The Developmental Sequence of Play
For many mothers and fathers the “socialization” of their child is a top priority. While they certainly hope their little one will do well academically when she reaches school, they also are concerned about her ability to play well with others. However, in order to effectively nurture social skills, it is important to recognize that a child’s interest in playing with peers and her ability to do so do not emerge completely and instantaneously.
For the first year-and-a-half or so, infants usually show relatively little interest in interacting with other infants. While they enjoy observing each other, most of their social-emotional energy is directed toward the adults in their lives. As they approach and pass the second birthday, toddlers become inclined to engage in what is referred to as “parallel play.” They clearly enjoy playing alongside other toddlers, doing similar things with similar materials, but they still are not really interested in truly interactive activities.
As they move toward the third birthday, this parallel play evolves into “associative play.” The side-by-side play now involves some genuine yet rather superficial interaction consisting of the exchange of comments and the sharing of materials. It typically is not until they approach and pass the third birthday that children will engage in “cooperative play” in which each child takes a distinct role that is coordinated and integrated with the roles taken by other children. This can be something as simple as playing on a see-saw or as complicated as acting out a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean” in which one kid is a pirate, another kid is a soldier, another kid is a prisoner, etc.
Furthermore, this sequence is one of “addition” not “exclusivity.” In other words, just because a child is participating in cooperative play does not mean she will never again participate in associative, parallel, or solitary play. She merely becomes more interested in and capable of the more sophisticated forms of play as she develops.
This is why Romp n’ Roll classes feature a lot of parent participation for younger children, gradually involve increasing emphasis on interaction with peers as the children get older, and always include ample opportunities for both independent and group activities. By recognizing and respecting the developmental sequence of play, Romp n’ Roll classes ensure that the socialization process will be as pleasant and productive as possible.