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Stages of Play: When & How Children Learn to Play with Others

Play is a fun way to pass time, but it's also essential to development. Something as basic as stacking & knocking over blocks allows infants to explore mathematical & scientific concepts such as geometry, physics, gravity & balance just to name a few! The below โ€œStages of Playโ€ were first proposed by Mildred Parten in 1932 & have been studied by researchers ever since.

๐—จ๐—ป๐—ผ๐—ฐ๐—ฐ๐˜‚๐—ฝ๐—ถ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ: ๐Ÿฌ-๐Ÿฏ ๐— ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ต๐˜€

It may not seem like it, but the โ€˜randomโ€™ flailing helps babies discover how their bodies move, marking the very beginning of play.

๐—ฆ๐—ผ๐—น๐—ถ๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜†: ๐Ÿฌ-๐Ÿฎ ๐—ฌ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€

Children are focused on their own activity & either uninterested or unaware of what others may be doing.

๐—ฆ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ฐ๐˜๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ผ๐—ฟ: ~๐Ÿฎ ๐—ฌ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€

A child observes others but doesn't engage with them. They may interact socially (making conversation about the play) but make no effort to join in.

๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—น๐—น๐—ฒ๐—น: ๐Ÿฎ+ ๐—ฌ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€

Children play alongside (but not with) another child. They're often aware of one another, mimicking play styles or incorporating aspects of anotherโ€™s activities into their own.

๐—”๐˜€๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ฐ๐—ถ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ: ~๐Ÿฏ-๐Ÿฐ ๐—ฌ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€

There may be lots of interaction during play, but it is not organised/synchronised in any way. E.g., kids may play on the same equipment but doing different things (climbing, swinging).

๐—–๐—ผ๐—ผ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ: ๐Ÿฐ+ ๐—ฌ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€

A child is engaged with both an activity AND people. Cooperative play requires an understanding of self & interpersonal group dynamics โ€“ rarely seen in children younger than preschool age.

Are these stages universal? Unlikely. There's also some disagreement amongst researchers about whether these stages comprise a sequence or simply describe styles of play. Are toddlers really unable to play cooperatively? Is solitary play in older children actually less common?

Alternative explanations suggest that types of play are influenced by other circumstances, such as how comfortable a child is or how well the children playing know one another. The most important thing is that your child has lots of time to play in ways that challenge & excite them!

References: Parten 1932; Dyer & Moneta 2006

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