The Importance of Play: Parten’s Six Stages of Play

Play is powerful and vital for the development of children. Play should be fun, spontaneous, and flexible to allow the child to have a healthy development. Play is an outlet for children to learn important details about themselves like their own likes and dislikes. Socially, children learn how to communicate and problem solving with peers around them. Play activities initiate academic skills like language, reading, and math. There are also specific benefits for children with ASD that range from social to attending to introducing turn taking skills. Through play children with ASD learn to build relationships, increases attending behaviors, reinforce flexibility, increases duration of social interactions, and condition the people and attention as reinforcers. Play builds the foundation for academic skills to be developed, expanding language, and increasing peer interactions.

Here are Parten’s six stages of play that children move through. It is important to remember that each child is unique and develops at their own pace.

  1. Unoccupied play looks like the child is uninterested in engaged in activities, but this stage builds the foundation for the next five stages of play. They may seem scattered in movements or wandering without functions. The unoccupied stage allows for children to manipulate materials, explore, and learn self-control in their environment. 
  2. Solitary play is the next stage in Parten’s 6 Stages of Play. This is where the child engages in appropriate play with a toy but does not engage with peers. Solitary play could look like a child rolling a car or building by themselves. By playing alone the child is preparing to play with others. The child is practicing new cognitive and motor skills, as well as exploring with toys freely. 
  3. Onlooker play stage is where the child is watching other peers engaging in play behavior but does not join in on the play behavior. It has been found that the basis is learning is through observation. This is a chance for children to observe the rules of play, different ways to play, building relationships, and using materials in other ways. They could watch a game of tag or others building a train track. Watching peers is the active part of their play in this stage. 
  4. Parallel play occurs when the child is playing close to peers, about three feet, but they are not interacting with each other. Children could be building block towers or coloring at the same table. Parallel play is thought of to be like a warm-up stage, where children are engaged in the same activities side-by-side but not yet engaging in social exchanges. 
  5. Associative play means the child is changing and developing. Two or more peers are acknowledging each other and engaged in the same play activity. They might be practicing the skills they have observed in earlier stages, like the onlooker and parallel play. Children start to become more interested in others while playing versus being more interested in the activity. 
  6. Cooperative play is based on the cooperation between peers. In this stage, each child has a specific role and should follow explicit or implied guidelines. However, cooperation is a challenging skill for young children which leads to conflict. Taking turns and sharing could be some reasons why conflict occurs, but this is completely normal. It is important to provide support for children during these times of conflict so stay close. Parents, teachers, and service providers can teach problem solving skills and healthy emotions and how to express them. 



Rymanowicz, K. (2018, October 2). The power of play – Part 1: Stages of play. Retrieved from


Mission Cognition, LLC. Family Training Resource 

5 Steps for Pinpointing Social Skills

Pinpointing answers the simple question of “what am I teaching?” A pinpoint is a clear description and countable unit of behavior in a specific context. Pinpoints help for clarity across teams, so you know a behavior when you see it. Being social and having social skills does not come easy for some. It can be difficult for the children and clients to engage in social skills, but it can also be difficult for the providers and teams to identify. They keep everyone on the team of a client stay on the same page, as well as making it easier to reinforce and measure. While working on social skills for a client there are four different areas that can be targeted. These include conversations, groupwork, classroom participation, and emotional regulation. Here are the five steps to creating a pinpoint for social skills. 

  1. Select a behavior with the furthest reaching effect. The first question to ask is “what is the biggest problem behavior?” This could also include a problem behavior that is common to all various problems. 
  2. Make sure this behavior passes the “dead person’s test.” This is a technique that asks the simple question of “can a dead person perform the behavior.” If you answer yes, the dead man can do that behavior, then select a different behavior to practice or change. Behaviors like laying down, staying in seat, and being quiet would not pass the “dead person’s test.”
  3. Create a movement cycle. The movement cycle must be observable, repeatable, and contains movement. The first step would be selecting an action verb such as raise, say, or shift. Next, make the verb present tense like says or raises. Last, select the singular object that the verb will act upon. This creates movement cycles like raises hand, stacks block, or shifts gaze. 
  4. Complete pinpoint by adding context. This is where and when you want the behavior to occur. Adding context could include phrases like “during play” and “when meeting a new person.” Context is the difference between a behavior being socially acceptable and socially awkward. You do not want your client to raise their hand while sitting at the dinner table, but you do want your client to raise their hand while sitting in class. Putting the movement cycle with the context creates the desired pinpoint. This could look like “stacks block during play,” or “shakes hand when meeting a new person.” 
  5. The last step is testing the pinpoint. An effective pinpoint captures everything you are measuring and excludes everything you are not measuring. Then have others count the targeted pinpoint and compare answers. These are tactics to ensure that your pinpoint created is accurate and keeps the team on the same page. 

There are five major areas that you could apply your newly created pinpoint to for your child’s goals. While working on the first area, conversations, you could pinpoint behaviors like changing topics, responding to a teacher/adult when a greeting is given, or asking open ended questions. If the child or client’s goal is responding to a teacher’s greeting then the pinpoint could state, “shifts gaze and says greeting statement to adult after adult greets them.” For groupwork, pinpoints could focus on the child offering suggestions or looking at a peer when saying an answer. Pinpoints created for classroom participation looking at speaker during teacher lead directives, raising hand, or getting folder. Emotional regulation is one of the more difficult areas to create pinpoints for. These social skills focus on identifying when the client needs to use a relaxation tool when triggered, and then utilizing relaxation tools. By using the five steps listed above to create a pinpoint, a potential pinpoint could be “uses relaxation tool when cued by adult.” 

Pinpoints are helpful for several reasons, like keeping behavior descriptions clear and measurable. Creating a pinpoint with these five steps will keep all the providers on the same page when it comes to the client’s behaviors. This is important for accurate data collection and measurement, as well as reinforcement. First identify the target behavior that passes the “dead person’s test,” create a movement cycle, add context, and then test it. Pinpointing for social skills could target conversations, groupwork, classroom participation, and emotional regulation. Social skills can be difficult for clients to engage in and providers to identify, but these five steps help make it easier. 



Peacock, K. MS, BCBA. Pinpointing Social Skills. Central Reach. Retrieved from

5 Ways to Increase Physical Activity for Children

According to the CDC, children from the ages of 6-17 should engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Decreasing time for physical activity, like recess, and an increase in technology have been linked to less physical activity in children. There are several health benefits to physical activity including decreased risk of obesity and growth of healthy bones and muscles. However, physical activity also promotes psychological well-being, reduces depression and anxiety, and could improve academic performance. It’s important to incorporate physical activity into your child’s routine and promote a healthy lifestyle. Some things to consider before adding physical activity to your family’s daily routine include selecting the type of physical activity, identify competing behaviors (work, travel, technology), and identify reinforcers for your children. The physical activity for your little ones should be fun, easy, and achievable. While going over your options consider resources available like parks, trails, classes that are offered, and tracks that are nearby. Here are 5 tips to help keep the little ones active:

  1. Set a specific time each day for physical activity -For younger children and children that benefit from visual prompts, a visual cue could be put in place. One example could be adding riding a bike into your child’s after school routine. Showing a picture of a bike to signal that it’s time for a bike ride helps build this activity into the daily routine. Once the physical activity has become part of the routine you can fade the visual prompt.
  2. Break up the physical activity into more achievable bouts – For your children it might be easier to engage in physical activity for 20 minutes 3 times a day versus 60 minutes all at once.
  3. Work towards a goal or use a token board – Set a goal and reinforcer that is motivating for your child and create a token board. Once your child engages in the desired physical activity, they earn a token (sticker, stamp). After your child earns 10 tokens (or whatever is agreed upon), they earn the set reinforcer they picked out in the beginning.
  4. Improve the skill – It’s said that a skill is more enjoyable when you’re good at what you’re doing. If your child struggles with riding a bike, don’t be afraid to get out there and help. Improving skills may also function as a reinforcer for your child. As they become better at bike riding, for example, they will be more likely to engage in bike riding and want to ride their bike.
  5. Use the “First/Then” approach – Find a reinforcer that is highly motivating for you child like playing on the iPad or playing at the playground. By using “First, play outside for 30 minutes. Then, get 30 minutes on the iPad” you can set clear expectations for your children. Then after time, you can increase the desired time of physical activity once it becomes more routine. Another way to incorporate the “first/then” is biking to the playground or walking to a friend’s house. First the physical activity must be completed, then there is reinforcement.

Including physical activity into your daily routine has several physical and mental health benefits. Use these tips to increase physical activity for your children and help the process.  From taking walks, yoga, riding bikes, to playing outside it’s important to keep your littles moving.