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. 

 

Resources: 

Rymanowicz, K. (2018, October 2). The power of play – Part 1: Stages of play. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_power_of_play_part_1_stages_of_play

 

Mission Cognition, LLC. Family Training Resource 

Learn to Play, Play to Learn

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.

ABA Interventions

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!

References

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 analysis25(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 Analysis42(1), 43-55.

6 Stages of Play: How Kids Learn to Play. (n.d.). Retrieved from

https://pathways.org/blog/kids-learn-play-6-stages-play-development/