The Emergence of Functional Play in Infants: Evidence for a Major Cognitive Transition*

Sixty-four infants, eight boys and eight girls at each of four ages, 95’2, 1 l%, 13%, and 15% months, were observed during a 15minute free ploy session. Three types of play (stereotypical, relational, and functional) and the number of appropriate uses for specific realistic toys were recorded. Stereotypical play (87% of total active play at 9% months) gave way to relational (35% at 13% months) and functional play (52% at 15% months) as the dominant activity. Both functional play and the number of different appropriate uses of toys were rare at 9’/2 months, appeared reliably at 11’1’2 months and increased lineraly through 15% months. A change in the quality of ploy from indiscriminate mouthing, waving, banging, and fingering of objects to the matching of appropriate uses for a large array of toys indicates that the child’s manipulations become more object specific and functional over this o-month age span. Among possible explanations for the linear increase in the frequency and diversity of appropriate toy uses is the suggestion that an important cognitive change occurs toward the end of the first year of life. A case study is presented to illustrate the application of the play procedure for both assessment and treatment.

Sixty-four infants, eight boys and eight girls at each of four ages, 95’2, 1 l%, 13%, and 15% months, were observed during a 15minute free ploy session. Three types of play (stereotypical, relational, and functional) and the number of appropriate uses for specific realistic toys were recorded. Stereotypical play (87% of total active play at 9% months) gave way to relational (35% at 13% months) and functional play (52% at 15% months) as the dominant activity. Both functional play and the number of different appropriate uses of toys were rare at 9’/2 months, appeared reliably at 11’1’2 months and increased lineraly through 15% months. A change in the quality of ploy from indiscriminate mouthing, waving, banging, and fingering of objects to the matching of appropriate uses for a large array of toys indicates that the child’s manipulations become more object specific and functional over this o-month age span. Among possible explanations for the linear increase in the frequency and diversity of appropriate toy uses is the suggestion that an important cognitive change occurs toward the end of the first year of life. A case study is presented to illustrate the application of the play procedure for both assessment and treatment.

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