What is Parallel Play and Why is it Important?
What is parallel play? Parallel play is often confused with solo play since it appears that children play independently instead of cooperatively. However, there is a significant difference between the two types of playtime.
Parallel play is observed when two or more children play in the same area but not together.
The same or similar toys may be used within a space, such as wooden blocks, Mega Blocks, dolls, Hot Wheels, puzzles, or even coloring or reading books, but there is little to no communication or playing together, only next to each other.
Solo, or independent play, occurs when a child is playing alone without other children in the immediate vicinity.
What are the 6 types of play in child development?
There are six stages of play during a child’s early years: Unoccupied, solo play, onlooker, parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play.
Each stage is essential to child development and will start to occur around certain ages when given the opportunity. Unoccupied play begins during the first year as babies kick their legs and swing their arms in excitement, followed by bouncing and crawling.
Independent play comes next as children learn to play alone while supervised. The onlooker stage starts with observing other children and seeing what they are doing without joining.
Around two to three years of age, parallel play will occur as children naturally play near each other but do not play together. Associative play happens between three to five years old when toddlers will play together with the same toys but have individual goals that require doing different things than their peers.
Finally, cooperative play allows children to work and play together for the same purpose and usually starts after age four.
How do you engage children in parallel play?
While parallel play has numerous benefits, it should not be forced or expected to happen at a specific time. Children are all different and will enter each play stage when they are developmentally ready.
The social setting and situations toddlers are placed in also play a vital role in the growth and maintenance of each step. An only child cared for at home will have less interaction with other children than a child who has siblings or attends daycare where social interactions are inevitable.
However, neither scenario should be disapproved of or frowned upon as each family only wants what is best for their kids and to help them reach and succeed through the different phases of childhood.
What are the Benefits of Parallel Play?
Parallel Play Examples
Most children are unfamiliar with the concept of sharing. When they see something they want, they will try to take it. Parallel play presents a time to introduce what sharing means and teach children how to take turns when items are in limited quantities.
- Boundaries and Social Interactions
When a toddler has graduated from the onlooker stage to the parallel stage, they will have an idea of the behaviors expected during social interactions. Whether it be sharing toys, the different ways to play with certain things, or how much fun other children seem to have in various play centers, they have had a glimpse and now want to try. Boundaries are also observed in parallel play when other toddlers may act positively or negatively, and rewards or consequences follow.
While sitting next to a friend or another child, toddlers will listen to the sounds around them. They may hear new words from other children or adults in the area when talking about colors, shapes, toys, playground equipment, etc., and add them to their still-forming vocabulary.
As children play next to each other, individual personalities start to show up. Parallel play provides unique opportunities for self-expression through accomplishments, frustrations, fear, silliness, and creativity. Toddlers may not be playing with their nearby friends, but they are watching and listening to what is happening the entire time and may start to show their feelings and desires based on what they are doing and what their neighbor is doing. How a child handles a reaction or emotion is an insight into their personality.
Ways to Encourage Parallel Play
- Ensure plenty of opportunities to play with or near other children.
- Monitor and supervise parallel play times to keep fights and arguments from occurring.
- Stimulate curiosity by asking questions that will motivate engagement with other children.
- Use demonstrations to pique interest in an activity, such as using play dough and cookie cutters at a table.
- Inspire creativity by using items around the home, outdoors, or childcare center to build, design, and craft items the child or children want to use as decorations.