How kids learn to play: 6 stages of play development

Stages of play development

Although all children develop at different rates, there are six general key stages of play development.

Unoccupied play (birth-3 months)
Babies are learning about their body and discovering how it moves – there’s lots of wiggling and testing to see what works, and what doesn’t!

Solitary play (birth-2 years)
At this stage, a child puts all concentration into what they’re playing with and there’s little interest in playing with others just yet.

Spectator play (2 years)
Now a child becomes much more interested in watching other kids play, although prefers to be on the periphery rather than engage.

Parallel play (2+ years)
A child becomes increasingly interested in other children and what they’re doing – edging closer to play alongside them (still not fully engaging in joint play).

Associate play (3-4 years)
At this age a child starts interacting much more with others, however still not fully! They might be doing something related to children around them, such as playing in a playground, but might not actually be interacting with the others.

Cooperative play (4+ years)
Now children become much more immersed in collaborative play, making up games together and acting out stories. Friendships take on a new lease of life!

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, kids interact at their own pace and these are indicative stages of play development.

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