Partners & Parents

The Different Types & Stages of Play

05 November, 2018 | DD Staff
  • The Different Types & Stages of Play
Image Credit: Verywell

You’ve probably heard the term “child’s play”. Something that’s easily accomplished. It makes it sound so simple, but to quote Maria Montessori, “Play is the work of the child”.

Play is a child’s way of learning, expressing emotions and understanding the world around them. It’s their primary way of developing social skills, learning to solve problems and having fun.

It important to understand the different types of play and Daddy’s Digest is giving you a quick overview, based on Mildred Parten Newhall’s theory from 1929. Remember that the age groups are estimates.

The Stages 

Unoccupied Play 

(Birth - 3 months) Your baby will make seemingly random movements with no apparent purpose. Everything is new to your child and despite seeming random, it is setting the stage for future exploration.

Solitary Play 

(3 - 18 months) Your child will spend time playing by themselves. They haven’t developed the social and cognitive skills to play with other children.

Onlooker Play 

(Around age 2, but common at any age)?? ?????They will spend time observing but will not participate. They may ask questions of other children but will not make an effort to join in. They are learning by watching and listening.

Parallel Play 

(2 - 3 years) Your child will play side by side with other children, with similar toys. The lack of group interaction is completely normal and is the first step in learning how to play with others.

Associative Play 

(3 - 4 years) They will become more interested in other children. They will begin to play in groups, with the same toys but will lack any formal rules and organization. This means they will play together but won’t work together.

Cooperative Play 

(4 - 5 years) Children start playing in groups and working together. They begin to share toys, ideas and follow rules. Groups have leaders and children can be “in” or “out” of the group.

Parents need to encourage, actively participate, provide the necessary materials and organize positive outlets for their children to play. 

It is also important to remember that a child's age and stage of development dictates their type of play. If your child is 2-3 years old and is only capable of parallel play, enrolling them in a soccer academy won't yield the desired results. They do not possess the social, cognitive and physical skills required for cooperative play.

Your child needs to have Physical (running, jumping), Constructive (build & create), Expressive (art, music) and Fantasy (role playing) types of play. Digital games which can negatively impact their social skills and attention spans should be as limited as possible.

For more information on Helping Your Baby’s Growth & Development, Developmental Concerns or any other Infant/Toddler questions you may have.

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