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6 Types of Play

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Jeremy outlines the 6 ways that we use play to learn how to work together.  Although, the study was centreed around 2-5 year olds, I think it is quite easy to extrapolate the learnings to the junior youth (those youth, typically at junior high level):

Play is a serious business….

  1. Unoccupied play: the child is relatively stationary and appears to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose. A relatively infrequent style of play.
  2. Solitary play: the child is are completely engrossed in playing and does not seem to notice other children. Most often seen in children between 2 and 3 years-old.
  3. Onlooker play: child takes an interest in other children’s play but does not join in. May ask questions or just talk to other children, but the main activity is simply to watch.
  4. Parallel play: the child mimics other children’s play but doesn’t actively engage with them. For example they may use the same toy.
  5. Associative play: now more interested in each other than the toys they are using. This is the first category that involves strong social interaction between the children while they play.
  6. Cooperative play: some organisation enters children’s play, for example the playing has some goal and children often adopt roles and act as a group.

He concludes with:

Unlike Jean Piaget who saw children’s play in primarily cognitive developmental terms, Parten emphasised the idea that learning to play is learning how to relate to others.



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