stages of play

All About The Stages of Play Development

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Have you ever wondered if your child is at the correct level of play? Do you even know what to expect while your child’s play develops? Let’s look at the stages of play development and learn how you can enrich your child’s play to its fullest!

As a child develops, they reach a different level of play. This form of development is often not thought about among us moms, but it is an extremely important aspect of a child’s well-being. 

Mildred Parten discovered 6 different stages of play development that are all based on social interactions. Thanks to her, we can better understand how the development of play takes place.

Stages of Play Development

  • Unoccupied Play – Newborn
  • Solitary Play – several months old to 2 years. 
  • Spectator Play – 2 to 2 1/2
  • Parallel Play – age 3
  • Associate Play – Ages 3 to 4
  • Cooperative Play – Age 4 and over

Unoccupied Play

This stage begins at birth and your child will not appear to be playing. However, they are observing and consuming the world around them. There are just so many amazing things for those little eyes to consume! 

Have you ever seen a baby being mesmerized by a ceiling fan? They just love staring at the motion. 

Fun Fact: Newborns can only see 8 to 15 inches away!

Encourage Unoccupied Play: Since newborns are not able to see far away bring safe items closer to them to see. They LOVE looking at your face, so make sure to get all that mushy baby talk in! 

Newborns are also drawn to items with high-contrast. Items with stripes or two different colors. Like this toy for instants. 

Stages of Play
They may be playing alone, but it's exactly where they want to be during this stage of play.

Solitary Play

Solitary play can begin once your child is several months old and it continues until they reach the age of 2. You’ll know your child is in this stage of play development because they choose to play alone. They don’t show much interest in other children.

Encourage Solitary Play: During this stage of play, expose your child to different objects that are safe for them to play with. 

Let them explore different textures and colors. Again, high-contrast toys are still great during this period. 

Spectator Play

Usually begins between the ages of two and two-and-a-half. Your child will enjoy watching other children play. They rather not interact with them, but they are extremely interested in watching them. 

Parallel Play

Children, around the age of three, decide to take a step closer. They still avoid interaction but enjoy playing alongside other children. 

Encourage Spectator and Parallel Play: Take your child to different areas where children play. This can be a park, a library, or even to their cousins house. 

Expose them to other children so they can observe them playing. Do this often, especially if your child is an only child. 

Stages of Play

Associate Play

Ages 3-4 This is when the fun begins and you’ll start to see your child interact more. You’ll know your child is in this stage of play development if they are playing with other kids, and they have the same intentions of play. Children in this stage also enjoy playing with mixed groups of children. Meaning, they will play with both, girls and boys.

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play is the last stage of play development. It occurs at the age of four and continues. Once these children reach primary school age, they become more aware of their options and will most likely choose to play with children of the same sex. During their play, children will encourage each other and have the same intentions of play. 

Encourage Associate and Cooperative Play: Again, exposing your child to other children is key. 

Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Join a homeschooling co-op
  • Participate in some library programs
  • Sign them up for a sport
  • House a play-date – Moms, don’t be afraid to ask another mom to exchange phone numbers!

Stages of play development are often not thought of when we think about a child’s development and I can understand why. There are so many other things to consider when we think about our child’s well-being. Some of the ways to encourage it may even seem like common sense, but how often do you think about it? Tell me in the comments below!

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