Development of Play

Play develops in a particular sequence with expected play behaviours to emerge at certain ages. Play and language development are closely linked, particularly in the first five years of life.

Self Play1 - 1.5

  • Cause and effect play

  • Imitates simple one-step actions in pretend (e.g., brush hair, feed baby)

  • Manipulates objects during play

  • Very rapid shifts of attention and high movement levels

Onlooker Play1.5 - 2

  • Plays near others but not with them

  • Talks to self while playing

  • Very short turn-taking episodes during play

  • Begins to combine a simple play sequence (e.g., feed baby bottle and put her in crib to bed)

  • Imitates novel actions with objects during play

  • Sensory play very appealing at this age

Parallel Play2 - 2.5

  • Arranges objects to be used in pretend play sequences (e.g., toy cow put near barn and other animals)

  • Uses own experiences to create pretend play schemes

  • Stacks blocks into tower

  • Exploration of materials and the environment during play

  • Imitates sounds and words during play routines

Parallel Play2.5 - 3

  • Make believe and imagination begin to enter play routines

  • Takes an interest in the play of others

  • Able to take a few back and forth turns during play

  • Combines various materials in play routines

Associative Play3 - 3.5 y

  • Builds simple structures from a model

  • Begins to use writing materials appropriately in play (e.g., scribble on paper, paint on canvas)

  • Begins to learn to share during play

  • Re-enacts favourite events during pretend play routines (e.g., baking cookies with grandma, trip to the farm)

  • Uses one object to represent another (e.g., a stick becomes a magic wand)

Associative Play3.5 - 4

  • Dramatization and imagination increase significantly

  • Able to play for longer periods with peers

  • Directs others in play routines

  • Play begins to incorporate jokes and silliness

Associative Play4 - 5

  • Able to build more complex structures from a model

  • Dramatization includes props, characters and can include other peers

  • Can retell familiar stories in play (e.g., Three Little Pigs acted out with puppets)

  • Can play in a variety of ways (e.g., alone, with a peer or in small groups)

Cooperative Play5 - 6

  • Can copy simple drawings

  • Builds from a model or creates large structures independently

  • Able to play rule-based games (e.g., tag, hide and seek, board games)

  • Builds many sequences of events, props, characters and settings into pretend play schemes

  • Dramatizations can continue across many days

From Birth To First Words: Activities to Support Your Baby’s Language Learning Journey In the First Year Of Life