Stages of Play Development

August 7, 2018 No Comments

Play is a crucial part of every child’s development. Play is how your child will learn to work together with others, develop their vocabulary and bring their imagination to life. Read about the 6 stages of play development below or check out a short video here (video courtesy of

Unoccupied play

This stage of play development  is mainly seen in new born babies and infants.  During this stage your child may seem to be making random movements with no clear purpose. These movements are your child’s attempts to explore and learn about their environment. This may seem like this is not a stage of play development however it is setting the stage for future play exploration.

Solitary play

During this stage of play development, your child will often play alone and be uninterested or oblivious of what others  are doing. This stage is typically seen in young toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3, however it is important for children of all age groups to engage in this type of play from time to time.

Solitary play is common at this age as their cognitive, physical and social skills have yet to fully develop. This type of play is important as it gives your child the time they need to think, explore and create. When a child plays alone, they learn to concentrate, think for themselves, be creative, and regulate their emotions. These are all important skills for your child to learn.

Onlooker play

Onlooker play is where you child will start to watch others playing but will not join in with the play. They will often involve themselves in other forms of social interaction however such as conversations to learn more about the game or play that is going on. This type of play is typically seen in children aged between 2½ and 3½, but can take place at any age.

Parallel play

This stage of play development is often seen in toddlers, but can take place at any age. In this stage you child will play alongside other children, however there will be limited interaction between them. This stage is very important in your child’s play development as although it looks like there is limited interaction between them, your child is learning important social skills and is enjoying being around others their own age.

Associative play

Associative play is where your child will begin to play with other children, however they will not yet be focused together on a common goal. At this stage your child will be more interested in playing with other children than with the individual toys they are playing with. This type of play commonly begins at ages 3 – 4 and extends into the pre-school age. This stage of play develops important skills such as problems solving, collaboration and language development.

Cooperative/Joint play

The final stage of play development is where your child’s play  becomes organized and teamwork is seen. Your child is now interested in both who they are playing with as well as the activity. Your child’s group is now more formalized, with the children taking on different roles (e.g. leader). The play is now also focused around achieving group goals or specific tasks.  Cooperative/ joint play begins in the late preschool years, between the ages of 4 – 6. This level of play gives your child the necessary skills to engage in social and group interactions.


  • Parten MB Social Participation among Preschool Children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 1932; 27 (3): 243–269.


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