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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_power_of_play_part_1_stages_of_play
Mission Cognition, LLC. Family Training Resource