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Stages of play

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The six stages of play during early childhood were first introduced by Mildred Parten in the late 1920s. These play stages emphasize the connection between learning how to play and learning how to interact with others. 

Unoccupied stages of play

Ages: birth-3 months

At this stage, babies tend to be exploring how their bodies move. This typically is when a baby is making movements with their arms, legs, feet, and hands. For example, the child is laying on their back on the floor kicking their legs up in the sky or reaching out in front of themself with their hands. 

Solitary (Independent) stages of play:

Ages: Birth – 2 years

At this stage, children are playing independently and are not interested in engaging with others during their play. For example, the child is building a block tower and is completely engrossed in the activity. 

Onlooker play:

Ages: 2 years

At this stage, children are observing and watching their peers or others play, yet do not engage in playing with them. For example, the child may be speaking to another child but they’re merely watching the other child play.

Parallel stages of play:

Ages: 2+ years

During this stage children tend to play alongside or near other children, yet still do not engage in another child’s play. Typically children can be seen to be imitating each other during play. For example, one child is using a cup and pretending to drink and the other child is imitating this same action of drinking out of the cup. 

Associative play:

Ages: 3-4 years

During this stage, children are starting to interact with each other, but not completing the same activity together. For example, two children might be building lego towers and talking to each other, but they are not building the tower together. 

Cooperative stages of play:

Ages: 4+ years

During this stage, children start to fully cooperate and engage with each other and the activity they are completing. Two children may be building a lego tower together or maybe completing a puzzle together. 

Play stages are important as they help parents and educators learn how to best support children to move through each stage. By observing children throughout their early years we can continue to help them develop their sense of self and sense of others around them. 

A few tips for working on stages of play with your child:

  1. Allow your child to explore new materials and resources independently. Children may want to touch, smell, taste, or listen to the object in their hand, that is ok! It is helpful to let children use their senses to explore. 
  2. Provide a variety of objects to explore. Objects that have various different functions will help your child discover and become motivated to play with the toy. 
  3. Let your child lead! It is important that we do not set expectations for how we think our child should play. Allow them to do as they wish with the object. 
  4. Be present and engaged in your child’s play, you are a truly great resource for your child to learn from! 

Resource: https://pathways.org/kids-learn-play-6-stages-play-development/

Top tip: Children will move through various stages of play development and they might not always meet the specific age stated above. It is ok if your child is not meeting every play stage, you can help support them through each developmental stage with various activities.

Types of play