Development of symbolic game

The following remarks are taken from: Peter Hanke,Gestaltungsmöglichkeiten für taktile Bilderbücher - Vorgestellt an einem taktilen Bilderbuch für blinde und sehbehinderte Kinder im Alter von 3 bis 6 Jahren - Darlegung des Konzepts unter wahrnehmungsphysiologischen, pädagogischen, technischen und entwicklungspsychologischen Aspekten, Marburg 2006


With respect to the development of playing behaviour, Jean Piaget differentiates between three consecutive categories of games: games of exercise, symbolic and with rules.

Describing children's forms of playing four dimensions can be distinguished: object dimension, representation, social dimension and complexity.

Object dimension describes primarily the way how a child handles toys and everyday objects. Here the sequence reaches from playing without any objects - hence merely body-related - towards the use of an object until the simultaneous use of several objects.


  • merely body-related playing (with feet and hands), oral exploration of objects
  • unplanned handling of objects
  • targeted exploration and testing of objects (attention to details)
  • function-oriented playing (e.g. use of clothes pegs at a line)
  • construction games (building, handicrafts)

Referring to tactile books especially targeted exploration and testing of items as well as functional playing are interesting.

The dimension of representation describes the relation to reality in childly playing. Here it matters whether the child uses real or fictitious objects and situations and also, which role the child assumes in relation to the game objects, situations and actions. Initially children mostly just use real objects or miniatures of real objects for symbolic actions like drinking from a cup or stirring soup. With increasing stage of development more substitute objects are used in symbolic games, objects whose form and function are decreasingly alike real models. In other words, while a child initially still needs a toy sword in order to play knights, later on a stick will be sufficient; eventually the child will be able to give up the use of any real objects und perform the action just imaginarily.

Analogously works the development with reenacting real situations from the child's everyday experience (shopping, baking) towards playing and inventing fictive situations (flying an airplane or a spacecraft).

Initially the symbolic playing of a child is merely self-related, which means that the child himself performs all the actions and relates them to himself (e.g. drinking from a cup). Later on other persons will be included. Those will at first assume a passive role, later on the other person (e.g. a doll) will be given a more active role. Finally two ore even more substitute figures will interact with each other, the child will just assume the role of the "stage director", who puts the figures into an acting relation with each other (e.g. lets cowboys and Indians fight each other).

The dimension of complexity adheres to the question, how far game situations are related to each other. Initially the child strings together separate activities in an incoherent way. Then game activities will be put into a sequence (e.g. set up the table before eating with the doll). Finally the game actions will happen on different levels related to each other and ordered in an hierarchical structure (e.g. a flight in a spacecraft with different incidents happening during the journey).

Delayed development of symbolic game with blind children

Studies of blind children's playing indicate delays. It seems like their playing remains longer related to their own body and their operations with objects keep being oral and less differentiated.  Their object games are described as stereotype and less function-oriented than with sighted children. There are development delays with function-oriented playing with objects, with relational games that put several objects in relation with each other as well as presumably with construction games. Especially with symbolic games related to others, where children reenact situations related to other persons (as e.g. feeding a doll), delays of approximately two years have been observed.

From there we can understand the lacking ability of blind children to imagine or represent themselves as a person. Correspondingly a delayed correct use of the personal pronouns "I" and "you" and therefore the linguistic representation of the own person have been noticed.

These delays do not mean a retarded development of blind children's intelligence. For blind children it is much more difficult to comprehend similarities of game objects with correspondent real objects. While sighted children can use dolls, stuffed animals and other miniatures mostly because of their optical similarity with the real objects, for blind children this similarity is much less noticeable. Since the tactile, acoustic, odour and taste impressions of the toys differ much more from the originals. Therefore congenitally blind children must achieve a higher conceptual level for representative symbolic games than sighted children, because for them it's much more difficult to detect similarities between symbolic and real objects. Symbolic games with highly dissimilar substitutes, however, even sighted children usually do not perform before late pre-school age.

Symbolic game is an important step in cognitive development. It is an important outlet in order to handle new impressions and to develop thinking in new conceptual categories. It seems to be predominantly important for the development of the concept of personal representation.

Since congenitally blind children have more difficulties in order to create similarity relations between symbolic and real objects, they should be given appropriate training materials. Tactile picture books, employed as training materials for small children, should therefore facilitate symbolic access to real objects.