Types of Play as your child grows

Children love to play because it’s fun—but it’s also vital to a child’s healthy development. In fact, during play, children learn and practice key social, cognitive, organisational, physical, and emotional skills, including creativity, imagination, and problem-solving. The benefits of play are progressive in nature, meaning that the skills kids develop during their fun and games build upon each other.

Seemingly simple activities like rolling a ball back and forth with a sibling or putting on a costume hone skills like learning to take turns, fine motor skills, proprioception (awareness of the body in space), and getting along with others. Influential sociologist Mildred Parten was an early advocate for the benefits of play. Her work described six essential types of play that kids take part in, depending on their age, mood, and social setting, and explained the ways that children learn and interact with each other during play.

Descriptions and typical ages that each stage of play emerge are included below. However, every child develops at their own pace and may engage in these types of play earlier or later. Plus, while these stages are progressive, they often occur simultaneously and stick around while new stages come about.

Unoccupied Play – Unoccupied play primarily occurs in infants, from birth to three months. This is the first stage of play, and to the untrained eye, likely doesn’t look like play at all. However, infant activity of observing their surroundings and/or displaying random movements with seemingly no objective is actually unoccupied play. Despite appearances, this definitely is play and sets the stage for future play exploration.

Solitary (Independent) Play – Solitary play is just what it sounds like—your child playing alone. This type of play is important because it teaches a child how to keep themself entertained, eventually setting the path to being self-sufficient. Toys for independent play can be anything that babies, toddlers, or pre-schoolers play can play with on their own, such as stuffed animals, blocks, toy figures, dress-up costumes, noisemakers, play ‘tools’, dolls, push toys, and books.

Onlooker Play – Onlooker play is when a child simply observes other children playing and doesn’t partake in the action. Your child may watch what you or other adults are doing as well. Onlooker play is typical for children between two and three years old and is especially common for younger children who are working on their developing vocabulary. Don’t dismiss the importance of this stage, which builds on the previous ones. It’s a healthy form of learning through play and part of your child’s play journey. It could be that the child feels tentative, needs to learn the rules, and/or maybe is the youngest and wants just to take a step back for a while to watch before joining in play with others. Watching helps them gain confidence and learn the framework for future stages of play. During onlooker play, by observing and possibly mimicking the play of others, your child is building their own skills.

Parallel Play – Put two 3-year-olds in a room together and this is what you are likely to see: the two children having fun, playing side by side in their own little worlds. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like one another, they are just engaging in parallel play. This type of play begins around age two and differs from playing together in that neither child tries to influence the play of the other.

Associative Play – Slightly different from parallel play, associative play, which commonly begins between ages three or four, also features children playing separately from one another. But in this mode of play, they are involved with what the other is doing—think children building a city with blocks. As they build their individual buildings, they are talking to one another and engaging each other but primarily working on their own. Typically, this form of play phases out by age five.

Cooperative Play – Co-operative play is where all the stages come together and children truly start playing together. Typically occurring between four and five years of age, this is the predominant type of play seen in groups of older pre-schoolers on up or in younger pre-schoolers who have older siblings or have been around a lot of children. However, the earlier stages of play will still be used to varying degrees by these children at other times as well. Co-operative play uses all of the social skills your child has been working on and puts them into action.

Other Types of Play – While the above stages are important and vital to your child’s social development, there are other key types of play that also contribute to a child’s development. These kinds of play usually show up once a child begins to engage in cooperative play and include the following: Competitive Play, Constructive Play, Dramatic/ Fantasy Play, Physical Play and Symbolic Play.

Read the full article for greater explanations of each type of play  by following the link here.

Article Author & Source – Rock, Amanda (2021). 11 Important Types of Play As Your Child Grows Retrieved from verywellfamily.com/types-of-play-2764587