Playing is an integral part of daily life for children. Through playing, all aspects of development can be promoted. For example, social skills such as sharing, cooperation, and turn-taking can be targeted while playing with a peer or family member (Lantz, 2001). Play takes many forms such as running, playing hide and seek, making art, or playing dress up. In today’s blog, we will discuss the different stages of play, how behavior therapists may encourage play, and ideas on how to promote play at home.
Stages of Play (Pathways, 2018)
1) Unoccupied Play – This is when a child explores and discovers how their body moves (e.g., moving their arms, legs, feet, hands).
2) Solitary Play – This is when a child plays alone and may include engaging with a toy.
3) Spectator/Onlooker Behavior – This occurs when a child starts to watch other children play.
4) Parallel Play – This is when a child plays beside or near other children but does not play with them.
5) Associate Play – This is when a child interacts with others while playing mainly to give, take, and share toys. However, the amount of interaction is minimal.
6) Cooperative Play – This is when a child plays and engages with others in the same activity.
1) Natural Environment Teaching (NET) – This teaching method involves commenting on items/activities the child chooses to do. The goal is to increase a child’s verbal behavior, as well as expand their verbal responses. For example, if a child was playing with cars, saying “Wow! Your car is going so fast! Should my car go fast or slow?”
2) Video Modeling – This teaching methodology has been found effective to teach children with autism a variety of skills. Video modeling is when adults or peers are recorded while acting out the targeted skill (e.g., playing with baby dolls). The goal is for the student to imitate the observed actions from the video to learn the skill (MacDonald, Mansfield, Wiltz, & Ahearn, 2009).
3) Scripts – This is a specific visual strategy often used to promote social-communicative interaction while playing. Research has shown scripts are effective in enhancing interaction among children sociodramatic play (Goldstein & Cisar, 1992). Once scripts are learned, spontaneous responses are facilitated.
ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development (2012). Sample Play Script.
Retrieved from https://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf
Other Visual Examples –
Memorizing the Moments. (2013, June 17). Block Building Templates. Retrieved from http://www.memorizingthemoments.com/2013/06/block-building-templates.html?m=1
Christine Reeve (2013-2018). Playground Schedule. Retrieved from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Playground-Schedule-and-Script-Freebie-Autism-Special-Education-923613
Tips and Ideas at Home
- Be sure to build play time within your child’s schedule.
- Model how to play with the materials and/or toys. For example, if playing with play dough, show your child how you are making three balls to stack on each other to make a snowman. Ask them if they can make a snowman too.
- As the holidays are near and you might be considering what to get your child, think about presents that could encourage your child’s play, based on their current developmental skills.
- Set screen limits.
- Get creative! Set up obstacle courses, build a fort out of blankets, decorate cookies, make slime.
- If available, consider attending a play group.
- Consider enrolling your child in an organized activity (e.g., gymnastics, karate).
In conclusion, playing is essential for all children’s development. Through play, children socialize, learn, and have fun! As Mr. Rogers said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” Hopefully the holiday break provides some extra opportunities for playing and family time! Happy Holidays!
ErinoakKids Center for Treatment and Development. (2012). Teaching Play Skills to Children with Autism.
Goldstein, H., & Cisar, C. L. (1992). Promoting interaction during sociodramatic play: Teaching scripts to typical preschoolers and classmates with disabilities. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 25(2), 265-280.
Lantz, J. (2001). Play time: An examination of play intervention strategies for children with autism spectrum disorders. The Reporter, 6(3), 1-7, 24.
MacDonald, R., Sacramone, S., Mansfield, R., Wiltz, K., & Ahearn, W. H. (2009). Using video modeling to teach reciprocal pretend play to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42(1), 43-55.
6 Stages of Play: How Kids Learn to Play. (n.d.). Retrieved from