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Understanding the 6 Stages of Social Play

Updated: Apr 24

"Should I worry if my child doesn't like playing with others?"

"Is it okay if my child prefers playing alone?"

"What can I do if my child seems shy around other kids?"

There are six stages of social play, as outlined by Mildred Parten.

These stages represent the progression of social interaction skills as children grow and develop.

Children at play with LETme Toys on a quilt

It can feel really uncomfortable seeing children playing alone or off by themselves.

Understanding these stages can help parents, caregivers and educators support children's social development and encourage positive social interactions.


The 6 Stages of Social Play

Unoccupied Play

This stage typically occurs during infancy, where children engage in seemingly random movements and behaviours without a specific purpose.

Think 0-3 months - jerky arm and leg movements, non-objective play.

Solitary Play

In this stage, children play independently, focusing on their own activities and interests. They may engage with toys or objects without interacting with others.

This is common in toddlerhood.

Children playing with LETme Toys Rainbow Kit

Onlooker Play

During onlooker play, children observe and sometimes comment on the activities of others but do not actively participate.

They may show interest in what other children are doing but prefer to remain on the sidelines.

Children playing with LETme Toys Rainbow Kit and silicone houses

Parallel Play

Parallel play involves children playing alongside each other with similar toys or materials, but they do not actively engage or interact with one another.

Instead, they focus on their own activities while being aware of the presence of others.

Child with feet in the water

Associative Play

In associative play, children begin to interact with each other while engaging in similar activities or using the same materials.

Although there is some degree of cooperation and sharing, there is still a lack of organisation or group goals.

Three childre playing with LETme Toys cobblestones on a mat

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play is when children socially interact with others.

They organise themselves within their group, share ideas and have a common goal for their play.

In conclusion, it's important to remember ...

these stages of social play are not necessarily linear, and children may transition back and forth between them depending on their age, developmental stage, and social experiences.


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