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The 6 Stages of Play

The 6 Stages of Play

Have you ever paid attention to the way your child plays?
We here at Toys for a Pound think the subject is a very interesting and important one, which is why today we have a blog about the 6 stages of play.
This is a theory first proposed by American sociologist Mildred Parten, and it outline stages of play a child passes through during their first 5 years of age.


1. Unoccupied Play (Birth – 3 Months)
Unoccupied play is the first stage outlined by Parten, which is defined as sensory activities lacking any sort of focus or narrative. This stage lacks any social interaction, and an example would be a child picking up and shaking an object before throwing it away. While this may seem pointless, the unoccupied stage helps our little ones develop vital motor skills and depth perception.
2. Solitary Play (3 months – 2 ½ years)
According to Parten, the next stage following unoccupied is solitary play. Solitary play has more focused and sustained play than unoccupied, but the child will show little interest in other children, focusing solely on play. Two children playing with toys but showing no interest in each other would be an example to fall into this category.
3. Onlooker Play (2 ½ years – 3 ½ years)
Onlooker play is the first indication that a child is interested in other kids' behaviour. However rather than getting involved in the play of other children, during this stage a child will often just watch instead, staying close enough just to hear them play. They often do this due to hesitation, shyness, fear or possibly just disinterest.
4. Parallel Play (3 ½ years – 4 years)
Following on from the onlooker stage is parallel play. During parallel play, a child will play in proximity to another child, but not together. Children will often share toys and watch each other from a distance in this stage without playing with each other as they have separate goals and focuses during play.
5. Associative Play (4 – 4 ½ years)
The associative play stage begins when children acknowledge each other by working alongside each other, but not necessarily together yet. The children aren't playing together in any cohesive way yet. Despite this, they often chat and ask questions about what the other child is doing.
6. Cooperative Play (4 ½ years and up)
Finally comes the cooperative play stage. By this point a child is fully integrated into social play. During this stage, expect to see the child share their toy and play the same game. For example, a child will have a specific role and share a common objective during a game! However their social skills will are still developing during this stage so they may still need some assistance!
If you're reading this and you're worrying your child isn't in the right category for their age, don't panic! The ages are a loose guideline and are often criticised as being inaccurate. Please also note Parten published this thesis in 1929, and quite a lot has changed in the world in the last 93 years!
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