The Six Stages of Play

You may have heard that play is an important aspect of childhood. However, did you know that play is a tool that greatly influences a child’s life and how they make sense of the world?

A child’s goals during childhood are focused around growing, learning and playing. It is through a child’s participation in play that they learn to make sense of the world around them. It is their “job” during these critical stages of life to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity and social skills to interact with other children. They also learn to develop self-confidence, try new experiences and explore new environments.

These are some of the main factors of why Occupational Therapists use play as a way of assessing a child’s cognition, muscular and emotional and social development. Play during therapy is also used as a means to work on a skill which a child may experience difficulty with, as this is an engaging and fun way to engage the child whilst obtaining outcomes.

There are six stages of play:

1. Unoccupied play (0 – 12 months) – The random movements that infants make with no clear purpose is the beginning of play;

2. Solitary play (0-2 years) – When children start to play on their own;

3. Onlooker play (18 months – 2 ½ years) – When children watch others play;

4. Parallel Play (2 ½ – 3 years) – When a child starts to play side-by-side with other children without any interaction;

5. Associative Play (3 – 4 years) – When children start asking questions of each other; 

6. Social Play (4 – 5+ year) – When children begin to share ideas and toys, and also establish rules and guidelines.

The late Dr Karyn Purvis, Director of Texas Christian University’s Child Development Centre has stated: “Scientist have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions”. 

This is a great statement to further support the importance of play to learn a new skill in a fun and engaging way.

optimal sensory input

An Occupational Therapist is able to assist a child with play by modifying toys or the environment to provide optimal sensory input to the child.  An Occupational Therapist is able to also recommend age-appropriate toys to encourage learning and assist with play strategies to promote a child engaging in a healthy lifestyle and relationships with their parents, siblings, friends and other members of the community.

Parents can also foster creative

Parents can also foster creative, joyful and goal-driven play by using sensory rich toys inclusive of balls, sand, water toys, swings, finger painting, and magnets.  Everyday household items and staple pantry items can also encourage sensory play such as rice, pasta, shaving cream, flour and dry legumes.  Play targeted manipulation, hand-eye coordination and dexterity of the hands can be such things as play dough, LEGOs, board games, puzzles, beads and lacing.  

When engaging in play, it is important to consider the child’s age and stage of play they are engaging in.  Promoting imaginative play with dolls, stuffed animals, puppets and telephones encourages a child to be creative and role play provides an opportunity to practice social skills.

If you think that your child may be experiencing difficulty with motor skills, cognitive or social skills, please contact the allied health professions at Optimum Health Solutions.   Let us assist your child to reach their potential and learning goals

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