6 Stages of Play and Why They are Important for your child’s development

According to Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research”. We once thought play is just having fun and is mindless. But research shows that even in play children are learning. Children can not only learn about science, math and engineering through play, but they can also learn important social skills while playing. Children can learn about problem solving, advocating for themselves, decision-making skills, working in groups, sharing and resolving conflicts.

As children develop and grow, so does their way of playing. Mildred Parten did some great work observing youngsters at play, and developed the stages of social play for children. Let’s take a brief look at how social play develops and changes over time for children. There are six stages of social play and it starts at birth.

1. UNOCCUPIED PLAY (Birth – 3 months)

Yes, play starts at birth! At this stage, babies make a lot of random movements with their arms, legs, hands, and feet. This is actually the beginning of play.

2. SOLITARY PLAY (Birth – 2 years)

At this stage, children start to play on their own. They are not quite ready to play with other children just yet.


Based on the name, children at this stage, just looks/watches other children play but does not join or play with them. They may also have many questions of what the other children are doing etc.

4. PARALLEL PLAY (2+ years)

Parallel play is when children begins to play side-by-side but are not playing with each other. It may seem that they have no interaction but they are paying attention to each other, sometimes even copying one another. This is the beginning of the desire to be with other children.

5. ASSOCIATIVE PLAY (3-4 years)

Children at this stage, starts to interact with other children they are playing with. They start asking questions and talks about the toys and what they are making. This is the beginning of understanding how to get along with others.


Here you will see the beginning of teamwork. Children at this stage plays with others for a common purpose. Thus, beginning to socialise with other children.

Play starts at birth, but it does not stop there! Including play in the children’s daily routine and giving them time to play is important for their development at every age. These stages are general guidelines for what to expect of your child’s play skills, but remember every child is different and if you have concerns bring them up with your healthcare provider.

At Happy Dots Occupational Therapy for Children, we believe that play has a big role in every child’s development. We appreciate being part of a team that is making a difference and we will work to grow and strengthen our client outcomes in a way that is FUN. Call us on (02) 4959 8920 to book! We have clinics located in Cardiff and Medowie.

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