Come Play With Me!

One of the workshops offered through our Literacy Links workshop series is called “Come Play with Me.” This has been one of the more popular training opportunities and is booked regularly. Learning through play is a concept that has been trending for many years and is widely supported by parents and practitioners. But what is play and why is it important?

The Webster’s dictionary provides thirty-four definitions for the word play, and Oxford dictionary has over 100. Not all of us view play through the same eyes. There are many variables that influence our definition of play. These can be cultural, societal, historical, personal, educational, and global. Even our age can influence how we see play. I define play as the way our children learn about themselves, people around them, and how things work in their world. What does play mean to you?

The Importance of Play

Children learn through their everyday experiences. They do not know or particularly care about what they are learning—they are simply focused on having fun! When children play they interact with their world and use things they experience. For instance, children will draw upon things they have heard, or seen, or done, and use these experiences to play games and engage in activities. Play also gives children the opportunity to explore new things and begin making sense of them. Through play children recreate what they have learned and are able to practice all these new skills!

Play enhances almost every skill critical to the development of children. When they play, they are learning and developing:

  • Language
  • Sharing
  • Social skills
  • Cooperation
  • Creativity
  • Risk Taking
  • Imagination
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Self Awareness
  • Cultural awareness
  • Boundaries
  • Communication
  • Numeracy
  • And SO MUCH MORE!

Stages of Play

Between the ages of 0-6 years, play has been broken down into a series of stages. These stages form a continuum of growth and development that all children experience in their own unique way.

The first stage of play is called Unoccupied Play. This stage begins at birth and lasts about 3 months. Unoccupied Play is characterized by the random movements and jerks that your baby makes. These simple movements are how your baby becomes aware of their body and how to use their body parts.

Typically at 2-3 months children will move into the next stage of play which is called Solitary Play, and this stage usually lasts until children turn 3 years old. Solitary Play begins when your child is able to start holding objects. In this stage, children will play alone and will not be very interested in others. Solitary Play is considered to be the longest stage because, although they will progress through this stage, children will always return to it in some capacity even as they move into their teen years.

Onlooker Play is the stage that commonly occurs between the ages of 2.5 and 3.5. This is the observation stage where children still prefer to play alone, but now they are beginning to take an interest in how other children play. You will notice them staring at other children as they play, but remain hesitant to join them.

The next stage, Parallel Play, mimics Onlooker Play in that children will keenly observe play in other children. However, now you will find that they are beginning to ask many questions about what they observe in other children’s play. “What are they doing with those blocks?” “Why are they using red lego?” This is also the stage where children will be more interested in communicating with other children in play.

Typically between 3-4 years of age, children will progress into the stage referred to as Associative Play. There are no rules or roles in their play and children are more interested in the interactions and less interested in the toys. In this stage, children are learning cooperation, problem solving, and language, among other skills.

The final stage of play is the one parents are most excited for, Coorperative Play. Between the years of 4 and 6, children move into the Cooperative Play stage, where their play is generally focused around working with others towards a common goal. Roles are defined, and you will often see children playing house or school and during these activities they will have a role—mother, father, teacher, etc.

The final stage of play is only reached when children have had the time they need to progress through each stage before it. It is important to be patient through the stages, and let your children take as much or as little time as they need to explore each stage and move to the next. Although there is a common timeline, remember that all children are different and there is no right or wrong way to explore these stages.

In my next blog, which will be coming out May 4th, I will be exploring 7 Types of Play and sharing ideas on the role parents have in their children’s play. For more information about the importance of play, please do a search for our blogs about play in the search field above.

If you would like to find out more about attending or hosting a Literacy Links workshop, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website and/or contact the Centre for Family Literacy by email info@famlit.ca or by phone: 780.421.7323