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Recommended reading Play for 3–5-year-olds Stages: 3 to 5 years

Play continues to be as important for 3–5-year-olds’ learning and healthy development as it was in previous years. Play is still children’s work!

Even if tamariki attend an early childhood education (ECE) centre, whānau involvement in their play and learning at home is still very important. Whānau are the people tamariki know best, so they are always the best playmates.

Building and maintaining those trusting relationships with tamariki really matters to their future learning about the world and about getting on with others.

What is changing for tamariki between ages 3 and 5?

  • They are learning about playing together and will co-operate more with other tamariki. By the time they’re 5, they’re more likely to enjoy making friends, playing group games and being part of group activities. These skills may develop alongside siblings at home or at their ECE centre, but also might develop through church activities, sports teams or kapa haka groups.
  • They are developing a sense of humour and enjoy jokes and fooling around with other kids.
  • They will continue to watch and listen to the adults in their lives and copy what they see and hear.
  • Much of their play will involve copying adult activities.
  • They begin to develop self-control, so they are more able to wait for their turn in games and to sometimes share toys.
  • They can feel and sometimes show empathy when others are upset.
  • They are growing stronger, and are more confident and skilled in using their big and small muscles, so whānau need to keep up with changing safety needs — tamariki can go further and faster!
  • They want to be more independent, and do more things for themselves.
  • They will need whānau to set fair limits and to help them keep those limits. They continue to need structure and routine in their daily lives.
  • Their imagination becomes more active. They are developing new and increasing connections in the vision centres in their brain’s cerebral cortex. Some tamariki may have imaginary ‘friends’. Sometimes they can’t tell the difference between reality and what they imagine or watch on digital media.
  • They will still enjoy pretend play, which can become more complex. Tamariki are likely to try acting out different adult roles.

In Whakatipu booklets Te Māhuri 1 and Te Māhuri 2, ‘Ngā mahi a whānau’ on the purple pages 10 to 17, there are many ideas for playing and learning together as whānau go about their daily lives. Look at all the learning for tamariki when whānau join in the fun.

This Parenting Resource is also full of ideas for playing together with tamariki at every age and stage.

Further information

  • Child and Adolescent Health Service. (2011, revised 2013). Child development 3–4 years. Department of Health, Government of Western Australia. in new window 

  • Child and Adolescent Health Service. (2012, revised 2013). Child development 4–5 years. Department of Health, Government of Western Australia. in new window

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