Object Play

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Object Play

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Object Play is play involving physical objects like blocks, sticks, socks, dolls, balls, swings, loose parts, bits of lint, pine cones, and anything else children can get their hands on. Water play, block play, many types of sensory play, dramatic play, and card games are all forms of object play.

In its early stages, object play involves exploring and manipulating objects–an infant repeatedly mouthing and shaking a rattle, for example. Early on, object play tends to focus on physical development as children hone large muscle and small muscle skill and control. They do so by carrying, throwing, rolling, shaking, pushing, pulling, stacking, squeezing, dumping, mouthing, kicking, and all the other ing-ing that can be done with an object.

Object play has a big role in sensory integration–it is a feast for the senses and helps wire the brain.

All this activity with objects not only helps kids gain control of their bodies and wire their brains, it helps them understand what the world is made of and how objects interact in the world. Through object play, they learn about concepts–like Gravity or Under or taking turns. They also learn about shapes, colors, textures, cause-and-effect relationships, object permanence, creativity, and more.

And let’s not forget language development. All those objects have names kids learn. They also learn the words for all the things they do with the objects. On top of all that language acquisition, they routinely discuss how they played with, are playing with, or will play with objects in the future.

As children get older, object play evolves. Objects become symbols and tools. For example, a simple wooden block previously used for dumping and throwing is now used for building elaborate structures in block play or to represent a smartphone or gold bar in a dramatic play scenario.

Adults engage in object play as well. For example, knitting, golfing, fishing, poker, and cooking can all be seen as forms of adult play that involve objects.

Object play in the early years influences later creativity and problem solving skills.

The science of progressively more complex object play and its relation to overall competency has sparked research interest in corporate “work readiness”, in that a deficiency in fixing things by hand during one’s youth may well mean deficiencies in complex problem solving in challenging work settings as an adult. To be a good research engineer, for example may mean that the times spent in high school fixing cars or building airplane models are as important as getting an advanced degree, particularly if the engineer is also expected to function as an innovative problem solver.

The National Institute For Play

To support object play, offer lots of time for real play in an object-rich environment focused on the child’s developmental level.

Some examples of object play:


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Jeff A Johnson

I'm an early learning speaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ and Explorations Early Learning.

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