The Six Types of Play: Stage by Stage

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As you watch your child or the kids you care for as a nanny, you may see them play with a ball, have a tea party with their dolls, or enjoy a raucous game of tag at the playground. It simply looks like they’re having fun, and that’s true. But they are also learning about themselves and the world around them through one of the six distinct stages of play.

Six Types of Play:

  1. Unoccupied Play (Ages 0-1): This type of play takes place mostly with newborns and infants. The baby may laugh and gurgle or reach out when a toy is waved in front of her, but there’s seemingly no objective. However, this is a type of play that prepares the baby for future play.
  2. Independent Play (Ages 2-3): This type of play is when a child has the attention span to play alone, which teaches the child how to keep herself occupied. At this point, the child is still egocentric with a lack of good communication skills.
  3. Onlooker Play (Ages 0+): This is when a child observes other kids playing, but does not participate himself. Perhaps he is shy, learning the rules or simply prefers to step back before stepping in.
  4. Parallel Play (Age 3): This type of play involves two children playing side by side, yet they have little social contact. However, they are still learning a lot from each other and it’s an important stage that paves the way for later stages of play.
  5. Associative Play (Ages 3+): Associative play is similar to Parallel Play, but the children are more engaged with each other. At this point their language is developing, and they are beginning to learn how to socialize, problem solve and make friendships.
  6. Cooperative Play (Ages 4+): This is the common way we imagine children playing together and interacting. Cooperative play is the culmination of everything the child learned in the preceding stages of play, and it is in this stage that they learn social skills, problem solving, how to share, how to listen and how to take turns.

Each of the types of play takes place at distinct stages in a child’s life, and it’s important for parents and Nannies to know what the stages are in order to encourage developmentally appropriate playtime.

For the child, both play and imagining are instinctive capacities. They are not only crucial to a child’s sense of wellbeing, but also, if encouraged and supported, the path to envisioning possibilities, discovering new ideas, enlarging experience, and questioning and expressing the delicate boundaries of the known and the unknown.” —Richard Lewis, from "The Wisdom of Play"

Photo credit: Wellspring Community School/flickr

Brain Development, Child Development, Child Development, Nanny Education, Play Child Development, developmentally appropriate play