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Day 2 - Stages of Play

Day 2 - Stages of Play

Alexis Ralphs Sep 28 • 7 min read

Does your child like to play alone? Or do they enjoy engaging with others?

The answer has as much to do with age as with personality type.

One influential idea is that as children mature they progress through stages of play. The theory was originally proposed by Mildred Parten, an American researcher.

Unoccupied play – This first stage is not really play at all. The child simply stands, observing.

Solitary play – Common in toddlers. You'll often see them playing alone, uninterested in what others are doing.

Onlooker play - Your child watches others play, without joining in. They may discuss the play but they don't take part.

Parallel play - This is play alongside others, enjoying the same activity, but without interacting. Think of two children both building with blocks but not communicating.

Associative play – Children start to talk to each other about their play. They share their excitement, but there is no formal structure.

Cooperative play – At this, the highest stage, children organise their play. Games have rules and each child has a role.

It's clear that there's a progression from the first stage to the last, but the theory has its critics. Children don't seem to progress through the stages in a linear way. They can be onlookers one day and participants the next. Much of this has to do with the familiarity of their playmates.

Can you see how the theory of constructivism (see Day 1) fits well with the earlier stages? Children play alone and make their own discoveries. And the higher levels are socio-constructivist. Children learn by playing together and from each other.

Today's challenge:

Just observe.
What kinds of play does your child usually engage in? Do they play at a higher stage when in familiar company? You can't force your child to play at a 'higher' level than they are ready for, but by sitting alongside them, you can give them the confidence to try something new.

Here's the rest of the series:


Day 1 - Theories of Development

Day 2 - Stages of Play

Day 3 - Play is Multisensory

Day 4 - Gender-Neutral Toys

Day 5 - The Zone of Proximal Development

Day 6 - Heuristic Play

Day 7 - Spot the Difference

Day 8 - Sorting

Day 9 - Schemas

Day 10 - Ask good questions

Day 11 - Conservation

Day 12 - Seriation

Day 13 - Observation

Day 14 - Set a good example

Day 15 - Fewer toys = more focus

Day 16 - The Hundred Languages of Children

Day 17 - Plan-do-review

Day 18 - Practical life

Day 19 - Free-flow play

Day 20 - Executive functions

Day 21 - Spaced repetition

Day 22 - Independent play

Day 23 - Project-based Learning

Day 24 - The Environment As The Third Teacher

Day 25 - Start With The Child

Day 26 - Symbolic Play

Day 27 - Learning To Write

Day 28 - Blocks: the indispensable toy

Day 29 - Outdoor Learning

Day 30 - Play

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