EduKids Early Childhood Education Centers

Want to Play?

Posted on: October 11, 2010

Kate Dust, EduKids Education Director

Did you know there are different social stages of play?   The way that children respond to a group and/or engage other people they are near is considered a “social play stage” – the way they use their environment, toys and skills during “play”.  

Families know that playing is a wonderful way to connect to children and really enjoy their developing skills and interests.  I thought I would share some information on play so you can get a better idea of why your child plays the way they do at different ages!


Onlooker Play Stage (birth – approx. 12 months) – “Mmmm, what is this all about?” Infants love to look.  They are so new to the world that it is their “job” to discover how people, objects and places work.  They are watchers of play – not interacting at all. They listen to music and sound.  They pay attention to colors and motion.

Solitary Play Stage  (approx. 12 – 24 months)– “Hey! That looks like fun. I want to try it myself”.  Still not interacting, infants love to pick a favorite toy or funny sound and just spend time discovering all about it, aka “playing with it.” As infants grow they still begin to concentrate their play on single toys, but will smile and grab and look for you to positively respond to the shaking rattle or rolling ball.

Parallel Play Stage (2 years olds) – “Don’t even look at my toys! How dare you ask me to share!”  Toddlers are moving!  Now they can choose a toy or playspace they want – not just play with what is given to them. They are starting to realize the power of language that is possessive, inviting and fun!  But, like parallel lines in the universe, toddlers will move through space, sit next to each other with toys and want the same things without ever interacting.  Because when you are a toddler what’s mine is mine. (Click here to see Kate’s Corner column The Toddler’s Creed.)

Associative Play Stage (3 year olds) – “OK, we can play with blocks together.  You can pick up the blue car that I put down and I’ll use the red car you just had.  I’ll be the driver!”  Early preschoolers (3 & 4) have discovered that playing with other kids and adults is fun – as long as they can still have what they want and sometimes boss you around.  This is the time that children will look to you for verbal play directions (“Let’s make lunch for the baby,” or “Let’s drive the car down the ramp.”)  This play stage sees incredible growth in physical abilities that children want to use in play.  Playgrounds, early sports and adult led play inside & outside is important.

Cooperative Play Stage (4 +) – “Cool! Hey look, we made a fort!  Everybody get in!”  Aahhhh – what we have been working towards all along! Solid preschoolers and older children socially play with success.    Group games, shared play leadership, role-playing and recognized play success adds to all skill development.

With all this said, children will go in and out of play stages. Older children will move in and out of the social play stages they have already been in.  Younger children will not “jump” ahead in stages.
Adapted from the work of education theorist Jean Piaget

“To the Bat Cave, Robin – we have important work to do today!” said the 5 year olds with a container of Batman toys and vehicles…

-Kate Dust, EduKids Education Director


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