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Creating Space For The Stages Of Play

We all need space! Living in tight quarters with people of varying ages can ware on us. Sometimes a little reminder of natural interactions can go a long way. In Natural Play Therapy we highlight the 5 Developmental Stages of Play:


These 5 Stages can be a breath of fresh air in a chaotic time. Why? Because every interaction we have falls into one of these 5 stages. However, we don't often recognize the value that these stages have until we have a good understanding of the stages.

The value comes from recognizing how we learn new activities. In a time where new is the name of the game, these stages offer support in the learning process... for young and old.

These stages emerge in our first 6 years of life and stick with us for the rest of our lives. We will detail these stages so you can recognize the importance of these stages while applying them to your children.

(Note, the natural process isn't always this clean. We flit from stage to stage, back, forth, up, down, skipping stages, going back a stage, etc.)


(Emerges ~0-2 Years)

The child is alone and maintains focus on its activity. Interaction with others is limited.


(Emerges ~2-2.5 Years)

Observes others playing, without interacting. The early stages of learning something new comes from the act of observation.


(Emerges ~2.5-3 Years)

Once we observe someone else, we start to imitate them. It may look messy at first, but over time, skills are honed, and learning accelerates. We play alongside each other, without interacting.


(Emerges ~3-4 Years)

This is where we start to play together. We start to play the game the way it was designed, together. As you can see, in natural development, Solitary Play is what leads toward interaction. Creating space for independent play is part of the learning process.


(Emerges ~4-6+ Years)

Often times we tend to jump to the high expectation of Cooperative Play, without laying the groundwork for all the other stages that led up to cooperation. Cooperative Play is where we learn to work together toward a common goal. We compromise. We take other's perspectives into account. We give and we take.


So next time you are wanting your child to do more, but you are tired of the fight and the struggle... Remember these stages...

  • Are there places you can create more balance by creating space for Solitary Play... By being the change you wish to see during your solitary play time. Be a model of what you want more of.

  • They are watching. This is Spectator Play!

  • Spectator Play can lead to Parallel Play. Don't be tempted to jump to Cooperative here. Let them do it in their own way, even if it is messy. Give them time and space to explore and learn.

  • That is when Associative Play starts to emerge. This is where we start to come together.

  • And from that place, Cooperative Play is a much more natural place to be!

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