Pre-School Play, Experiences and Development

September 10, 2012 Published by
Parents usually have the biggest say in which toys their children have access to, with less than half of all pre-schoolers (2 in 5) choosing most of their own toys. Peer pressure is still a relatively minor influence in the pre-school years, but children with older siblings in particular will often aspire to have toys which make them feel more ‘grown up’. They also show a preference for the big brands, suggesting that advertising has an effect on their toy of choice – Spider-Man and LEGO for boys; Frozen, Peppa Pig and Barbie for girls.


‘Parents are often guilty of over-estimating their children’s ability and intelligence and will often buy toys that are too advanced for their child.’


However, children’s abilities and experiences vary enormously in this age group and this make it difficult to put specific age guidelines on toys (except for on a safety basis).

For example, some pre-school children are able to complete complex jigsaw puzzles with more than 30 pieces, whereas others, who have not had a lot of experience with jigsaws, may struggle with the concept of fitting the pieces together and matching the colours etc., and thus are unable to do even a 4 piece puzzle without help.

Social development is considered to be the most important area of development for pre-school children so toys that encourage social interaction and skills such as sharing, turn-taking and communication are really good for this age group.


The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is very play-based, but giving children opportunities to develop skills that will give them confidence in the classroom is still beneficial to their development.


These skills include both:

Traditional Academic Skills Self-sufficient Abilities
  • holding a pencil correctly
  • understanding that words are written and that letters make sounds
  • counting
  • shape recognition
  • doing and undoing buttons
  • getting dressed independently
  • eating with a knife and fork
  • being able to tidy up


Good-Toy-Guide_664_Plan-Toys-Juicer-Set-220x200Toys such as dressing dolls and play food are good ways of encouraging development through pre-school play in these areas. Arts and craft-based toys are good ways of increasing fine motor control and concentration as well as encouraging children to sit down at a table and share equipment, all of which will make the transition to school or nursery that bit smoother.

The EYFS is divided into sections to encourage a child’s all-round learning and development. Here are some play ideas to help in each of these areas (for more information, toys, apps and play ideas see our guide on the Early Years Foundation Stage):


PIW6QfxSvJtxf3OZfac2eDGVZoiCgSCe6J1D54w4_VNA-220x200ersonal, social and emotional development 

(Includes topics such as confidence and managing feelings)

Good PSE development contributes to confident, happy individuals and healthy relationships. Role play can encourage children to play together while exploring their personality and emotions.



Communication and language

(Includes topics such as listening and understanding)

Speaking and listening skills are key for building relationships and learning in school. Role play can encourage children to practice these skills, for example, pretending to talk on a toy phone or performing a story.



G-Toy-G-Dino-Cozy-Coupe-A-220x200Physical development

(Includes topics such as moving and health)

Toys such as bikes and ride-ons encourage children to move around, strengthening their arm and leg muscles while building coordination and balance.




(Includes topics such as reading and writing)

Getting your child engaged in fun and interesting books at a young age will nurture a love of reading and familiarise them with connecting words with sounds and meaning.




(Includes topics such as numbers and shapes)

There are many brilliant apps for helping pre-schoolers practice a variety of maths skills – the games are enjoyable to play and give children instant feedback, helping to reinforce their learning.



Understanding the world

(Includes topics such as technology and communities)

Encouraging curiosity helps pre-schoolers understand the world, and this is a useful skill for learning Science when they reach school. Small world play allows children to act out scenarios they come across in their lives in order to make sense of them.



Good-Toy-Guide_853_Modelling-Clay-150x150Expressive Arts & Design

(Includes topics such as being imaginative and exploring materials)

Being creative is great for children’s well-being and for boosting their imaginations, and art materials offer freedom in their creativity.


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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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