Stages of Play: Things To Know About Unoccupied Play

unoccupied play

Play is an essential activity in a child’s development. It teaches children how to interact and manages their behavior, making them more socially appropriate. It also helps develop certain physical and mental skills essential for school success, such as problem-solving, reasoning with symbols, planning, and sequencing. Play is not just about the ‘fun’ – it’s also important for cognitive development.

However, babies and young children spend much of their time in play alone. During these unoccupied periods, children learn about the world around them, begin to understand the nature of objects and develop the concept of self.

But What Exactly Is Unoccupied Play? And Why Is It So Important?

In this article, we will first look at what unoccupied play is and how it affects children’s development. Then, we will look at factors that affect the amount of unoccupied play a child enjoys. We will also look at tips to encourage more unoccupied play in young children.

What is Unoccupied Play?

Unoccupied Play is one of the 6 Stages of Play developed by sociologist Mildred Parten Brown. The other five stages are:

  1. Solitary/Independent Play
  2. Onlooker play
  3. Parallel play
  4. Associative play
  5. Cooperative play

The first stage of play occurs during this time period—between 0-3 months. In the early months of infancy, newborns may not seem like they’re playing; however, it’s a crucial part of their development!

Unoccupied play is the stage where a child plays by themselves, with their own imagination. The toys are just tools for them to use their imagination, and they don’t need anyone else to help them.

Unoccupied play is often the first step in learning how to play with others because it helps kids figure out how to make up stories and games on their own.

It’s important that you don’t interrupt your child during this time—even if they’re going through a phase where they seem distracted or frustrated by their toys! They should learn how to entertain themselves than it is for you to try and engage them!

How Does Unoccupied Play Stimulate Development?

unoccupied play stimulate development

During these first few months, they are mostly observing and exploring. Their movements start off as involuntary, uncoordinated, and erratic.

Infants learn about their surroundings by being curious and looking at everything around them. This greatly benefits their gross motor skills as they learn to move around and explore new spaces.

As their motor skills improve, their ability to observe and play with objects also increases. This is where unoccupied play comes in!

The following are the benefits of unoccupied play:

  • Improve gross and fine motor skills
  • They gather information about their surroundings. (cognitive skills)
  • This increases their self-confidence
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Improve their emotional intelligence

When Do Children Engage in Unoccupied Play?

Parents, teachers, and caregivers often feel pressure to fill children’s time with organized activities. However, they should remember that there is no specific age when it happens; it can occur at any time in a child’s development. It is important to note the signs of unoccupied play so that parents can understand how their children learn best!

For infants, unoccupied play is common, but it becomes less so as children get older. In this stage, they mostly play with their toys and explore the world around them. As they age, they need to transition from solitary to social play.

What are some examples of an Unoccupied Play?

Here are some examples of unoccupied play, so you can get a feel for what it looks like. It is important to note that while the baby’s movements appear random, they most likely do have a purpose and are not entirely without function:

  • On the floor, a baby flaps their arms and kicks their legs as they lie on a blanket.
  • A baby splashes in bath water and then diverts its attention elsewhere.
  • A baby will wave their arms in the direction of a dangling toy and smile, but they won’t try to grab it.
  • Playing with toys that don’t go together, like mixing up items from different sets or throwing them around the room.

As babies grow older, they will begin to show more interest in playing with more interactive toys that provide a challenge.

What Can Things Be Done to Encourage Unoccupied Play?

things be done to encourage unoccupied play

Unoccupied play is the kind of play that happens when kids are left to their own devices. Kids can express themselves in many ways, but it’s important to watch them, so they don’t get into trouble.

Babies are born with the innate instinct to play, but their learning is greatly enhanced when they’re encouraged in this behavior by those around them. This stage is designated for helping children develop natural brain and motor skills to prepare them to move on to the next.

In order to make sure your child grows up without any developmental problems, exposing them to new sounds, textures, and experiences from the time they are born is important.

There are some things you can do to encourage unoccupied play:

  • Make sure your child has plenty of toys and age-appropriate activities in the house, so they have something to do when bored.
  • Try setting up an area where they can play with their toys while you’re working or doing other things around the house—maybe a playroom or just a corner of the kitchen.

Remember, unoccupied play helps kids learn how to entertain themselves. If children don’t get enough time to do this, they may be less enthusiastic about playing with toys later.

Activities to Promote Unoccupied Play

These activities are designed to help babies learn how to entertain themselves and allow them to practice this skill.

1. Variety of Sounds

variety of sounds

Babies love to listen to sounds. It helps them learn how to communicate with others and understand the world around them. Give your child lots of objects that make different sounds, like rattles, bells, and music. Try to vary the volume of sounds as well—some will be quiet while others are loud.

This activity promotes the following dimensions of learning:

  • Motor skills and coordination
  • Social and emotional development
  • Imagination, creativity, and problem solving
  • Cognitive development (understanding, judgment, perception)

2. Touch and Feel

Babies can form a visual image of the world if they are exposed to it often enough. Try taking your baby outside in a stroller, car seat, or maybe even on a walk. Give your baby lots of experiences with different textures and materials, like paper, paint, cloth, and sandpaper, so that they have experience with how things feel under their skin as well as what they look like.

This activity is great for promoting the following:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Cognitive abilities and understanding of the world around them
  • Motor planning and coordination between hands and eyes.

This activity is also great for helping babies learn how to focus and learn new information. It’s recommended that parents expose their babies to new textures, colors, and sounds at least once a day.

3. Freedom of Movement

Babies love to move. They love exploring their surroundings and want to find out what’s there for them. This activity is a great way to encourage babies to move. It’s recommended that parents allow their children to crawl, walk and explore on their own. Let them play on the floor or in a safe environment where they can’t get into trouble.

This activity helps promote the following:

  • Cognitive development (understanding, judgment, perception)
  • Gross motor skills and coordination
  • Independence and self-reliance.

4. Talk to Your Baby

Talk to your baby every day. They are listening and learning from you. You can start talking to them while they’re still in the womb. When they’re born, keep talking to them and encourage them to respond with sounds such as cooing and babbling. This helps develop their language skills, which will come in handy later on when they start talking.

This is helpful for:

  1. Cognitive and language development: talking to babies helps them understand how words are used, which introduces the concept of language. It also helps them understand the relationship between sounds and objects, which will help them develop an advanced vocabulary later in life.
  2. Social and emotional development:
  • Talking to your baby encourages writing skills.
  • Learning about other people’s feelings.
  • Expressing their own feelings.

5. Reading Books

unoccupied play

Reading to your baby is the best way to introduce them to new words, concepts and ideas. By reading books with them, you are creating a bond between the two that will last for many years. While playing with their toys or singing songs together is fun, reading books provides an interactive experience that allows parents and children to learn from each other.

This activity is great for promoting the following:

Cognitive development: reading helps children develop their reading skills, which will be useful later in life. It also helps them understand what words mean, which will help them connect new objects with their own language.

Motor development: reading helps children practice different hand motions and eye movements, allowing them to write and read later in life.

Emotional development: parents and children can have fun reading stories together, encouraging understanding of others’ feelings, and developing empathy.


As a parent, you are responsible for providing your child with the best opportunities to learn and grow. This includes playing and exploring with toys, participating in family activities, interacting with their friends, and taking part in social events. It is important that you also ensure that your child gets enough unoccupied play time to learn how to play by themselves. This way, you’re helping them develop valuable life skills that will help them throughout the years. 

At Montessori Academy, we understand that your child is unique and will have different developmental needs. We also know that providing the right environment for your child to learn and grow can be difficult if you need clarification on what those needs are. That’s why we offer a variety of programs designed specifically for preschool-aged children to help them develop their skills at an appropriate pace.

For more information about our programs and how we can help your child become a confident and capable learner, contact us today.


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