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.

PLAY TYPEAGE (years)BEHAVIOUR
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