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National Childhood Network (NCN)

Play – Toddlers



Play is the most powerful medium through which young children learn. Through play their intrinsic motivation to learn is most readily satisfied. In play children learn about the world, about how other people live and feel, about creating things and ideas, about making plans, taking decisions and solving problems.

The importance of Play

Whether in a group setting or at home, children’s play should address all their developmental needs. Good play provision respects children and their interests and strengths, it challenges and supports them, soothes and stimulates, satisfies and excites and above all extends their learning. It meets their need for creativity and aesthetic development. It helps them process difficult life events. It develops their sensitivity to other people and cultures, ages and abilities. It enhances their resilience   (Barnardo’s 2002)

The Value of Block Play

Playing with blocks provides the opportunity for children to learn elements of science and math, like problem solving, counting, adding and subtracting, and helps them build both gross and fine motor skills. Block play also supports other key aspects of development, including language learning as children talk about the structures they built with the adults and children around them, creativity, imagination, self-esteem, and social and emotional growth. (NAEYC)

Block Play for an 18 month old is different to block play for a 5 year old. Children go through various stages of block play. As they work through the learning of one stage they are ready to move on to the next stage of play. As skills advance, it is typical for children to combine several stages. The stages are developmental—each one building on the last—but children advance at their own rate regardless of their age.

Stage 1: Discovering Blocks

Stage 2: Stacking Blocks

Stage 3: Complex Stacking

Stage 4: Making Enclosures

Stage 5: Creating Bridges or Arches

Stage 6: Combining Enclosures and Bridges

Stage 7: Building with Patterns and Symmetry

Stage 8: Building Block Structures that Represent Objects for Pretend Play


This resource was compiled by NCN and will provide lots of play ideas for babies toddlers and preschoolers. (PDF)

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