The Role of Play in a Child’s Development.

October 11, 2016 Uncategorized 0 Comments

The role of play in the development of young children is an important part of the learning process. Study has shown that when children engage in an active playtime, they learn motor skills, social development, interactions and emotional well-being. This is why ensuring your child has ample time to play, is an important part of a parent’s duties.

As children grow, they go through distinct stages of playing that show how they are changing developmentally. The different ways that your child plays and the people your child plays with, can give you insight on how he is growing. You will be amazed by how much your baby’s intellects, coordination and confidence develops with each passing month.

Children’s play change as they develop by going through six (6) distinct stages that generally, but not always, correspond to their ages:

Stage 1: Unoccupied play

The child is seemingly not engaged or actively playing with others at all. They may remain stationary and be engaged in random movements with no objective. This stage of play is mostly seen in newborns and infants, between the ages of 0 and 2 years. This is an important setting stage for future play – exploration and development.

Stage 2: Spectator Play (Observer or Onlooker)

Infants engage in what is called “onlooker” or “observant” play up to about 12 months of age. They prefer to sit on your lap and watch other children at play, rather than engage in the play themselves. He will notice what another child is doing, but will be content to watch without joining in. He shows interest in what is happening by pointing or squealing, but would prefer to do it from the safety of your laps, instead of playing along with other children and adults. Infants are fascinated by those around them, and learn who they can rely on to feed, entertain and soothe them by observing.

Stage 3: Solitary Play

For the first 2 years of your child’s life, he will show little interest in playing with other babies. He will remain mostly solitary when it comes to playing with toys and games, despite your best efforts to arrange play dates and spend time with other children. Around the age of 12 months, children begin focusing on learning about and engaging in the world through their senses. Solitary play allows children to explore the world by touching, tasting and grabbing at toys, people and objects. Children between the ages of 1 and 2 are simply too interested in the world around them and have very little inclination to play socially; you will notice a lot of banging, noise-making and imitation during playtime. They also discover relationships between their bodies and the environment, and learn about cause and effect through solitary play. Solitary play is common at a young age because cognitive, physical and social skills have yet to fully develop. This type of play is important because it also teaches children how to entertain themselves.

Stage 4: Parallel Play

Parallel play occurs between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. Your child may see another playing, and sit down to play next to her. The children, if they are the same age, may not even acknowledge each other, but are happy to play separately alongside each other. At this age, your 3-year-old child lacks the skills to effectively play with another child, and doesn’t comprehend cooperation as a way to play, so he is content to engage in parallel play with another child, instead. Around the age of 2 to 3 years, children become more aware of the people in their world, and move from solitary play to parallel play. Toddlers at this stage enjoy exploring their environment, as they play independently with toys, they start to see themselves as part of a social group, yet still remain reclusive in their thinking. They enjoy playing next to other children with the same game or activity, but they may not interact or play together. For example, two toddlers may play with building blocks at the same time, but they typically don’t talk about what they are doing or build a project together. Instead they work on building their own structure separate from each other.

Stage 5: Associative Play

Between the ages of 3 and 4 your preschooler will begin to see the merit in playing with another child. Interaction with another child through play may be initially short-lived, as your child tests his boundaries and explores playing with another. You may see two children play separately for a while, and then come together for a short time to play a game that takes cooperation, like tossing a ball back and forth. They may then separate and play on their own.

From age 3, they develop more interest in their peers and have more skills to interact successfully with others than they did at age 2. At this point, most children will engage in associative play, they may not work together at the same game, but they like to watch and imitate those around them.

Stage 6: Cooperative Play

At 4 years, your child is ready to learn to play willingly with other children and work together towards a common goal. School age children typically have social skills that children younger than 3 years have not yet acquired, and begin to form friendships as they enter the stage of cooperative play. At this stage children finally begin talking and working together during play. Through cooperative play, there is one clear leader in the group and the play is structured, like playing school with friends. They learn to compromise and will seek help from adults to resolve conflicts. They are able to play elaborate games with rules, and can enjoy organized sports or board games.

At the Baby Lounge, we know that play is an important part of every child’s day. It is where they learn to work together, expand their vocabulary and bring their imaginations to life.

We place priority in ensuring our kids enjoy many forms of play throughout their school day. To begin and end each day, the children experience free play where they can use their classroom supplies without structure. Throughout the day, our carers lead various forms of play to encourage language development, reinforce math skills and encourage teamwork.

It is exciting to see the different stages demonstrated in our classrooms as the children grow into cooperative play and more detailed imaginative play, the older they get! Because play is closely tied to the cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor development of young children, it continues to be an important part of our early childhood programs.




The classic study of how play develops in children was carried out by Mildred Parten in the late 1920s at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota. (Parten, 1933)



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