Child’s Play : The 4 Main Types

Published: 14th February 2011
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Children are constantly learning new skills through play; whether it is through playing with other children or playing alone. This article looks into the types of play and how they affect children and their development.

There are four main types of play. These are:

1. Solitary Play


2. Parallel Play


3. Associative Play


4. Co-operative Play

1. Solitary Play

This stage of play takes place from birth to around two years of age. During this time most children will play on their own. They will require help and encouragement from an adult but will spend most of their time exploring alone, watching and copying others. Although not old enough to play with other children at this stage, they will join in games with adults such as action rhymes and peek-a-boo.

2. Parallel Play

From the age of two to three years, children become more aware of each other and will happily play "alongside" another child. It is usual for children of this age to be unwilling to share or play happily with another child.

3. Associative Play

From the ages of three to four years, children will usually continue to play alongside one another rather than together, however they will now begin to take note of what others are doing and begin to copy other children.

4. Co-operative Play

This is the final stage of play and, again, takes place from the age of four and above. Many children of this age group will now have started attending pre-school, nursery or even formal school and they are at the age when they usually enjoy the company of other children of a similar age. They are learning to share and co-operate with each other.

There are, of course, many kinds of play. Play can be noisy and boisterous, or quiet and calming. It can be messy and creative or imaginative and emotional. Children can learn and have fun through spontaneous play in much the same way as they can through structured play.

Children should be encouraged to play with and without props, and both indoors and out. They should learn to play alone, with children or adults and with a combination of both.

Structured Play

This is when the play is planned by you, the adult. Structured play is particularly helpful if you are intending to help a child to learn or develop a particular skill, as you can "structure" the activity around their particular developmental stage. Your observations of the child will be vital when planning for this type of play.

Free Play

This is when children are allowed to choose what they want to play. They are allowed the freedom of choice to play in an unplanned way. Your observations of the child during free play will give a valuable insight into their preferences as children will almost certainly choose activities they enjoy or find interesting when encouraged to take part in free play.

When a child is given the opportunity to play in an unstructured way where they can choose the type of play for themselves they will draw on all their experiences as they take charge of the free play situation. If a child is playing at dressing up or in the home corner they may draw on their happy, sad, painful or frightening experiences and, whilst the child should be allowed to take charge of the situation during free play opportunities this does not mean that adults should not offer support and assistance when needed.

Practitioners have the difficult job of learning how to enrich a child’s play experiences without taking over the situation.

For a child to understand the equal importance of both structured and free play the adults around them need to know how to support both types of play successfully. As a practitioner you should be available to listen to the children, answer questions and offer suggestions during the time that children are enjoying free play.

The importance of play in helping a child to develop

Children develop at difference times and at different stages. No two children are alike and it is important that comparisons are not made between children of a similar age. There are many characteristics which may affect a child’s development for example the number and age of siblings a child may have, premature birth, diet and home life etc. Many parents become worried if their child is not walking or talking by a certain age and, although we may use certain milestones as an "average" it really is not possible to pigeon-hole children’s developmental stages.

This article has been put together by the distance learning organisation Start Learning who are experts in home study.

If you want to find out more about Observing, Assessing and Planning for Children or many other distance learning courses please browse their website: Start Learning

Kerrana McAvoy

Academic Director – Start Learning


Start Learning


Video Source: Youtube


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