Types of Play in Early Childhood

It is easy to notice that young children involve themselves in different types of play in different stages. Research has shown that children, depending on their age and development, like to engage in different types of play. There is a correspondence between the development of social, emotional, communication and cognitive skills and the type of play a child engages in. In general, children tend to start by playing alone and gradually start playing with other children and eventually engage in complex games and sports where they have designated roles.

Solitary Play (0 to 2 Years)

Between 0 to 1.5-2 years of age, infants tend to play alone with their toys. At this stage 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 type of play, they are actively using their sensory organs to explore the objects in their environment by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling[2] etc.

A Child engaged in Solitary Play
Solitary Play (unoccupied 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.
Parallel Play ( 2 to 3 Years)

This form of play is usually observed in children between the ages of 2-3 years. In this form of play, the toddlers sit alongside other children but play on their own. Even as the child is playing on its own, it observes and watches the children in its environment[4].

Children engaged in Parallel Play
Parallel Play (associative play) helps develop:
  1. Language skills
  2. Social skills including building relationships
  3. Gross and fine motor skills
  4. Increases confidence of the child
  5. Communication skills
Pretend Play (1.5 to 10 Years)

Children love to pretend play. This typically starts before 18 months and can continue up to 10 years[5]. Children 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[6].

A Child Pretending to be Superman
Pretend Play (imaginative play) helps develop:
  1. Cognitive skills like creativity, cognitive integration, divergent thinking, symbolic thinking, 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]
Cooperative Play ( 5 Years and above)

This is the most complex type of play there is. In this type of play, the child plays an assigned role in a group for achieving an objective. These games and sports could also have pre-defined rules that need to be followed by the participants. There could also be different rules for different 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), almost all sports and complex games fall under the category of cooperative play. Usually, children can start engaging in cooperative play from the age of 4-6 years[10].

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]
Summary:
  • Play positively impacts cognitive, social, emotional, health, personality and executive functioning skills of a child.
  • There are many types of play. The nature of play changes with child’s age and developmental stage.
  • The main types of play are: Solitary, Parallel, Pretend and Cooperative. Each type of play has developmentally appropriate benefits.

Learn more about the benefits and importance of play time for kids at momlovesbest.com

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