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At What Age Do Most Children Play?

Because play is critically important to a child’s mental, physical, social, and emotional development, the UN High Commission for Human Rights recognizes it as every child’s right. Your child learns about the world around him and about interacting with others when he plays with other children. He learns how to share, take turns, develop empathy for others, understand the needs of others and be respectful, speak up for himself, and get along with others. When he plays alone, he discovers competencies and uses decision-making skills. 

If you’re uncertain whether your child is reaching appropriate social milestones, our licensed occupational and speech therapists at Little Wonders Pediatric Therapy, with two offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, can provide an evaluation. If your child needs help in developing play skills, our therapists provide the right kind of support and direction. 

Following are stages of play development and their associated social aspects in young children. If your child’s behavior doesn’t follow these general guidelines, our experts can help. 

Solitary play: birth to 2 years

Your child is exploring his world in this early stage of development. He’s putting objects in his mouth and carrying them from place to place. He’s happy playing independently. 

He also learns rudimentary lessons about cause and effect. If he pushes a button on a music box, he hears a song. If he presses a key on a toy xylophone, he hears a note. He’s beginning functional play by loading material onto a toy truck.  

Spectator play: 2 years old 

If your child is in the sandbox with other children, he may look at what they’re doing but continue to play on his own. He continues learning about cause and effect and enjoys functional play like throwing a ball. 

Parallel play: 2+ years 

When your child reaches this stage, he plays near other children but continues to play alone, using more sophisticated play skills. 

Also around age 2, your child starts pretend play. It’s an important part of play development because your child is using language skills he needs to communicate with others. 

Associative play: 3-4 years

Your young child starts to pay more attention to the children around him. If another boy starts to push a truck around the room, your child may do the same. Children start exchanging play materials with each other at around age 3.  

Cooperative play: 4+ years

By the time your child is 4, he’s actively playing with other children. They may play together to build a castle with Legos or race cars down a track to see which one goes the farthest. At this stage, your child has a rudimentary concept of sharing and playing together, and he shouldn’t continually grab the race car out of his playmate’s hands. 

Children are also beginning to play games that have rules, like Candyland. They may make up rules for a game they’re playing. 

This sophisticated form of play is difficult for children on the autism spectrum, those with auditory processing disorder, or another speech/language or developmental disorder. These children have communication deficits that may limit reciprocal relationships. Our trained therapists use proven methods to help a child who may be struggling to play successfully with others. They also provide you with strategies to help your child learn cooperative play skills. 

Call Little Wonders Pediatric Therapy or send us a message online for a private consultation if you believe your child needs help in developing social skills. We’re committed to unlocking the full potential of every child. 

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