The Play's the Thing (Playing With Baby)

Ann Douglas's picture

by Ann Douglas

Your toddler hasn't shown any interest in playing with other children. In fact, you've noticed that he'd rather play quietly with his blocks in the corner than join in any group activities. Should you be concerned?

Probably not, says early childhood educator Lorrie Baird. It takes time for a child to master the art of playing with other children. "Most children don't demonstrate a lot of social behavior before the age of two."

So don't assume that your toddler is doomed to spend his childhood standing on the edge of the playground, watching while the social butterflies in the neighborhood romp around together. Chances are, it won't be long before he decides to get in on the fun, too. Here are some important milestones to watch for on the play front as he matures:

Infants (birth to age 15 months)

Type of Play to Expect
Sensory motor play (sometimes called "practice play"; the child learns about the world through repetitive play: e.g. dropping an object and seeing if mom or dad will pick it up)

How Play Assists With Development
Helps child to gain control over his environment and to master new skills

Younger Toddlers (age 15 months to 2 years)

Type of Play to Expect
Onlooker play (observing others at play rather than participating themselves; older children also engage in this type of play from time to time)

How Play Assists With Development
Helps child to learn how to relate to others and to acquire language.

Type of Play to Expect
Solitary play (playing by themselves; this type of play can be seen in older children, too, but tends to become less frequent)

How Play Assists With Development
Helps child to develop both gross and fine motor skills.

Older Toddlers (ages 2 to 3 years)

Type of Play to Expect
Parallel play (when children appear to be playing together because they're playing in the same part of the room, but there's no actual interaction between them)

How Play Assists With Development
Provides the child with opportunities for role-playing, such as dressing up and pretending to pour tea. Helps child to understand concept of property rights ("Mine!").

Preschoolers (ages 4 to 7 years)

Type of Play to Expect
Associative play (very loosely organized play: e.g. when children are sharing a box of blocks, but are each making their own constructions)

How Play Assists With Development
Provides the child with opportunities for socialization and teaches the do's and dont's of getting along with others (e.g. don't be too bossy).

Type of Play to Expect
Co-operative play (when children play together and have a common goal in mind: e.g. "Let's play house!")

How Play Assists With Development
Teaches the art of sharing. Encourages language development, problem-solving skills, and (in the case of co-operative3 play) co-operation, too.

School-Aged Child (ages 6 and up)

Type of Play to Expect
Competitive play (games have rules and there's a clear "winner"; there's no room for this type of play with younger children as they will only find it frustrating)

How Play Assists With Development
Gives the child the opportunity to develop special friendships with one or two playmates while enjoying the stimulation of being part of a group. Fosters creativity and self-esteem.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.