of the most effective and enjoyable ways to develop skills, knowledge, interests, and relationships. It enhances the curiosity that makes it easier to remember and learn new things. Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist and pioneer in theories of child development believed the way kiddos played reflects their level of cognitive development. He defined four types of play based on the Stages of Cognitive Development found in his research.

Piaget's Types of Play

1. Functional Play

Children use their senses and body movements (like running and jumping, gathering and dumping, manipulating and stacking) to explore toys, materials, and people to learn more about them.

2. Constructive Play

Children use objects (like blocks, Legos, Tinkertoys, play doh, paint) in an organized goal oriented way to make something.

3. Symbolic Play

Children pretend using role play to be someone or something they are not (like pretending to be a superhero or a dinosaur) and make believe actions, objects, or words to represent different things or situations (like pretending a banana is a telephone).

4. Games with rules

Children play alone or with others recognizing and following rules that keep to the expectations and goals of the game (like tag and duck-duck-goose)


Johnson, J. E., Christie, J. F., & Wardle, F. (2005). Play, development, and early education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Yogman M, Garner A, Hutchinson J, et al. The power of play: a pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics. 2018;142(3):e20182058. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2058


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