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Introduction to the concept of playing

Playing is how a child lives. Playing can be considered the means by which a child can express his/her behaviour and motivations. During the child’s development, he/she learns how to interact with the various objects which he/she encounters, therefore having the scope of liberating and very often the objects do not suggest to the child how to behave but they acquire new meanings: a piece of wood can become a doll or a stick become a horse etc. (L.S. Vygotskij, 1966). The game therefore becomes a transition phase steeped in meanings through which the child can create new situations and may reproduce the situations from the social context in which he/she is brought up. Through recreational activities , the child learns how to manipulate objects , develop creativity and attention, cope with problem solving, the planning and the predictability of his/her actions. All these elements bring to a balanced maturity. The game appears to become an enthralling experience full of incitements , with the capacity of capturing the children’s attention, activating and motivating whilst conducting them towards further knowledge, strategies and competences. Some of the games used are, for example, exploratory games which progressively act on the attention span or followed by imitation games characterized by the child playing a part or a role and/or in a situation he/she desires to be in, or a symbolic game, characterized by the fact that the child gives a particular meaning to an object very far from what it originally is, which encourages the development of mental representation and of language improvement.

 According to Piaget (an author who is a symbol for what regards the psychology of development), the development of playing takes place in stages, the first being the exercise game phase (from 0 to 2 years old), which corresponds to the development of psychomotor intelligence. In this phase the motor perceptual activity assumes a ludic nature: the child, little by little, acquires the ability of controlling his/her limbs and the skill to explore an object by the use of all his/her senses. Functional games are carried out simply because they give pleasure by repeating and consolidating a well known sequence.

The second phase is formed by the development of the pre-operative intelligence (2 to 7 years old), the child progressively learns how to represent reality and then act through the use of symbols: this is the process through which the symbolic game derives . The mental images which are created become a. active construction of the child and come from an imitation which has previously been internalized. The development of language skills brings to an enhancement of the capacities the child has in playing. By the development of the effective tasks, the child is progressively able to carry out functions on the various objects, which are also reversible, without being able to anticipate his/her actions by verbal statements.

Between the ages of 7 and 11, the child gradually develops the concept of rules, which will be fully understood during the stage which has to do with formal tasks and therefore will allow the child to be better involved in games governed by rules. During the effective tasks, the child is already able to play in this manner but also tends to alter the rules to his/her advantage and does not consider them as absolute. Instead, after the age of 11, there is a full awareness of the encoding of rules. Building games which imply a set series of procedures and classifications, is considered by Piaget halfway between a game and an intelligent activity as well as halfway between a game and imitation. An introduction to some of the categories which you will find on this website:

Toys manufactured with corn

  • They stimulate creativity and imagination, therefore the child can put together the parts to reproduce the example pictured or he may have fun creating new objects and shapes.

Toys manufactured in wood

  • Building toys (cubes of various shapes) help to develop the creativity, flexibility and fluent meaningfulness and verbal skills. The child can create objects and representations to which he/she gives his/her own meaning and he/she can reproduce situations from everyday life or from his/her imagination.

  • Agil'Up (constructing a tower): this game gives the opportunity to reproduce, through trial and error, a defined shape. It develops problem solving and the ability to plan ahead one’s own moves which have to be the most suitable so that the toy stays upright and does not fall down. Books, puzzles, memory games

  • Books : through the use of written and illustrated books, the child begins to have his/her first contact with the symbolical representation of language. He/she starts to understand that the objects which surround him/her are represented both by sounds and in writing. This form of archaic language is fundamental to acquire literacy. The child, therefore, begins to gain familiarity with verbal language and its representations.

  • Puzzles: through the use of puzzles, the child begins to globally process images and put together pieces of various forms so as to reproduce them. Through colour combination and fitting pieces into place, he/she develops the ability of planning and foreseeing his/her moves developing attention and concentration. The themes reproduced by the puzzle convey information which gives access to information regarding geography or to animal world.

  • Memory games: memory games help the child to make a global and serial analysis of the pieces that compose the game. By looking for the same pairs, the child develops memory skills and attention elements as well as the ability to remember the images seen before so as to correctly match them in couples. These games can be contemporarily played by more than one child to enhance the respect of keeping one’s turn and acquiring rules of cooperation.

  • Big hunting for numbers bag: Through this game, the child begins to gain familiarity with numbers and with their quantitative meanings and graphics. He/She develops the ability to count, the concept of numerical size and can compare different quantities.

  • Eco cubes : this game enables the child to learn numbers, letters, shapes, colours and animals. What is useful are the written descriptions under the pictures which enhances the ability to combine the pictogram with the word.

Board games

  • Group games : these enable the child to learn how to respect the rule of his/her turn and collaborating with more than one person as well as the ability to count and the meaning of the quantity of numbers. By following the various stages which are part of the game itself, the child builds up his/her knowledge about Prehistory, the achievements of great explorers and about animals etc.

Modelling games

  • Organic modeling dough: plastilina has always been the game which leaves the child free to create by the use of his/her imaginations and creativity. It develops a balances growth of improved detailed motor skills of the child’s hands.  


Text written by Doctor Tiziana Minutello

Psychologist and psychotherapist

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