Play is an important aspect of your child’s growth. Through playing, your child is developing different skills such as motor and spatial skills, cognitive skills, language and communication, and social skills. The key is allowing them to play and go through the different stages of play.
This COVID-19, we see ourselves spending more, if not most of the time with our children at home. Children are not playing as they are used to; daycares and schools are closed and their playmates are not around.
While caregivers and daycare teachers know how to properly engage and interact with children, sometimes when stuck at home, dynamics change. Or sometimes, we don’t know how to play with our child?
This article will define the different stages of play so you, as a parent or caregiver, know how to interact and properly play with your child.
The different stages of play your child is going through.
How children play is closely aligned to where they are in child development. Stages of play are divided into two main phases, the pre-toddler stage, where the child is around 0-3 years old, and the toddler years, where the child is around 3-5 years old.
Babies and young children go through different stages of play, depending on where they are in their developmental phase. Each stage is also not exclusive, meaning that they can be in one or two stages at the same age.
During each stage, your child will have different needs and will play differently.
It is important to know that every child is different may go through each stage on their own timeline. The key is to observe your child and not force them to play.
Unoccupied play is the first stage of play. Interestingly enough, in this stage, it looks like your baby is not really playing, but is exploring their surroundings. You will see a lot of touching, grasping, and putting things in their mouth with no real objectives.
In this stage, your child is becoming more aware of their body in relation to their surroundings (proprioception). It is important to note that this exploratory stage takes precedence before playing. It is when “what is this” to “how can I use this” phase.
It is crucial to observe your child and try to interact with them by playing with the toys they are playing with. An example would be that your baby may start throwing toys as a form of play. Pick it up and return it to them. Another example would be introducing different toys of different textures and colors.
Onlooker play also happens between 0-2 years old. In this stage, your baby simply observes other people and children and how they play and interact with other people. They may ask questions or talk with other kids, but they don’t play with them.
It is important to note that at this stage, it is not alarming nor out of the ordinary to see your child alone. The best way to help your child during this stage is to let them be as they will interact with children once they are ready and they are comfortable with other children.
In Parallel play, you will see your child playing in parallel with other children. However, there is little interaction with other children. They may or may not play with the same toys or may not be doing the same activities.
This is a transitory stage between playing alone (onlooker and solitary) and with other children (associative and cooperative play).
In this stage, your baby may play beside other children but is not really interacting with them. They will mimic or copy how other children play and may even take turns with children sitting beside each other and playing by themselves. They may take turns when using toys, but they are not really playing together.
During associative play, it is important to observe how your child interacts with other children first but not force them to make any connection. It is also essential to observe what are your child’s likes and dislikes.
In cooperative play, you will see your child playing with others. You will see a lot of running, talking, playing pretend, and forming social groups. Your child can also play organized play or play with rules and instructions. He/she will start sharing toys, taking turns, doing problem-solving activities, and cooperating with other children to achieve a goal.
You may also see your child engaging in rough playing or play fighting. It is important to help allow them to engage in this kind of play as this helps children expend energy, know their own body, and forms bonds with other people.
How to help help your child’s development through play
As parents, it is our responsibility to enable our children to play purposeful and purposeless at the same time. To do this, we have to plan, support, and observe our child.
We have to plan the environment to where our child will play and not necessarily how our child will play. This includes setting up an environment where they can crawl, walk, tumble over and get messy. Our objective is to allow them to play however they want, whenever they want, in a safe and secured environment. Planning also includes provisions on how to clean up, like preparing water nearby for messy plays or boxes for picking-up toys.
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We need to support our children when they are playing, both physically, mentally, and verbally. This means allowing your child to babble, talk, describe or narrate what they are doing, how they are feeling, and what they want to do.
It is also important to teach your child how to express dissatisfaction and anger. This does not only improves their communication skills but also improves their social skills.
We get to know what our baby likes or dislikes as early as possible through observation. We get to see what toys they reach the most and how they play with those toys. We also get to get a glimpse of our child’s personalities once they enter their toddler years. With this, we can properly guide our children to maximize the benefits of play.
When it comes to playtime, it is important to allow your child to really play and have fun. It should not be forced and feel like a chore. This is important as play helps children get to know their environment, develop their social and communication skills, and enhance their creativity and imagination.
It is also important to have not a goal in mind, a goal where you force your child to accomplish something. As your child goes through different stages of play, let your child take the lead. Introduce toys and let them figure out how they want to play with them. Only by letting them become independent can they really play.