Children and Play: Stages of Play in Early Childhood

Stages of Play in Early Childhood

As parents, we must have noticed that very young children do not differentiate between play and work. It is we adults, who have come up with classifications of ‘play’ and ‘work’. For children, everything is a play. This is something that we adults can learn from children. Would life not be wonderful if work is a game that we enjoyed playing?

Having said that research has shown that there are many advantages of playing games and sports. Children, depending on their age, go through different stages of playing. There is a correspondence between the development of social, emotional, communication and cognitive skills and the type of play the child is engaging in. In general, children tend to start playing alone and gradually start playing with other children and eventually engage in playing more complex games and sports where they have designated roles.

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Stages of Play in Early Childhood: Solitary Play

Between 0 to 1.5-2 Years of age, children largely tend to play alone with their toys. They are not very interested in knowing what other children are playing with. Solitary play helps children explore the environment around them[1]. In this play, they are actively using their sensory organs to explore the objects in their environment by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling[2] etc.

Children and play: Stages of Play in Early Childhood
A Child engaged in Solitary Play
Solitary Play helps in:
  1. Stimulating brain activity and the formation of synapses[3]
  2. Development of major Senses and Sensory Organs
  3. Development of Fine Motor Skills
  4. Development of Cognitive Skills such as Object Recognition, Relationship between Objects, basic ideas of Language etc.

Stages of Play in Early Childhood: Parallel Play

This form of play is usually observed in children between the ages of 2-3 years. In this form of play, the children sit alongside other children but play on their own. Even if the child is playing on his own, he observes and watches the children around him[4].

Children and Play: Stages of Play in Early Childhood
Children engaged in Parallel Play
Parallel Play helps develop:
  1. Language Skills
  2. Social Skills including building Relationships
  3. Gross and Fine Motor Skills
  4. Increases Confidence in the Child
  5. Communication Skills
Stages of Play in Early Childhood: Pretend Play

Parents must have noticed that children love to pretend. This behaviour typically starts before 18 Months and can continue up to 10 years[5]. They sometimes pretend that they have imaginary friends and talk with them. They sometimes pretend to be Mummy or Daddy or a Doctor or Bus Driver etc. They can convincingly conjure up a fantastical and magical world. This is an important form of play and should be encouraged as it has a lot of benefits[6].

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Children and Play: Stages of Play in Early Childhood
A Child Pretending to be Superman
Pretend Play helps develop:
  1. Cognitive Skills like Creativity, Cognitive Integration, Divergent Thinking, Symbolism, Organization[7]
  2. Executive Functioning Skills
  3. Social Skills[8] including appreciation of Relationships
  4. Emotional Skills including Regulation of Emotions, Emotional Competence and understanding etc.
  5. Language Skills[9]
Stages of Play in Early Childhood: Cooperative Play

This is the most complex type of play that usually older children engage in. In this type of play, the child can play an assigned role in a group for achieving an objective. These kinds of games and sports could also have pre-defined rules that need to be followed by the participants. Whether it is chess (an indoor game where two participants are playing against each other) or cricket (an outdoor sport where two teams of 11 members play against each other), they all fall under the category of cooperative play. Usually, children can start engaging in cooperative play from the ages of 4-6 years[10].

Children and Play: Stages of Play in Early Childhood
Children engaged in Cooperative Play
Cooperative Play helps develop:
  1. Social Skills
  2. Emotional Skills
  3. Cognitive Skills
  4. Motors Skills (depending on the nature of the game or sport)
  5. Numerous other Benefits including higher self-esteem, health and fitness[11]
  • Playing positively impacts cognitive, social, emotional, health, personality and executive functioning skills of a child.
  • But it is important for Parents to understand that Play itself has many types. The nature of play changes with child’s age and developmental stage.
  • In this blog, we explain the main types of play: Solitary, Parallel, Pretend and Cooperative. Each of their benefits is explained in detail.

<p>Learn more about the benefits and importance of play time for kids at <a href=’’>Mom Loves Best</a></p><img class=”infographic-share” src=”” width=”700px” border=”0″ />

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