Written By: Psychologist Natasha Tanic
Play is one of the most essential tools in your child’s learning and development because it engages their brain and helps set the foundation for future learning.
Free play helps children develop and socialize, encourages them to interact with others, and teaches them conflict management skills.
It also teaches kids emotional control and empathy and helps them develop interests and curiosity.
Play and toys engage kids’ senses from toddlers to teens, spark imagination, and boost creativity.
It encourages language and speech development and promotes motor skills.
Different types of toys are created to improve problem-solving abilities, help children anticipate and predict outcomes, explore cause and effect relations, and encourage sensory exploration.
The Importance of Unstructured Play
Unstructured play is play that allows a child to explore and determine what they want to do without directions, guidelines, or rules.
Unstructured play provides a sense of freedom and control while allowing kids to develop creativity, use their senses, and learn about themselves and the world around them.
It helps build confidence and provides safety and reassurance while kids explore the possibilities, test the limits, make mistakes, and learn from them.
However, as your child gets older, he or she may grow out of playing with toys and become more occupied with other things such as gadgets, video games, and technology in general.
Also, as they mature, kids want to try to appear more grown-up, so they may start showing interest in more ‘grown-up’ activities such as playing sports, reading, playing an instrument, dressing up, etc.
At What Age Do Kids Outgrow Their Toys?
Well, it depends. Every child develops individually and reaches emotional and social maturity at his or her own pace.
Nevertheless, most children stop playing with toys sometime during their pre-teen or early teenage years. However, it is perfectly normal if your teenager wants to play with dolls.
Pre-teens and kids in the early teenage years seek to look older than they are.
Kids this age also highly value their peers’ opinions, so they may stop playing in front of their friends so they don’t seem childish.
However, most kids are never ready to give up play and toys completely. They just transition from childlike toys and forms of play to more age-appropriate interests and activities.
How to Help Your Child to Transition from Childhood into Adolescence
As they grow, kids start acquiring new tools to learn, engage with the world around them, and express themselves.
Pre-teen and early teen years come with significant changes in many aspects of your child’s life.
You can help your kids transition from kids into adolescents by encouraging them to identify what interests and other activities they enjoy doing. You can also help them switch from childlike toys to more age-appropriate toys.
For example, if your child loves problem-solving, encourage them to move from easy puzzles to more advanced ones. Or buy them toys such as the Rubik’s Cube or LEGO Architecture set.
If your child likes science, switch out their microscope toy for a real one. Or treat your kids with other STEM-inspired toys and playsets to promote a love for learning and help them pursue their interests.
Although the form of your child’s play changes as they grow, play remains an essential part of their development.
Through play and imagination, kids engage their brains in experiences to develop skills necessary to learn and succeed.
The best way to keep play in your child’s life is to transition their playtime into a hobby. This will still keep play in your teen’s life but they will play more maturely.
So think about your child’s interests and the activities they enjoy.
For example, if your child used to enjoy playing with dolls, encourage them to make dolls of different materials or to create clothes for their old dolls.
How to Handle Your Kids’ Interests in Technology
Our kids are growing up surrounded by technology and almost unlimited internet access.
As parents, we want to ensure that they get the right amount of everything: academic opportunities, hobbies, sports, screen time, social life, and unstructured outdoor play.
Many parents are puzzled by whether they should allow screen time or not (especially during the week) and how much screen time is too much.
According to research, teens spend an average of 9 hours daily interacting with media while kids ages 8-12 spend 6 hours per day in front of the screen (playing games or watching TV or videos).
Too much screen time distracts kids and teens from other things they should be doing. However, some studies suggest that the nature of your kids’ screen time matters more than the amount of time they spend engaging with technology.
In other words, screen-time isn’t necessarily bad for your child.
Using interactive forms of digital media such as online STEM programs has great potential to spark your child’s interest in learning and boost their development.
If used responsibly and reasonably, screen time can spark your child’s creativity, nurture their critical thinking skills, improve communication skills, and boost their confidence.
But keep in mind that digital resources such as online games and mobile apps require adult guidance.
Your kids need you to place limits and help them navigate the world of technology safely and securely.
Play allows children to develop imagination and creativity and understand the complex world and their place in it, so encourage them to play for as long as they please.
Keep in mind that, even if your child stops playing with toys, that doesn’t mean they will stop playing. Play can take different forms, and it develops and transforms as your child develops and grows.
During the pre-teen and teenage years, peer interactions become more important, and toys are no longer your child’s primary interest.
Hanging out with friends or joining sports activities now provides more fulfillment than playing with toys, which is totally developmentally appropriate.
Even though playing with toys might end around the teenage years, play never truly ends. Your child’s interests simply become more advanced as they grow into adolescents.