Identify how children’s play needs and preferences change in relation to their stage of development

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 3.1: Understand the value of play in Early Years
Learning outcome: Understand play at different stages of children’s development
Assessment criteria: Identify how children’s play needs and preferences change in relation to their stage of development


It is important to recognize that children’s play needs and preferences shift over time as they progress through various stages of development.

To facilitate effective learning, adult-led play activities should be challenging enough to stimulate development, but not so difficult as to be discouraging. Similarly, the layout of the setting should be tailored to the children that will be using it. Although this will be dependent on the abilities of each individual child, we can also draw generalisations based on the child’s age.


Babies (up to around one-year-old) typically enjoy sensory play, such as exploring objects with their hands and mouth. This helps them to develop their gross and fine motor skills and understand their environment. At this age, they will be dependent on adults to help them to explore. Typical toys used by this age group include rattles, plush animals and baby gyms.

Toddlers (ages 1 to 3) can often engage in object manipulation games such as puzzles, stacking blocks, and drawing on paper. They also tend to explore the world around them, so providing a variety of tactile and visual materials that they can interact with is beneficial. Although they enjoy spending time with adults, they can also be left to explore on their own (under supervision). At this age, it is unlikely that children will want to play with their peers, although they may observe what those around them are doing or play alongside one another (parallel play).


Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) often engage in more elaborate play activities such as pretend play, imaginative games and story-telling. They are also beginning to develop academic skills such as counting, so introducing toys and games that help them practice these skills is beneficial. These children may also be able to engage in cooperative play with others, for example taking turns, following rules and working together on a project.

At each age stage, it is important to ensure that children have access to an appropriate range of materials and activities that can help them learn and develop in different ways. In this way, Early Years Practitioners can ensure that children’s play needs and preferences are met at each stage of their development

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