When I observe the children at the childcare center, I see many different types of play going on. These are the stages all children go through as they grow from infancy on. Although some children at any age may watch and play by themselves, the children usually follow these steps of development as they learn social skills and how to interact with other children.
ONLOOKER OR OBSERVANT PLAY
In the infant room, the babies crawl around, find a toy and put it in their mouths. Then they may sit up and just look around at the other babies but not interact with each other, although one baby may try to take a toy from another. This is the first stage of play. The babies are beginning to notice what is around them, as they explore their environment.
As babies grow and begin to walk, they continue to explore their environment and start to experiment with items they can control with their hands. (This is the time to child proof your house!) They learn cause and effect as they dump out a box of toys to see how they spill all over the floor, push a ball to see it roll, or press buttons on a toy to hear it play music or other sounds. Young toddlers tend to play by themselves, even if they are in a room with others.
As the children grow and start to become more observant of others around them, they often are seen sitting or running around together but not really directly interacting with each other. They may sit side-by-side doing a puzzle, push trains or cars on the floor, look at books independently or build with blocks without involving each other in their play.
This is seen in most preschool classrooms or playground. Children begin to interact with each other while they play in the dramatic play area pretending to make a meal and serve it to each other, they may look at a book together and talk about the pictures or play in the sandbox together. This is the age that the children learn to socialize, share and develop friendships. They communicate about what they are doing and invite others to join them.
I see this going on everyday with the older children at the center who are going to kindergarten in the fall. During the outside time they create some very structured, organized play. They create racecar games, become transformers, or super heroes. It is interesting to see who the leaders are. The leader will tell the others the idea he or she has planned and tells the others what their part of the plan will be. This stage the children work together as they plan their play or build a grand city using blocks and other props.
If you get a chance to observe children, watch and listen to the way they interact with each other. It is fascinating to see the exchange of ideas as they learn to cooperate and socialize with each other. Children need a chance to play with other children around their same age to develop the skills necessary to be able to communicate well with others as they grow.