Development of play

Play is a crucial part of childhood development. As your child grows and matures, the types of play that they engage with will also change. All these different types of play are important for optimal development, with the different types of play and different ages each contributing to cognitive and physical development. 

Solitary play

From birth to around two years old, children play in a solitary manner. Even when other children are around, children at this age will choose to entertain themselves. During this phase, children are experiencing the world around them by exploring items and toys, independently choosing what to play with, discovering cause and effect and continuing to practise both fine and gross motor skills. 

Onlooker play

Onlooker play begins at around two years old. Onlooker play helps children to understand the behaviours of others by observing, building the confidence to try and get involved at a later time. While this type of play looks passive, it is an important step in learning how to play with others. 

Parallel play

Between the ages of two and three, parallel play develops. This type of play involves children playing next to each other, but not with each other. This type of play may involve mimicry and even playing with the same toy at different times, but there is no shared goal or outcome.

Associative play

Similar to parallel play, children engaged in associative play do not yet have a shared goal. However, children will be aware of each other and may share and exchange toys, or intentionally draw on the same piece of paper. Associative play begins to become visible around the ages of three and four and helps build social skills, language development and conflict resolution.

Cooperative play

Between the ages of four and five, children begin to work towards a common goal in their play. This may be building a tower together or playing a game such as tag. This stage uses the skills developed in all the previous stages to engage in more complex cognitive processes such as communicating the task goal, working together as a team and leadership skills. 

By going through these progressive stages of development in play, children are able to build the skills needed to engage in complex social situations and use play to act out their emotions and imaginations.