Stages of Play

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Throughout the year I am continually observing and noting how the children in care here are progressing through the various stages/milestones of child development. One area that I really focus in on is their style of play.

My observations are guided by training and workshops where the work of sociologist Mildred Parten was discussed. Mildred Parten observed American preschool age children at free play and developed a theory on the stages of play. She saw these stages as having a developmental order. Today there is some disagreement among educators about whether or not there really is a true sequence to the stages of play.

For myself I find the Parten’s stages to be a solid starting place and recognize that with each child being unique there will of course be differences. However, the red flag goes up if these differences are severe and there appears to be no outside influence impacting the child’s development.

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Mildred Parten’s six different types of play:

  1. Unoccupied (play) – child is not playing, just observing.
  2. Solitary (independent) play – child plays alone and is focused on their chosen activity.
  3. Onlooker play – child watches others at play, but does not engage in it. I see this as a change from solitary, because of the notice of what others are doing.
  4. Parallel play – child plays separately from others, but mimicking their play.
  5. Associative play – child is interested in the other children playing, but not necessarily in the activity they are doing. This is not observing, like onlooking, as there is a lot of interaction occurring between them.
  6. Cooperative play – child is interested both in the people playing and the activity. Here the play is organized, and everyone has a role. This stage seems to develop fairly quickly once children enter elementary school.

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