What are the stages of play?

The foundations of play begin as early as the first few months of your baby’s life, when they begin to observe the world around them. Play can begin as early as the first year of life, and progress with your child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. 

All children develop mentally and physically at different rates, so there is not a specific age assigned to each stage of play - however, there are general age ranges in which your little one may be ready for different play activities. 

Here’s a breakdown of the 6 stages of play, a classic tool developed by American sociologist Mildred Parten Newhall.

  1. Unoccupied Play (Birth - 3 months): At this stage, the baby is just making a lot of movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.
  2. Solitary Play (Birth - 2 Years): This is the stage when a child plays alone and is not interested in playing with others quite yet.
  3. Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years): During this stage, a child begins to watch other children playing but does not play with them.
  4. Parallel Play (2+ Years): When a child plays alongside or near others but does not play with them, this stage is referred to as parallel play.
  5. Associate Play (3 - 4 Years): At this stage, a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of interaction. A child might be doing an activity related to the kids around him or her, but might not actually be interacting with them. For example, kids might all be playing on the same piece of playground equipment but all doing different things like climbing, swinging, etc. 
  6. Cooperative Play (4+ Years): When a child plays together with others and has interest in both the activity and the other children involved in playing, they are participating in cooperative play. 

This article has been reviewed by our team of experts.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article does not constitute medical advice. If you have concerns about any health or medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment you should consult with your pediatrician or a licensed healthcare provider.

Mother playing with toddler Mother playing with baby Mother playing with little girl

Connect with experts and parents about Play & Early Learning

Join the Conversation