Play

Researcher Mildred Parten identified six stages of play typically seen during early childhood. While every child is different and may progress through these stages differently, it can be helpful to know approximately what to expect during the early childhood years. Let’s take a look at the stages:

  1. Unoccupied Play: During this stage, the child is exploring their environment with no clear focus or social interaction. Unoccupied play helps a child learn about their own bodies and movement, as well as to stimulate their visual and tactile systems.
  2. Solitary Play: During this stage, the child plays on their own. You may notice very little interest in toys not in their immediate play area.
  3. Onlooker Play: During this stage, the child watches other children play. They do not get involved in the play, they simply observe.
  4. Parallel Group Play: During this stage, the child plays next to or near peers. They may share materials, but they will not share the same play goals.
  5. Associative Group Play: During this stage, the child begins to recognize the peers nearby playing. The child may begin to copy a peer or share materials. In this stage, we see the emergence of awareness of others’ play.
  6. Cooperative Group Play: During this stage, the child engages with both the peers and the materials. They will have the same play goals, and collaborate during play.

Observing your child’s main play stage can you help think about what skills they need to reach the next stage. Play is best when it is child-led! Play is how our children learn to make sense of their world, so let’s get playing!

Parten, M. B. (1932). Social participation among pre-school children. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27(3), 243–269. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0074524

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