Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Types of Play

I just came home from my children's preschool board meeting, and we were discussing our upcoming Open House for prospective parents.  Ha, the questions some parents asked last year, such as "what is the math curriculum for their 2 year old"? What?  I obviously picked a preschool that is play-based, being a play therapist, so those questions kind of make me laugh. No offense if you are more into the College Prep type preschools.  But I love the environment and the philosophy that 'children learn through play.'

And I can't stress enough about the importance of play in children!  Play is their language and toys are their words.  Sometimes I love just watching my children play at home and at other times I interact with them and 'play'.  Don't worry about feeling like you have to give your child attention 24/7 while they play and having to get down on the floor with them at all times.  They need to play on their own to express themselves, learn, and develop skills.  So relax and take a break :)

If you are shopping for preschools, or need a quick refresher on the benefits of play, here ya go:
(also a great resource on child development and play: Play and Child Development (4th Edition)

1) Solitary Play:  Infancy-3ish
Once a child is born, they are actively exploring the environment around them.  From trying to kick a toy hanging from a mobile, to fitting shapes into holes they are learning while they play alone and develop gross motor skills. Solitary play happens at this early stage, as they play alone or near another child without any interaction between them.  Of course this can happen at any age as most children benefit from playing alone at times too.

2) Parallel Play: Ages 1-3ish

From infancy, children act on the world around them just for the pleasure of seeing what happens; for example, repeatedly dropping a spoon on the floor or pulling the cat’s tail. But by the time they are toddlers, they need playmates, yet they play with them quite differently from the way older children play together. 

Place two 18-month-olds with similar toys near each other in the same room, and you'll note that they don't seem to pay much attention to each other- that's parallel play. They somewhat interact with each other, you'll notice that if one picks up a truck, the other is likely to do the same. If the first child looks at that truck and says, "No" (a toddler's favorite word), the second is likely to imitate him and yell, "No!" as well.

3) Symbolic Play: Ages 2 and up.

To an infant or a young toddler, a block is a block. If she has more than one, she might stack them or pull them apart. But once she's about 2 years old, she can start using blocks for much more and uses them symbolically. In her eyes they can become a house, a car, or anything else she wants, such as picking up a shell and pretending to drink from it like a cup.

4) Imaginary/Pretend/Dramatic Play: Ages 2 and up

This is the type of play when your child throws on the Fireman outfit or Cinderella dress and pretends to put out fires and marry their prince.  An older toddler or a preschooler can fight dragons or fly to the moon, all without leaving his bedroom. If you want to build a child this age a fort, all you need are some chairs and cardboard boxes.

5) Collaborative Play: Ages 3 and older

Preschoolers progress from solitary and parallel play to collaborative play. By the age of 3-5 children begin to engage in more mature forms of dramatic play, in which they may act out specific roles, interact with one another in their roles, and plan how the play will go.  It's at this stage that your child learns to master important new social skills, such as sharing, taking turns, obeying rules, and negotiating. These are all very difficult behaviors for a young child to learn. After all, at this age, your child believes she is the center of the universe!  But don't become alarmed if your child still engages in more solitary play at times.  As parents we want our children to be social and not feel left out, but know that all children benefit from playing alone at times too.

Also remember that children's play sometimes has less to do with other people than with finding out about the world.  Young children naturally explore their environments in playful ways that help them understand the physical environment and their own bodies.

I am giving a school tours tomorrow for our preschool Open House, so wish me luck :)


  1. I do not know a ton about child development. The point that was most interesting to me was the parallel play. I thought it was interesting to learn that if you place two 18-month-olds with similar toys near each other in the same room that they don't seem to pay much attention to each other, but if one picks up a truck, the other is likely to do the same. I feel like this is an important stage to help understand the process of mirror neurons in child development. preschool programs