Stages of Play Table

What are the Stages of Play and Why Play is Essential for Development

Play and Development 

Play is essential for children’s development. It allows them to learn about the world around them, and helps them develop important skills that they will need later in life. When children are playing, they are learning about maths and engineering, they learn about science, they learn and work on problem solving and conflict resolution, decision-making, social skills, and they learn about working alone or with others.


It is important to note that as a child grows, they will go through different types of play. In knowing this, we'll be better able to appreciate each stage of their development in a more meaningful way. Did you already know about these different stages of play? A researcher Mildred Parten observed children at play and developed a summary of the stages of social play for children. Let’s go through them!

Unoccupied play (Birth-3 months)

Baby Playing with Feet
  • At this stage, babies start learning to move their arms and legs, discovering how their body parts move! Babies will also become very observant of the world around them!

Solitary Play, (Birth- 2 years)

  • You will notice children will often play on their own, and are not as interested in playing with other people. A child playing with this wooden train engine toy and having fun on their own is a perfect example of solitary play!

Onlooker/Spectator Play, (2 years)

  • Children will enjoy observing other kids play, but will not necessarily join them. Although common around 2 years of age, this stage can occur at any time!

Parallel Play (2+ years)

  • Around this age, you will often find kids will play next to each other, but not necessarily have much involvement with each other, hence the term parallel play!

Associate Play (2-4 years)

  • Children start to become more interested in playing with others, however they still don’t have a great amount of interaction with each other.

Cooperative/Social Play (4+ years)

  • At this stage, children are interested in both interacting with people and the given activity at hand.
  • When in a group, you will often see children assigned different roles, their play is more organised around more specific tasks, and they are trying to achieve goals set by the group.
  • It is important to start teaching children the concept of winning/losing around this stage e.g. playing a game together whereby someone wins/loses. Jenga is a great example this, whereby you can enjoy this game as a family, and can start to teach kids the concept of winning/losing in a safe environment at home.
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