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Play is Powerful!

Written By: Kaitlin Bednarz M.S. CCC-SLP


Play skills are crucial in social and language development! Play provides opportunities to build relationships, problem solve, imagine, reason, etc. Here is a fun fact, in 1932 Mildred Parten published a research paper describing her findings and definitions on the stages of play! That means these play categories have been around for 89 years!! She realized that previous researchers overlooked the period when children learn how to adjust to a group to develop social behaviors (play). At Jump Start Pediatric Therapy Center, we strive to assess and help children develop play skills while learning how to be part of a group and community.


Below are Parten’s stages of play. The next time you watch your children play, try to identify which category of play they are participating in!

  1. Unoccupied Play: Child does not appear to be playing and occupies self by looking around and watching the environment. Child may move body, stand around, and follow the caregiver.

  2. Solitary Play: Child is playing alone with little interest in playing with others. If in a group, the child is focused on different toys from the group.

  3. Onlooker Play: Child spends time watching others play. Child may talk to others, offer suggestions, and ask questions; however, does not physically join the play.

  4. Parallel Play: The child is playing independently; however, may be using and sharing the same toys as other children in the group.

  5. Associative Play: Child plays with other children and there is conversation about the activity. Children will borrow and share toys with each other. There is no shared goal in the activity.

  6. Cooperative Play: Children play in a group with common goals such as pretend play, sports games, etc.




Parten, M. B. “Social Participation Among Pre-School Children.” Journal of abnormal and social psychology 27.3 (1932): 243–269. Web.


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