Play Develops Reading, Cognitive, and Social-Emotional Skills

Play is essential to a child’s development. It helps them regulate their emotions, focus and increase their attention span, create and follow stories, and learn critical problem-solving skills. 

Play also develops communication and language skills. They can experiment with words, roles, and stories in various settings. Engaging your child in play is one of the best ways to develop their brain and essential social skills.  

Play Develops Reading

Your toddler doesn’t need to know their letters, and most preschoolers aren’t reading! The typical child won’t recognize their name and identify letters until three or even four years old. Additionally, the average age at which a child learns to read is between six and seven. However, the building blocks for reading and literacy begin at birth.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-8-1024x683.png

The more language your baby or toddler hears in conversations, from books and stories, and in playtime, the more their language and literacy skills will develop.

Expose your child to books from birth and keep toddler-friendly board books in their room and play area. Engage your little one in make-believe stories, role-playing, puppets, and other types of creative play. 

Allow your child to lead when playing make-believe games and use open-ended questions to guide their play or reading books together. Additionally, children need to see letters and words in various print forms: books, signs, handwriting, food labels, and toys are all great ways to expose kids to print.


  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Why did (character’s name) make that choice?
  • What should we do next?
  • What would you do if you were (character’s name)?
  • How else could (character) have handled the situation?
  • What do you think happens after the story ends?

Check out these Kneebouncer games to help your child practice their letters!

Play and Cognitive Development

Cognitive skills include memory, attention, logical reasoning, listening, reading, and problem-solving, to name a few! Play is the best way for a child to develop and master these skills. 

The good news is that there is no wrong way to play, but toys that are open-ended and can be used in multiple ways are among the best tools!

Things you can find around your home or at thrift shops to create a dramatic play area for your child include:

  • Oversized clothing
  • Old plastic dishes and cups
  • Notepads and writing materials
  • Emptied and cleaned food containers
  • Silk flowers
  • Plastic sunglasses or old glass frames
  • Hats and scarves
  • An old camera or phone 


Provide your child with various materials to play and explore with, rotating them every few weeks to keep things fresh and exciting. For most toddlers and preschoolers, putting away something they’re not using for a month and bringing it back out is like receiving a brand-new toy!

With all toys and young children, ensure they are age-appropriate and not a choking hazard. 

Watch this YouTube video by Teachings in Education to learn more about cognitive development.

Problem Solving & Social-Emotional Development

When engaging your child in play, give them plenty of opportunities to try and fail. Think of when a child is learning to walk; as parents, we guide them and make it safe, but we can’t learn for them. It’s the same with all their skills. Make learning a safe space for them but let them make mistakes, creating opportunities for problem-solving and critical thinking. 

Mistakes and failure also teach our children how to handle disappointment healthily. But, unfortunately, there’s a famous saying that goes, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” I’m afraid I have to disagree with this statement. 

Of course, you can be upset when you don’t get what you want or feel you’ve earned or deserved. Disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness are all normal emotions. What’s important is how you handle those emotions. Therefore, play that allows failure and mistakes is an opportunity for children to develop healthy coping skills. 

Play filled with hands-on opportunities for risk, failure, and success is how children learn best. By supporting your child’s play, you will develop their cognitive skills, including problem-solving, reading, and critical thinking, and foster their social-emotional development.

Updated July 24, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

Start your FREE trial!

Play 100+ games and videos - advertising free - for one week - FREE!

Kid-safe and ad-free environment
Privacy Policy

Log in here

Not a member?

Play the best online toddler games – FREE!

mommy & me song



Mommy & Me

Enjoy this original song by Kiki and the KneeBouncers! Showing Mommy the love she deserves!

who says moo_title

Read+Play along


Who says MOO?

Do you say moo? You and your little one will be mooved to laughter as you compete to make the different animal sounds!


Trusted by families and schools since 2003!

Play all our award-winning educational games, videos, and offline activities - FREE!

100% safe and ad-free environment

Already a member?

Log in here