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Slightly different from parallel play, associative play, which commonly begins between ages three or four, also features children playing separately from one another. But in this mode of play, they are involved with what the other is doing—think children building a city with blocks.
- Unoccupied play. Parten defined this as a child not engaged in play. But you could think of this as the “infancy” of play. Here, your baby or toddler creatively moves their body with no purpose other than it feels good and interesting.
- Independent or solitary play. This is when your child plays alone, with little to no reference to what other kids or adults are doing.
- Onlooker play. This is when your child observes the play of other children, while not actually playing themselves. So much of this play stage is inactive, but it’s still significant.
- Parallel play. Though they may use the same toys, your child plays beside, rather than with, other children. Remember, learning to play is learning how to relate to others.
- Physical play. Physical play can include dancing or ball games. This will help your child build their muscles, bones and physical skills. You should encourage your child to move as much as possible.
- Social play. By playing with others, children learn how to take turns, cooperate and share. This also helps them to develop their language skills. You can encourage social play by taking your child to playgrounds.
- Constructive play. Constructive play allows children to experiment with drawing, music and building things. This helps them to develop their movement skills and become less clumsy.
- Fantasy play. Using their imagination during play is good for your child’s communication skills. It is good for them to create their own games. You can encourage your child to develop their imagination by giving them props.
- Unstructured Play. Definition: “Children’s play scenarios have no set objectives. Children control the direction of the play narrative.” Related approaches: Child led play, Child initiated play.
- Structured Play. Definition: “Play scenarios have clear objectives set by the adult. Adults control the direction of the play narrative.” Related approach: adult led play.
- Guided Play. Definition: “Children direct the play scenario while adults play along. Adults use questioning and provide suggestions to stimulate learning.”
- Unoccupied Play. Definition: “Children in the early months of life observe their immediate environment and master the use of their senses.” Unoccupied play is the first of Patten’s 6 stages of play.
- Alexia Dellner
- Unoccupied Play. Remember when your zero to two-year-old was perfectly happy sitting in a corner and playing with her feet? Although it might not seem like she’s doing much of anything, your tot is actually busy taking in the world around her (oooh, toes!)
- Solitary Play. When your kid is so into playing that she doesn’t notice anyone else, you’ve entered the solitary or independent play stage, which usually shows up around years two and three.
- Onlooker play. If Lucy watches other kids run up the slide 16 times but doesn’t join in the fun, don’t worry about her social skills. She’s just entered the onlooker play stage, which often occurs simultaneously to solitary play and is actually a vital first step toward group participation.
- Parallel play. You’ll know your child is in this phase (typically between ages two and a half and three and a half) when he and his pals play with the same toys beside each other but not with each other.
- Functional Play. Functional play is playing simply to enjoy the experience. Infants engage in functional play when they trade smiles with a caregiver, or squeeze a soft toy over and over.
- Constructive Play. As the name suggests, this play involves constructing something (building, drawing, crafting, etc.). Unlike functional play, constructive play is goal-oriented.
- Exploratory Play. During exploratory play, a child examines something closely in order to learn more about it. Our toddler gets a new set of blocks, for example, and studies one of them by looking at it from all angles while slowly turning it in his hands.
- Dramatic Play. Also known as symbolic or pretend play, this emerges alongside a big cognitive shift: Understanding that objects, actions, or ideas can represent other objects, actions, or ideas.
Parten recognized six different types of play: Unoccupied (play) – when the child is not playing, just observing. A child may be standing in one spot or performing random movements. Solitary (independent) play – when the child is alone and maintains focus on its activity.
- Independent play. There are so many amazing benefits of your child engaging in play all on their own! When your child has a playdate with a party of 1, they have an important opportunity to practice leadership skills such as self-identity and self-confidence.
- Messy Play. Messy play is important for your child’s social and emotional skills as it helps to develop self-control and emotional regulation. Engaging with different materials like dirt, sand, and slime (just to name a few), give your child a chance to strengthen their sensory processing skills and nervous systems.
- Dramatic/Imaginative play. I can still remember playing ‘house’ almost every day with our big group of neighborhood kids in my neighbor’s basement. Dramatic play allows kids to try out different roles and personalities and well as work through real-world situations in a stress-free and non-threatening environment.
- Physical Play. Studies have consistently shown the benefits of physical play and exercise on social and emotional functioning. How does exercise improve learning?