Stages of Play: Understanding Parallel Play and Best Activities to Support It

parallel play

Have you ever watched a group of young children play together and noticed that they seem to be in their own little worlds? They may be playing side-by-side, but they aren’t necessarily interacting with each other. This is known as parallel play, and it’s a vital part of a child’s social and cognitive development. Understanding the different stages of play and how to support parallel play can help you encourage your child’s growth and development. 

In this article, we’ll share some fun and engaging activities that can support your child’s development during this critical stage and explore the concept of parallel play. So, let’s get started!

Stages of Play

When it comes to discussing the different stages of play, it’s important to note that they can vary depending on the source. However, generally speaking, there are several commonly recognized stages of play that children go through as they develop and grow. 

These stages include the following:

What is Parallel Play?

parallel play

Parallel play is a term used to describe the behavior of young children who play alongside each other without any actual interaction. This type of play is common among children between the ages of two and five, and it is believed to be an important step in the development of social skills.

Examples of parallel play can be seen when children are engaged in activities such as:

They may be sitting close to each other, but they are entirely focused on their own tasks and aren’t necessarily playing together.

Understanding the Benefits of Parallel Play

benefits of parallel play

It is an essential component of a child’s social and emotional development, even though it may seem simple and uneventful. While it may not be as physically active as other types of play, it is still a highly engaging and valuable experience for children. Listed below are some of the benefits of parallel play:

Builds Social Skills

Playing alongside other children, even if not interacting directly, helps kids to develop social skills such as observation, communication, and sharing. Parallel play can be an exciting and engaging way for children to learn and grow together.

Fosters Emotional Regulation

Allowing children to engage in self-directed play can help them develop emotional regulation skills and build resilience. Parallel play can be a safe and calming way for children to explore their feelings and learn to manage their emotions.

Encourages Imagination and Creativity

When children engage in parallel play, they are free to explore their own ideas and interests, leading to endless possibilities for imaginative play. Parallel play can inspire children to think creatively, explore new ideas, and develop problem-solving skills.

Develops Language and Communication Skills

Through parallel play, children have the opportunity to practice language and communication skills in a relaxed and fun environment. Parallel play can be a great way for children to learn new words and phrases, practice listening skills, and develop the ability to express themselves effectively.

Activities to Support Parallel Play

activities to support parallel play

With parallel play, it is no wonder that more and more parents are trying to support their children with this natural development. However, it is important to note that not every activity is suitable for every child. In order to encourage parallel play in your child, keep in mind the following points:

Sensory Play 

Sensory play is an effective method of engaging children in activities that stimulate their senses. It involves activities that incorporate different textures, colors, and scents, such as playing with sand or water, or other materials.

Through sensory play, children can engage in parallel play while simultaneously exploring their senses. This can aid in developing crucial skills such as:

  • Language and communication skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Social and emotional skills
  • Physical skills

Engaging in sensory play can have a beneficial impact on children by helping them feel calm, relaxed, and less stressed. There are several enjoyable sensory activities that children can do with other kids while waiting in line or sitting at the table, such as:

  • Playing with water or sand tables
  • Finger painting
  • Playing with Play-Doh or slime
  • Exploring sensory bins filled with materials like beans, rice, or sensory balls

Pretend Play 

Engaging in pretend play is a valuable way for children to use their imagination to act out various scenarios, like role-playing as a doctor or playing house. Such activities can aid in the development of social abilities and creativity by giving them the opportunity to simulate real-life circumstances without any of the associated dangers.

Pretend play is an effective tool for enhancing children’s skills in several areas.

  • Language and communication skills
  • Social and emotional skills
  • Cognitive skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking

Engaging in pretend play can actually help children develop a range of important skills. Through this activity, kids can learn to think about different perspectives, communicate effectively, and improve their listening skills. They can also practice sharing their ideas and taking turns with others. Here are some examples of pretend play activities that can be done in parallel with others:

  • Playing dress up
  • Playing house
  • Role-playing games like Superheros or Star Wars
  • Hosting tea parties

Art and Craft Activities

art and craft activities

Children can utilize materials like paint, paper, glue, and markers to create a diverse range of art projects through art and craft activities. These activities can be enjoyed independently or with peers, and they can also foster parallel play. 

Participating in art and crafts projects can promote the development of various skills in children, such as:

  • Creativity
  • Fine motor skills
  • Cognitive skills (such as problem-solving and critical thinking)

Engaging in art and crafts activities can serve as a means for children to explore and express their unique ideas and interests. This can foster the development of their imagination and creativity. Some examples of art or craft activities that can be done alongside others include:

  • Finger painting
  • Drawing, 
  • Collage-making
  • Clay sculpting
  • Playdough

Building Blocks and Legos

Building Blocks and Legos are great for encouraging parallel play in children. It’s important for kids to be able to do their own thing and not have to constantly interact with other kids—it helps them develop their own interests and confidence.

These are some of the skills that children can develop through building blocks or Legos:

  • Patience
  • Creativity and Imagination
  • Focus and Attention

Through such activities, children can learn to engage in parallel play while simultaneously practicing their building and construction skills. Many of these toys are available at home (e.g., Lego, K’nex, Lincoln logs).

Music and Dancing

Engaging in music and dancing activities can be highly beneficial for children’s social development. These activities provide opportunities for them to interact with others, express themselves creatively, and learn about different types of music. As a result, children can build their self-confidence, learn to collaborate effectively, and develop their social skills.

Playing musical instruments, for instance, can help children hone their fine motor skills and nurture their imagination. In addition, it can help them learn to listen to each other better when playing together. It can also help them work together towards a common goal.

Best Toys to Support Parallel Play

best toys to support parallel play

When it comes to supporting parallel play in children, there are a variety of toys that can be used to spark their interests and encourage independent play. Here are a few options to consider:

Blocks: A classic plaything that fosters ingenuity, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills through its different shapes and sizes.

Train Table: A custom-made area for toy trains and their tracks, where children can exercise their imagination and hone their motor abilities.

Legos: A construction set that stimulates creativity, spatial reasoning, and problem-solving skills by enabling kids to assemble various structures.

Musical Instruments: Objects that inspire a passion for music in children, teaching them about melody, rhythm, and hand-eye coordination.

Play Kitchen and Food: Toy appliances and food replicas that fuel imaginative play and social interaction while encouraging children to explore cooking and nutrition.

Animal Figures: Toys depicting different animals that unleash the child’s imagination and allow them to learn about the animal kingdom and its inhabitants.

Baby Dolls and Supplies: Toys that teach empathy and caregiving, such as dolls, bottles, and diapers, while also promoting imaginative play and social development.

Tips for Encouraging Parallel Play

encouraging parallel play

There are several strategies that you can use to engage children in parallel play. Some examples include:

1. Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment

The ideal environment for parallel play is one where safety is ensured. Therefore, it’s important to provide a space that has enough space for children to be creative, safe from any dangers or hazards, and undisturbed—you can do this by using a variety of toys that are made of an inclusive range of materials.

2. Introducing New Toys and Activities

It can also be beneficial for children to try out new toys, activities, and games every once in a while to keep them engaged and enthusiastic about playing.

3. Modeling Appropriate Social Skills

Children tend to learn best from adults when it comes to social interaction. As a result, parents and other caregivers can serve as role models by using parallel play as a means of developing their own social skills.

4. Encouraging Communication and Cooperation

Parents and caregivers can also help their kids develop the ability to cooperate with one another through parallel play by encouraging them to talk to one another, show interest in each other’s activities, and share materials.

5. Celebrating Success and Progress

Parallel play can help kids enhance their confidence and self-esteem. As a result, it’s important for parents and caregivers to observe their children’s skills and let them know how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished. Positive affirmation and encouragement can serve as the driving force that keeps children engaged in parallel play.

6. Self-Directed Play

self-directed play

It’s important for children to learn to play independently. You can encourage this by allowing them to play in ways that they feel comfortable with, while occasionally guiding them when necessary.

Experience the Montessori Difference Now!

The Montessori Academy is not just any school that offers basic programs like math and reading. It goes beyond that by providing a unique and enriching educational experience that fosters the development of children’s social skills. The Academy empowers children to pursue their interests and passions while building strong social and emotional skills in a safe and nurturing learning environment.If you’re interested in learning more about how the Montessori Academy can benefit your child’s education, we encourage you to schedule a tour and see the classroom in action. Contact us today at (310) 215 -3388 for Culver City and (323) 795-0200 for West Adams to schedule a visit and take the first step in providing your child with the gift of a Montessori education.


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