Stages of Play - A definitive Guide for Moms

What exactly is Play?

Any action which provides enjoyment is considered as Play. It is an activity which is self-chosen, enthusiastic & imaginative and moreover which is conducted without any limitations.

So if your child is just jumping up and down from the bed or sofa- It can be considered as play. Oh yes, if your little munchkin is enjoying closing and opening of your kitchen drawer- he/she is playing.


Piaget; a great psychologist explained play as responses repeated purely for functional pleasure and helps a child to develop cognition and actions in different situations, the effects of their actions and whether those actions are right for the circumstance.

stages of play

Let me explain this to you in simple language.

Suppose your kid loves to jump up and down from the stairs. One day, while jumping he slips down and broke his teeth (actions). So breaking down the tooth is the result of that action. And he decided not to play like that in future, as it will hurt him again.

Categories of Play

  • Active Play is when fun part comes from what the individual does, like running or just creating something with clay.
  • Passive Play (Amusements is that when the enjoyment comes from others activities like watching television, looking at kids playing or just reading a book with minimum energy expenditure (but enjoyment is equal to playing a football match with friends.

Stages of Play

According to Parten, there are six social levels of play:

  1. Unoccupied Play – Ever seen your baby just standing at one position and doing random movements? Well that is the time when your kiddo is not playing but he/she is just observing.  In early months of infancy, unoccupied play is very common where infants make random movements with no clear purpose, but this is considered to be the initial form of playing. Kids in their own way try to understand the world around them.
  2. Solitary (Independent) Play – My niece at the age of 2 years, used to spent her time focussing in her own activity and without even bothering what other are doing. Such children at their early stages are uninterested or unaware about the environment around and like to play independently. In a preschool such type of play are very frequently seen in the activity area where so many toys are spread over and child just picks one or two toy and play alone in his/her own way. Solitary play enhances kid’s imagination, makes them socially independent and enhances their problem solving skills.
  3. Onlooker (Behaviour) Play – You may have observed many younger children enjoy watching others at play and feels happy in not involving themselves with others. They sometimes engage in social interactions like talking about the play and without joining the activity. By this kind of observation they try to acquire self-knowledge, build confidence, practice interaction and learn to cooperate with other children. In a way children gain information which they can later use for their physical, verbal, emotional, and social behaviours.
  4. Parallel Play (Adjacent Play, Social Coactions) – As the name suggests, in Parallel Play child loves to play adjacent to other children. Though he/she is playing alone during parallel play but is very much interested in what other children are doing. If you notice such children, they very much observe other children and modify their activity accordingly. Parallel play is considered an early stage in child development, where transition is seen among kids from a socially immature solitary and onlooker type of play (egocentric behaviour), to a more socially mature cooperative type of play.
  5. Associative play – Many of you must have observed your munchkins exchanging or sharing play materials, in an environment where few kids are playing. Here each child is engaging in their own activity but with the assistance and cooperation of others. Like on the beach you kiddo must feel happy giving a sand toy to other kid or in a craft room giving colours to others while he/she is indulged in sketching . This is a type of play when the child is interested in the other kids playing but not in coordinating their activities with them, or sometimes there is no organized activity involved at all. In such cases, a good amount of interaction is involved but their activities are not in sync.
  6. Cooperative play –Well, this is one of the very common types of play among older kids of age group 4-6 years.  In this kind of play, a child is interested in the activity and also the people doing that activity. Such activities are synced and played with rules and helps in the self identification of the child. Playing hide and seek in the garden, musical chair in the party, dramatic play activities with roles, like playing school etc are some of its examples. Here the activity is very much organized, and there are rules & roles for participants. Such activities increase the change of self-identification with a group.

As the child grows, solitary and parallel types of play became less common because of child’s increased communication skills and he/she get more engaged in associative and cooperative types of play.

Factors influencing Children’s Play


Toy stage (1 year-5/6 years old)

  • Explore their toys
  • Imagine they have life and treating them like that.
  • Decline in toy play in later years.

Exploratory stage (about 3 months old)

  • Examining everything within their reach by grasping, starring, holding and crawling towards them.
  • Enjoys looking at people and random objects and grabbing them.

Daydream stage (puberty)

  • Loose interest in play activities.
  • See them misunderstood and mistreated by others.

Play stage (school age)

  • Interested in games, sports, hobbies and more mature kind of plays

Motor development –Good active play helps in gross and fine motor development of the muscles. Be it running, jumping or simple colouring; active play enhances the motor development of the child.

Sex- Younger boys usually prefer strenuous games and girls prefer craft or indoor activities.

Environment- Children from urban areas usually have positive environment in terms of time, space and have access to better facilities as compared to those from rural areas.

Socio economic status- Due to higher income and other resources, children from higher socio economic background tend to be involved in activities and sports which costs sufficient amount of money like that of skating, tennis etc. This is in contrary to the children from comparatively poorer background where their choices are limited to activities that cost lesser money.

Amount of leisure time- Children from wealthy background have good amount of leisure time as they are not required to perform household chores. Therefore they have a more time to play.

Due to emerging technology and internet era, the definition of play has changed in today’s generation. But any kind of voluntary play provides immense pleasure and helps in the holistic development (physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual aspects) of the child life.

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