Parents’ Guide to the Stages of Play

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Young children develop their social skills through the six stages of play, all of which are important for their development. All of the stages of play involve exploring, being creative, and having fun. This list explains how children’s play changes by age as they grow and develop social skills.

Unoccupied Play (Birth-3 Months):

At this stage baby is just making a lot of movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.

Solitary Play (Birth-2 Years):

This is the stage when a child plays alone. They are not interested in playing with others quite yet.

Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years):

During this stage a child begins to watch other children playing but does not play with them.

Parallel Play (2+ Years):

When a child plays alongside or near others but does not play with them this stage is referred to as parallel play.

Associate Play (3-4 Years):

When a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of interaction at this stage. A child might be doing an activity related to the kids around him, but might not actually be interacting with another child. For example, kids might all be playing on the same piece of playground equipment but all doing different things like climbing, swinging, etc.

Cooperative Play (4+ years):

When a child plays together with others and has interest in both the activity and other children involved in playing they are participating in cooperative play.

These stages are general guidelines for what to expect of your child’s play skills, but remember every child is different and if you have concerns bring them up with your healthcare provider. For more information on play and the important life skills children develop through play visit our play page.