10 Real-life Examples Of Functional Play In Kids

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team

Play is a significant part of a child’s developing years. A child goes through multiple stages of play during the developing years. According to Mildred Parten Newhall, play is divided into six stages: unoccupied play, solitary play, onlooker play, parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play. 

Additionally, Jean Piaget divided play into four broad categories, namely functional play, constructive play, symbolic play, and playing games with rules. As the child grows, the child passes from one play stage to another and develops physically and cognitively. 

The initial two social stages of Parten’s theory are similar to Piaget’s first stage, which is functional play- our topic of discussion for this article. 

Functional play is playing with toys or objects according to their original purpose. Children engage in functional play around 9-12 months of age, where infants refine their motor skills and intentionally explore objects using their senses. 

Functional play is highly crucial for the development of growing infants. It helps refine the infant’s developing motor skills and helps infants make sense of the world through their senses. 

Let’s uncover some real-life examples of infants commonly engaging in functional play.

Functional play in real-life 

1. Rolling the toy car down the ramp 

Rolling the toy car down the ramp 

The intended function of a toy car is to drive the car here and there, and that’s what infants do during the functional play stage. Driving toy cars on flat surfaces, down the ramps, or up the hills.  

2. Kicking the football 

Kicking the football 

Infants kick the football from here and there and engage in an imagined football match. Infants kick the football without any intended purpose; they kick because that’s the right way to play with a football. 

3. Hitting the ball with a bat

Hitting the ball with a bat

Playing with a bat and ball is a common example of functional play in infants. Infants hit the stationary ball with their bat and try to hit it fast and strong so that the ball can go as far as possible. Further, infants follow the ball and hit it with the bat repeatedly. 

4. Coloring using crayons or other colors 

Coloring using crayons or other colors 

Coloring is a common gaming activity that every child prefers to engage in. Coloring is a highly common form of functional play, where children draw anything with the available colors to try to fill the colors in the image provided. 

5. Using a toy phone to talk to imaginary people 

Using a toy phone to talk to imaginary people 

Infants play with toy mobile phones where they put the receiver near their ears and talk to imaginary people such as their parents and caregivers. Infants even ask their parents to talk through their toy phones to that imaginary person. 

6. Using interlocking blocks to build a tower or castles

Using interlocking blocks to build a tower or castles

Block games are highly popular among infants. Infants connect interlocking blocks to build towers or castles, in a way as they are intended to be used. Interlocking blocks can be used to build multiple things and infants generally use them right and build the appropriate things.   

7. Using books to view images 

Using books to view images 

Infants in their functional play are too young to read books. However, that doesn’t stop the infants from viewing the books and going through the images present in the books. Children’s storybooks are full of intriguing images. Therefore, infants engage themselves more in those kinds of books. Social skills books also include images and are a great way for children to engage in functional play. 

Any other book with attractive images, such as magazines, also interests infants. 

8. Dressing up the dolls 

 Dressing up the dolls 

Dolls and doll house games are other examples of functional play. Infants dress up their dolls, comb their hair, put their makeup on, etc., and organize their party in their dollhouse or carry the dolls with them.

9. Crashing the two trucks into each other 

Crashing the two trucks into each other 

Car or truck game sets are other examples of toys infants use during functional play. Infants run their trucks from one place to another, crash them into each other, or save them from near-crashes. 

10. Pushing a doll in the play stroller 

 Pushing a doll in the play stroller 

Play strollers are used for carrying babies from one place to another. Infants lay their dolls or other toys in the stroller and push them, just like parents push their babies in the play stroller. 

What makes functional play important?

Functional play is highly crucial for the development of infants. When infants engage in functional play, they learn about the cause-and-effect phenomenon. For instance, a child kicking a football on the wall will bounce back. Hence, every action (cause) has some effects. 

Functional play contributes to the overall development of the child, and that’s what makes functional play important. 

Exploring the benefits of functional play

Some key benefits of the functional play area-

1. Identifying objects 

Infants during the functional play stage identify the object for what it is. They will identify a block as the piece it is and that can be combined with other blocks to build a castle. According to a study[1], from 9 and half years to 15 and half years, infants engage in more object-specific and functionally appropriate play that increases both in terms of generality and frequency of games. 

2. Hand-eye coordination 

Functional play is a great opportunity to refine the hand-eye coordination of infants. Games or activities involving hand-eye coordination come in handy in functional play. When children engage in any functional play, say, joining a puzzle, infants actively use their hands and eyes to carry out the activity.

3. Develop social skills 

Infants engage with others, such as parents or caregivers, to express their thoughts or feelings; functional play boosts this process. For instance, a child might want to express that the ball has gone too far and want the caregiver to return it. It will encourage the infant to engage in social skills. 

4. Motor skills 

Functional play is important for developing infants’ gross and fine motor skills. Parents can initiate games or activities to boost fine motor skills in infants by making infants engage in functional play. For instance, infants strengthen their muscles when a child runs the car down the ramp or swings the bat to hit the ball. According to a study[1], locomotion and fine motor skills develop around 11 months of birth, which is marked by functional play. 

Concluding thoughts 

Functional play is also known as “first play,” as it happens first in the growing child’s life. A child first learns the real use of the object, then expands cognitive skills and identifies the multiple uses of the same object. 

Functional play is important for development purposes and helps refine fine and gross motor skills, stimulates the use of senses to understand the world, enhances oral communication skills, problem-solving skills, etc.

Parents should encourage their infants to engage in functional play and make the environment suitable. It will help ensure that the child grows and develops according to age. 


  1. Zelazo, Philip & Kearsley, Richard. (1980). The Emergence of Functional Play in Infants: Evidence for a Major Cognitive Transition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 1. 95-117. 10.1016/0193-3973(80)90002-7. 

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