6 Important Types of Play in a Child’s Development

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Children love to play. The happiness and joy a child feels while playing cannot be explained in words. It’s a sight to behold. Most parents may think this is just a leisure activity, however, play is something children need to do in order to grow, learn and discover. 

Some parents may understand how powerful a tool playing is yet. If you’re not one of them, let us explain this to you detail. 

‘Play’ in a Child’s Development

Play is one of the basic foundations for a child’s development. Kids need to play in order to learn, socialize, grow, release pent-up energy, understand their surroundings, and – simply – to have fun. 

Children learn about adulthood by playing with dolls and toys. They begin to understand what is going on around them at home through the acts of play. That is why we shouldn’t take play lightly.

Play can be divided into a number of segments depending on the functionality of the activity. Each type of play aids in a child’s development in its own unique way. Mildred Parten has researched this concept and come up with six types of play that we will be discussed below. 


#1. Unoccupied Play

importance of play in child development - unoccupied play

As the name suggests, unoccupied play is when children are not necessarily occupied in the game that they are playing. They are just playing without any awareness. 

You’ll notice this behavior in children from birth to three months of age. They will be doing something that looks like play. And we know that they are playing because they are enjoying it.

There is a lot of independence in this type of play, as the child is free to do whatever he or she wants to do. There are no rules or organization skills involved in this act, which allows them the freedom to do as they wish. 

An example of unoccupied play is rolling around with a stuffed toy, pushing miniature toy cars along the floor and so on. 

Additional Read: 5-Year-Old Child Developmental Milestones

#2. Solitary Play

importance of play in child development - solitary play

Solitary play involves playing alone without any company. Children learn to understand people, life and themselves through the act of solitary play. Sometimes answers can only be found from within, not outside ourselves.

So when children are playing with dolls, toys, and puzzles, they are trying to find some inner answers they aren’t able to find outside of themselves.

children aged two to three years engage in solitary play, as that is when they are exposed to the outside world. They learn to develop self-sufficiency, independence, and self-reliance through solitary play. 

As adults, we crave a little “me” time and need a break from the world around us. Children are born intelligent. They realize this even even on the early stages of life. 

Important Read: 11-Year-Old Child Developmental Milestones

#3. Onlooker Play

importance of play in child development - onlooker play

Children also learn about the world around them by watching other children play. This is onlooker play. 

They learn to copy other children’s behavior and attitudes. The downside to this play is that they may pick up on the negative attributes of other children, and repeat it. Keep them away from such company if you see these are affecting your child’s behavior.

On the other hand, if your child is picking up on the good attributes of other children, your world has been made a lot easier. Encourage your child to be friends with them. Children who are shy and hesitant to be leaders learn the rules of society by observing other kids at play.

They also observe and copy adult behavior. Adults should demonstrate good behavior so that their children can follow in their footsteps.

For example, when the child copies their father and drinks water exactly like him. Some may assume it to be about genetics. Instead, it’s most likely that the child picked up on this behavior just by observing. 

Important Read: 25 Tips to Have a Fun and Safe Beach Trip with your Baby

#4. Parallel Play

importance of play in child development - parallel play

Parallel play is a sign of your child trying to reach out and connect with other children. They may not know yet how to connect with their peers, and they may just be making an attempt to befriends. 

They play side by side each other without any verbal or physical communication. Children generate a sense of “ego” through parallel play. They also learn to understand ownership and possessiveness.

Parallel play is common in any age group. This form of play shows that despite the desire to have their own things, children also need the company of others to feel safe. 

Adults have a sense o personal space. Through parallel play children learn to do the same – maintaining personal boundaries, yet at the same time they are connecting with others through parallel play. 

Related Read: Teenage Developmental Milestones: Guide to a Child’s Adolescence Years

#5. Associative Play

importance of play in child development - associative play

The confidence in having a social life starts to generate in children around the age of four. This is when they start to participate in associative play. Children learn the art of exchange, sharing, communication, allocation, and cooperation through associative play.

Children engaged in this type of play share a common goal. The rules and regulations of the group will build up gradually.

Development of organizational skills is evident at this age. Task delegation and management begins to develop slowly through associative play. Imagine a bunch of children trying to build a house together.

This is how your child will look like in associative play. They learn communication skills, social skills, and problem-solving skills through this activity.

An example would be a bunch of children working together to build a sand castle at the beach. 

Additional Read: Child Development Stages – Growth Milestones from Newborn to Teen

#6. Cooperative Play

importance of play in child development - cooperative play

Cooperative play is quite similar to associative play, but just involves more social interaction. Preschoolers engage in cooperative play, since school encourages a lot of socializing. Children learn everything they need to know about social rules through cooperative play. Maintaining one’s image at school is one of the biggest challenges in a child’s life.

By applying the skills learned through onlooker play, solitary play, and associative play, a child learns to find his or her place in society. It’s like they have to let go of their world of innocence and enter the world of adulthood when they start school.

Cooperative play takes place in the final stages of a child’s development. Cooperative play teaches children about teamwork and project execution. They learn the importance of a social life and how they should be acting through this play.

An example would be kids playing for the school soccer team or performing a ballet production on stage. In short, they gain maturity and team skills through cooperative play. 

Important Read: 15 Tricks & Activities to Inspire Your Kids to Play Outside

Bottom Line

We hope we were able to convince all those parents who assumed their children were wasting time playing that in fact, they are learning very important things. When they are younger, they learn about themselves and about understanding their existence.

Later on, they learn about other people by observing those around them. When they are comfortable with others, they slowly begin to mingle. As they figure out the ways to mingle with others, in the form of sharing, talking, cooperating and having a common goal, they start to make friends.

School is where your kids get to use all the skills they have developed in their younger years. And their education continues both in the classroom and on the playground.  

More about Development: 6 Powerful Reasons Why Children Need to Play a Lot

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