I Spy: Play Scotland’s Play Types

What can play look like?

So we created the I Spy Toolkit

with handy hints for families embarking on their play journey.

Click on each flashing icon to read our Sharing the Ambition top tips.


A huge thank you to Play Scotland for allowing us to signpost their resources!

Play types are different behaviours that we can see when children are playing.
Can you recognise any of the behaviours below in your child’s own play?

Click on the picture to jump to a section or continue scrolling to discover each Play Type in turn…

We would absolutely love to include your photos & videos as examples of each Play Type – click the button below to get involved!


Learning About the Physical World

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What do children gain through this type of play?

Enjoyment, self-expression, mastery of skills particular to specific contexts, development of motor skills and integration of concepts appearing in different fields.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Thinking, sensitivity to and appreciation of colour, texture, shapes, smells, etc.
Problem solving, ‘private speech’, selfregulation, confidence, fine motor skills,
hand-eye coordination.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Creative Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Making, painting, manipulating materials

Using imagination and inventiveness with materials and ideas

Use of any medium for its own sake often in new combinations

Original expression of emotions, feelings and ideas

Playing with ‘loose parts’

Solitary or in groups according to the choice of the child at that time

Not relying on pre-produced art and craft supplies or the direction of adults

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What do children gain through this type of play?

Emotional satisfaction, access to information, may reduce uncertainty and stress around novel or complex situations.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, assessing risk, readiness to encounter new experiences, creativity, ‘private speech’, self-regulation.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Exploratory Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Physically exploring an environment – going higher, further, jumping over, jumping on, swinging from, climbing.

Testing ‘what happens if…?’
Manipulating objects or environment and assessing their properties

Exploring fire, puddles, earth, etc

What do children gain through this type of play?

Understanding of their relationship with the physical properties of the world
around them (limits, balance, respect, control, power), understanding of affective
ingredients in the environment
(what impact does it have on them?)

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Respect for the natural environment, deeper understanding of elemental forces and natural phenomena, satisfaction, motor skills, problem solving, logical reasoning, planning, communication skills
when played with others.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Mastery Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Digging holes

Building moats in sand in the path of the tide

Fire building and setting things alight

Changing course of streams (building dams)

Growing things

Blocking drains to create puddles

Demolition and construction.

What do children gain through this type of play?

Infinite and interesting sequences and combinations of hand-eye manipulations
and movements which bring about new and wider understanding of the possibilities of everyday objects.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Flexibility of thinking and ideas, fine motor skills, thinking, reasoning,
problem-solving, creativity, ‘private speech’, self-regulation, foundations for abstract mathematical concepts.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Object Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Simply playing with objects!

The object itself is the focus of the play and may be used in unexpected or unconventional ways

Testing, discovering the possibilities of an object


Can involve any object e.g.

  • sticks and stones
  • household items
  • treasures
  • a puzzle
  • an old tyre, a plank, a branch
  • living creatures


Learning About Myself and How to Be in the World

What do children gain through this type of play?

Vocabulary, nuances, dual meanings, pleasure to be found in language, including
fun/rude words and sounds, body language and facial looks.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Oral language development, expansion of vocabulary and social skills. Preparation
for more formal language concepts such as rhyme, poetry and onomatopoeia.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Communication Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Mickey-taking

Imitation for comic effect

Singing

Rhyming

Talking in slang or ‘street’

Non-verbal communication: gesture, hands
and body language

The ‘play face’ (giving the message that ‘this
is play’) and other signals of intention.

What do children gain through this type of play?

A sense of the dramatic, reaction of an audience, self-expression, adopting new identities, cathartic effect.
Socio-dramatic play may involve real and potential experiences of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature. Events enacted might have happened or be yet to happen but may be difficult for the child to understand.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Language development, performance, expression, communication, literacy,
narrative, artistic and creative skills.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Dramatic Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Making plays

Song and dance routines

Miming

Pretending to be famous

Dramatization of conversation

Dramatization of everyday events e.g. parents taking children to school

In front of an audience or ‘for’ an audience

Use of adult phrases or language in play situations

Re-enactment of social situations to understand or gain control

Recognised by their ‘real life’ contexts and exaggeration of emotions.

What do children gain through this type of play?

Access different ways of being, interpreting them from their own frame of reference. May be of an intense personal social, domestic or interpersonal nature
(though not always).

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Narrative skills, point of view, observation, social and groupwork, language
development, communication skills.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Role Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Child enacts adult or other behaviours e.g. driving


Plays family character, community person or celebrity


Takes on different state e.g. dead or asleep


Mimicking and imitation of mannerisms, voice, dress and actions.

What do children gain through this type of play?

Engagement with social dynamics, how children/ adults/ groups react to various situations, verbal cues, looks, food, customs etc. Experiences in which the rules and criteria for social engagement and interaction can be revealed, explored and amended.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Emotional intelligence, social and groupwork, language development,
communication skills.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Social Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Any social or interactive experience

Negotiation of rules and social norms

Board games

Conversations

Locomotor games

Running the tuck shop and other playful enterprises

Creating things together


Learning About My Body and Limits

What do children gain through this type of play?

Experiences of close encounters, social bonding, physical activity, insights about yourself in relation to others, fun.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Emotional and social skills, judgement, respect for others, foundations for physical, personal and interpersonal relationships.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Rough and Tumble Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Play face and body language make play fighting distinct from actual fighting

Tests of strength

Physical contact games

Wrestling

Playful pushing, shoving and jostling

Often pulling back, retreating or ‘feinting’ to rebalance power between players

Often lots of laughter

What do children gain through this type of play?

Physical health and competence, the fun of
moving, competing, getting out of breath.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Strength and endurance, whole body coordination, agility, raised heart rate, communication and social skills.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of LocomotorPlay, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Chase, tig, hide and seek

Climbing, jumping, swinging

Ball games, hoola hoops, skipping


Learning About What it is to Be Human

What do children gain through this type of play?

Encounters with risky experiences, thrills and exhilaration.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Risk assessment, focus and concentration, confronting fears, fine calibration
of movement.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Deep Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Engagement in any activity with element of real danger

Riding a bike along parapet

High tree climbing

Use of apparatus in unintended ways

What do children gain through this type of play?

Access other realities, enabling children to access experiences with a potentially high impact in a manner which is controlled and gradual, creation of alternative outcomes, emotional equilibrium.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Language development, vocabulary and rhyme, communication, literacy, artistic and creative, social and groupwork skills. Also forms the basis for figurative language.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Fantasy Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Being a fire breathing dragon

Casting spells and ‘doing magic’

Unconventional use of props

Being a tree/ship

Patting invisible animals/
eating invisible food

Use of objects as other objects
e.g. using a park bench as a bus

What do children gain through this type of play?

Accessing the behaviour of earlier human evolution, enormous satisfaction.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Recapitulative play may involve benefits shown across all play types but in particular is associated with elemental forces and deep human instincts and drives.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Recapitulative Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Rituals

Fires

Playing with/in the elements

Body paint, shields and face markings

Dens and caves

Growing and cooking things

Playing wars and with weapons
Animal husbandry

What do children gain through this type of play?

The ability to use words, gestures or images to represent actual objects, events or action, opens up endless possibilities
into play scenarios.

Some of the skills and dispositions developed:

Abstract thought, visual representation, language development, communication,
literacy, numeracy, artistic and
creative skills.

Click the flashing buttons on the picture above to explore an example of Symbolic Play, including the practitioner’s observation, pupil voice & links to the curriculum.

What does it look like?

Props given specific symbolic meaning

Camps to symbolise ‘home’

Spray hearts to denote love

Flags to denote a tribe

Rope to represent an area of water


Next Up: How can I play at home?

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