The Stages of Play

At Safari Ltd., we are keenly aware of the valuable life lessons and behavioral cues children garner through play, particularly during those early formative years. Our plastic animal figures aren’t only fun. They’re powerful tools that help guide kids through the early stages of learning that coincide directly with the stages of play as defined by renowned Sociologist, Mildred Parten. She noted that as children develop they adapt their play through six distinct stages, each of which expands a child’s capabilities by fostering new skills and insights. These six stages are:

Unoccupied Play

Usually observed in infants from birth to 18 months. As the child’s brain goes through early development, they are processing lots of new information, and their style of play reflects this. The child usually stays in one place displaying seemingly random movements and is not seen engaging much with others. They are exploring their senses, including particularly vision and touch.

Solitary Play

Still developing their physical skills as well as their social skills, in this stage children will play by themselves, with their own toys, and seem relatively uninterested in what is going on around them. They learn motor skills and cognitive skills, as well as how to independently keep themselves busy and entertained. This stage usually continues until around age 3.

Onlooker Play

This style of play has no set age, but typically occurs in toddlers. They will not directly join the play of others but will instead watch from the sidelines, observing and occasionally asking questions. They use this time to learn and develop communication skills. This type of play may manifest when a child is less sure of a situation, such as when meeting a new playmate or being introduced to a new game.

Parallel Play

At this stage, children begin to slowly move toward interacting with other children more directly. During parallel play, they will play in roughly the same area, side by side, without directly engaging with each other. While they won’t necessarily interact, they are aware of the other children and will often engage in similar behavior and play with similar toys. Despite the lack of direct engagement, the children are learning from one another, developing social cues and other valuable skills through observing and paying attention to what the other is doing. This stage usually occurs between 2 ½ and 3 ½ years of age, though it can occur in any age range.

Associative Play

Between the ages of 3 and 4, children’s interests begin to shift, so they are focusing less on the objects and more on the other children around them. They will interact directly with each other and begin to develop strong social and communication skills. They also begin to focus on language, as well as cooperating with one another to solve problems and achieve goals.

Cooperative or Social Play

Finally, children will engage in cooperative play between the ages of 4 to 6. Organization within groups, with emphasis on teamwork and formally assigned roles, becomes more clearly defined. This is when they use the skills they’ve learned up to this point to develop more complex play with a well-defined purpose and established sets of guidelines.

Safari Ltd® toys are an excellent choice for many of the stages of play, with offerings that are suitable for children from 18 months (many of our Incredible Creatures®) up to 4 years of age and beyond (our Dragons and Safariology® collections). Safari Ltd® is there every step of the way to help your child develop and learn through the joy of play.

The impact Safari Ltd. educational animal toys can have on a child’s growth is remarkable.