Playing is in a child’s nature. Children play naturally with or without adult intervention. This is the reason why play is easy and fun for them. To literally define play, it is done for its own sake and nothing else. Usually, it does not have a purpose for them, as children do it merely because its fun to do or there is nothing else to do. An example, for babies, everything is new so they just do whatever they can with almost anything they can hold or touch. Play is also voluntary and spontaneous. When you observe a child playing, they do it on their own and play it just as how they want to play it. In short, children would play because that is just the way they are as children.
Which is why play is very important for children. Its importance is twofold: (1) It reflects a child’s level of development, and (2) it is a necessary activity for the promotion of a child’s development.
Firstly, how children play is their progress when it comes to their individual development. Babies thru play can grip, shake, or play “Peek-a-boo” in different stages. As they do, they also learn how to play with different toys or objects, and even know how to play or interact with their parents, or caregivers, or even an adult. This shows where they are in development. Secondly, the way to help our children develop or attain new skills is by playing with them. Playing is a child’s natural way of learning. The more we play with them, the more they learn from it, the more they acquire skills and develop. Thus, if playing is natural for children, then playing should be used for their learning as well.
There are different stages of playing. As parents, caregivers, or adults, the more we recognize that children go through these stages, the more we appreciate its importance in their development. These stages are an important part of the child’s development. Recognizing it would mean we let them do their play, may it be, on their own, with other kids, or us adults.
Here are the stages of play:
1. Unoccupied Play (Birth – 3 months) Baby is just making a lot of movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They usually discover and learn about their body.
2. Solitary (Birth – 2 years) A child plays alone and are usually not interested in playing with others yet.
3. Onlooker (2 years) A child usually begins to watch other children play but not play with them yet.
4. Parallel (2 years and up) A child plays beside another child but not with them. Children at this stage are usually more interested in the toys they have than with other children.
5. Associative (3 – 4 years) A child reaches this stage when they are already interested in peers but does not necessarily play the same thing. They may be interested in the same toy but plays it on their own. This is usually the stage where children learn to take turns or share toys.
6. Cooperative (4+ years) Cooperative play happens when the child is already involved with the game or activity and their peers. This is the stage where children interact with others, express and discover new ideas.
All these are essential for a child’s development. Each stage of play offers an opportunity for children to discover and explore themselves. Such discovery and explorations add up to their knowledge and skills that would then be necessary for the next stages of their development. Children may do one stage of play at a time, or add up to it, or others use all forms of play. Whatever stage they are in it is important to let them experience each stage. All these experiences will contribute to how they use play to learn and develop.
As adults, it is important that we encourage these stages of play with our children.
So, in the next blog post, I will be sharing some ways that adults can help children develop in all the stages of play. So stay tuned!