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Child Development

Developmental Milestones
Each child is unique in the way that they develop and when they attain developmental milestones. All children develop at different rates. There is great variation in when children crawl, walk or talk etc. Some children are slower than others but catch up over time. Other children may have an underlying problem that causes their delayed development and they may not catch up. It is important that children who are delayed in their development receive assessment and advice as early as possible (early intervention) .

If you are concerned about your child's development you may see a member of our team or, seek the assistance of your Child and Youth Health Nurse, GP or Paediatrician. It is better to have your concerns checked than to wait and see.

Early childhood educators and health staff look at each child's development under the areas of gross motor, fine motor, talking and understanding; social and intellectual skills.

There are many sources of information available to give you a general idea on when certain key milestones are achieved or what to expect of your child at a certain age. Some great informative websites are:

Fostering development through play

Discover more about why children play, how they learn from play and how to help develop your child's play skills.

What is play?

  • Play is what every child does, all day, every day as they grow. Play allows children to learn and practice the skills that they need for school and everyday life.
  • It is through play that children learn about their bodies and how to use them, explore and learn about the world around them and develop a sense of themselves and their abilities.
  • Play is enjoyable, allows experimentation without risk or failure, is initiated by the child, is carried out for its own sake and does not need to have an end product.
  • Play is all about 'the doing' not 'the end' or it becomes work!
  • There are many types and stages of play and just as many ways to give your child more opportunities to learn along the way.

Parent Tips!

  • Play is not a separate thing that needs to be scheduled in – make it a natural part of daily family activities that you do!
  • Make the time. Slow down and notice what your child is doing when they play. Get to know what they are interested in – what they like and can do.
  • Get down to their level, get involved and play with them and their toys.
  • Relax. Have fun. The more you enjoy doing it the more your child will want to join in.
  • Learning from doing. Let your child explore for themselves – allow them to reason things out and learn from their mistakes.
  • The just right challenge. Play must be at the right level. Observe where your child is at – what is too easy and what is too hard. Children will only play with toys / games that are at the right level for them.
  • Repetition. Doing it again and again. This promotes greater mastery of the toy / game / skill and the better you are at something the more you enjoy it.
  • Balanced help. Guidance is required to assist learning and mastery. Don't leave them to struggle too long unaided or they become discouraged by failure. Alternatively if you provide too much assistance they become a passive onlooker.


  • Consider the play needs of your child before you spend your money.
  • Look around the house and garden for simple, natural play things.
  • Think about what your child already enjoys.
  • Think about the different ways in which toys can be used.
  • Remember the best toys are not often the most expensive.
  • Make things yourself.
  • Buy sturdy and safe toys.
  • Provide toys and games that allow lots of imagination and creativity.
  • Consider toys that are multipurpose and likely to be used for many years in different ways.
  • Join the toy library and local play groups.
  • Remember you are your child's best toy.

An Outline of How Play Develops
Sensory Motor Play (0 – 2 yrs)
Imaginative Play ( 2 – 5 yrs)
Games with Rules ( 6 – 12 yrs)

Sensory Motor Play (0 – 2 yrs)

  • Sensory motor play is the basis of a child's understanding about objects and their functions.
  • It is through this type of exploration that they learn to make sense of their world and how it works for them.
  • This type of play provides the building blocks on which older play is based and from which all skills develop.
  • Sensory development – tactile, auditory, gustatory, vision, smell and movement.

Play skills include:

  • Sensory awareness.
  • Visual inspection
  • Body awareness
  • Object manipulation
  • Object permanence.
  • Early understanding of object shapes, sizes and properties (ie hard / soft)
  • Simple ways to use objects together.
  • Imitation of common actions
  • At 18mths simple imaginative play themes start and are related to their body (ie feeding, combing hair and pretend sleeping).
  • By 2 years play themes relate to simple daily activities –household activities are copied. (ie cooking, eating tea, reading newspaper or playing music).
  • Are very social and love people. Will happily play beside people / children but not with them.
  • By 2 yrs old are very, very active, explorers of their environment. Need to look at providing a safe, stimulating environment for them to play in.

Imaginative Play ( 2 – 5 yrs)

  • Play themes develop and are the stories within a child's play.
  • They are an indication of the child's awareness of their world and require the combination of many skills.
  • They may include going shopping, cooking tea, driving a cardboard box or jumping off the couch being superman!
  • Children expand their physical, hand skills, cognitive skills, social and language skills through this type of play.
  • It may just look like they are playing tea parties but what do they need to be able to do for this to happen?
  • 2 year old – play reflects daily life in and out of the home – ie pretending to breastfeed the baby, eat tea or go shopping.
  • Less frequent events such as going to the doctor or going on bus trips, car trips etc on holiday occur before 3.
  • Will play besides other children and observe what they are doing.
  • Will role play by copying each other and can play for 10 mins by the time they are 2.5yrs.
  • 3 year olds – play now expands past personal experience and involve themes that they have seen. Includes T.V. characters, fire fighter, policeman and shopkeeper.
  • Will play in association with other children, no negotiation about the play and are involved in their own separate play.Can role play for 15 mins.
  • 4 years – themes include more than one story, often change stories and themes quickly. May play out a home theme and expand on this theme to include a sick baby or shopping.
  • Will now cooperate and negotiate what they want to play and who is going to be what with other children.Can role play for 30 mins.
  • 5 year olds – themes can be anything and include events they will never experience or witness such as visiting another planet. Will expand on and persevere with a theme. Is well organised, planned and follows a story with cooperation and negotiation with other children.
  • Can use any object and substitute it for anything else. Language is used to describe the object and its function and the play scene.
  • Any role they take on is maintained throughout the session.

Games with Rules ( 6 – 12 yrs)

  • All areas of skill develop and strengthen, becoming more complex and adult.
  • Play usually involves several components, is quite detailed and complex being very cognitive based.
  • Hobbies, sports and individual interests take a leading role.
  • Very social, cooperative and group play.


Some useful websites:










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