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The Stages of Play

Important Precursors to Functional Play:

  • Joint Attention – child looks from a desired object, person or event to a caregiver or conversational partner, back to the desired object, person, event
  • Object Permanence – knowing that an object hidden from view is still  present (ex. bear hidden under blanket)
  • Tool Use – recognizing that objects can be used as tools to get what is desired (ex. using a stick to pull a wanted toy out from under a chair)
  • Functional use of Toys– recognizing how to play with toys (ex. putting a pretend phone to the ear)
  • Symbolic use of Toys– using an object to represent something else (ex. using a block to represent a phone, a sponge or a truck)

Stages of Social Play

  • Solitary Play – ex. infant watches mobile overhead; toddler plays alone zooming cars on the floor
  • Parallel Play – two children play side-by-side at times glancing at each other, but not interacting
  • Associative Play – children play side-by-side, beginning to imitate each other and incorporate components of the counterpart's play
  • Cooperative Play – children fully join together to create an occurrence or produce a product (ex. build a block tower together or engage in dramatic play, such as playing house)

Stages of Cognitive Play

  • Functional Play – child associates an object with an action (ex. child picks up a broom and sweeps the floor)
  • Constructive Play – child uses materials to build a structure (ex. building block bridges)
  • Dramatic play – one or more children act out a real or imagined event (ex. children pretend to cook dinner)
  • Games with rules – children play a game together following a mental representation of the rules (ex. children playing a board game or play a ball game according to their own agreed-on rules)

Stages of Symbolic Play

  • Presymbolic Scheme – infant shows understanding of object use by a brief action (ex. brings a brush to hair)
  • Self-pretend – baby shows awareness of the pretend nature of a self-directed activity (ex. baby pretends to drink from an empty bottle making sipping noises, then closes eyes tightly pretending to sleep)
  • Decentered Pretend – the child's play includes another person or object or the child engages in an activity that is usually performed by someone else (ex. child pretends to feed teddy bear or a child pretends to read to bear)
  • Pretend Play Combinations – a situation where two or more different schemes are described in sequence (ex. child plays that he is baking a cake by mixing batter, pouring it into a pan then placing it into the oven)
  • Planned Pretend – pretend play situations where a child re-enacts an event and announces what he is going to do  (ex.  I'm going to pretend that I'm a zookeeper and let all the animals run out!)

(Resource: Children's Play: The Roots of Reading. Edited by Edward F. Zigler, Dorothy G. Singer, & Sandra J. Bishop-Josef.  Zero to Three Press; Washington, DC: 2004; pp. 38-39.)  Form adapted by Kate Ross, MS, CCC-SLP  (2011)

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