What is Parallel Play?

What is Parallel Play?

Being together while playing apart — that’s the world of parallel play. Here’s everything you need to know about this important stage of development.
As your little one kicks off their toddler years, so too does a lifetime of having fun with others.

But before your toddler plays with others, they might play parallel to others.

So what does that even look like, and why is it so important for your toddler’s development?

Here’s everything you need to know about parallel play.

In this article: 📝

  • What is parallel play and why is it important?
  • Benefits of parallel play
  • What are the 5 stages of play?

What is parallel play and why is it important?

For starters, here’s a parallel play definition:

When a child (usually between two to three years old) plays independently alongside another child.

From the outside, it might seem like they’re having difficulty sharing or interacting — but they’re actually engaging in an important stage of their development.

Parallel play teaches them to observe and mimic others while continuing to learn about the world around them.

Maybe your child is having a tea party with a teddy bear alongside a toddler with a toy truck.

Or perhaps one child is reading a book while the other is building a block tower.

These are all parallel play examples.

At this age, they’re constantly absorbing new information, and giving them the freedom to parallel play will help them understand the world around them and how they fit into it.

Benefits of parallel play

Parallel play can help toddlers learn cooperation and how to communicate with others while at the same time developing vital skills.

Parallel play can help them:

  • Improve their motor skills
  • Use their imagination
  • Pick up new words or skills by copying others
  • Understand social interactions
  • Learn to share

You can encourage parallel play activities by:

  • Setting up playdates. Meeting up with other children is the perfect way to provide opportunities for parallel play.
  • Providing enough toys when with others. This means they can play independently in their own world, with their own toys — but together.
  • Chat to them as they play. By engaging with them, you can encourage speech development.

What are the 5 stages of play?

As your little one grows up, there are five stages of play that they’ll go through — and parallel play is just one of them:

1. Unoccupied play

The very first type of playing your little one ever experiences is all about figuring out how their body works.

This type of play happens in the first few months of their lives.

2. Solitary play

Before they start playing with other children, their goal is to explore the world around them.

You’ll find your peanut playing solo until they’re about two years old.

3. Parallel play

From about two years old, they start to get more interested in other children, but they’re still more into their own thing.

They’ll play alongside or near other kids rather than with them.

4. Associate play

As they get to be three or four years old, they’ll start to acknowledge others a bit more.

While they’re now playing together and with the same toys, they don’t necessarily have the same goals in mind.

This might look like kids using building blocks to make something with no agreed plan on what they’re trying to build.

5. Cooperative play

From about four years old, they’ll start interacting with others and show an interest in other children as well as the activity they’re doing.

Some schools of thought offer a sixth stageonlooker play.

That’s the phase just before parallel play, where they observe the actions of others.

The move from playing on their own to playing with others is pretty big.

You might notice them observing the behavior of others first without wanting to interact or play beside them yet.

This onlooker behavior is pretty common at about two years old.

Some little peanuts will continue to play alone even if there are other kids around.

That’s totally normal.

While you can encourage them to play with others, there’s also room for them to continue to learn and grow by playing on their own.

Everyone develops at their own pace.

Want to find a playdate? Join our Peanut community to find mamas and their peanuts in your area.

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22 Outdoor Activities for Kids
Building Social Skills for Kids: Fun Ideas
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How to Entertain a Toddler: Simple Ways to Play at Home
How to Deal With Toddler Tantrums
100+ ‘Would You Rather?’ Questions for Kids
18 Best Outdoor Toys for Toddlers
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