The importance and development of play

One of the best ways for a young child to learn is through play. Children can learn about science, math, engineering, language, social skills and much more through play. Play provides children with an opportunity to practice problem-solving, self-advocacy, decision-making, groupwork, sharing, and conflict-resolution skills.

As children grow, so does their way of playing. There are several ways to conceptualise the development of play. Here is one way, developed by Mildred Partern:

  1. Unoccupied Play

This type of play starts at birth and looks like ‘random movements’ with no clear purpose. Believe it or not, this is your child starting to play!

  1. Solitary Play

This stage begins in infancy and lasts into the toddler years. During this type of play, children don’t seem to notice other children sitting or playing nearby. Independent play is a good skill for a child to have throughout their childhood and adolescence, and is conceptualised more as a hobby or solitary pursuit later on in life.

  1. Onlooker Play

This type of play is common during the toddler years and involves children watching others play. The child may ask questions but doesn’t try to join the play. This type of play often occurs when a child is shy, the environment is new, or the child is unsure of the rules.

  1. Parallel Play

Parallel play is common in toddlers but can be found in all age groups. This type of play occurs when children play side-by-side, attending to one another but not interacting much. This shows the desire to be around other children and lays the groundwork for more complex social stages of play.

  1. Associative Play

By around age three or four, children become more interested in each other than in the toys. In this stage of play, they interact with each other, asking questions and talking about what they are doing. This stage of play allows the children to start developing an understanding of how to get along with others. In this type of play, children in a group playing together have similar goals, however they don’t set rules and there is not much in the way of formal organisation.

  1. Social Play

This stage of play builds on from the previous and involves children really starting to socialise through play, sharing ideas and toys, and following rules and guidelines. They take on roles and negotiate characters and story lines, or work together to build something like a pillow fort. This type of play provides an excellent platform for children to learn to cooperate, compromise, assert themselves, be flexible, and take other children’s perspective into consideration.

In an increasingly electronic word, it is crucial to ensure that your children continue to engage in all these different types of play in order to develop a myriad social and perspective-taking skills, so unplug those iPads and get to play.