The 6 stages of play in early childhood

The 6 stages of play in early childhood

When it comes to playing, kids know exactly how it’s done. In fact, they are probably the best in the world at playing – even the littlest ones.

But did you know that they go through six different types of play from the first months of their lives until they are about five years old? Each stage has its own natural playing style, and every child can go through these stages at different times.

At LEGO® DUPLO®, we make sure our sets complement these stages through play-based learning. When children build and explore with LEGO bricks, they develop important skills both mentally and physically that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. We call it Learning Through Play, and you can read much more about it here.

This article will guide you as a parent or guardian through the different types of play and explain how LEGO DUPLO can support your children’s development.

Unoccupied play – 0 to 11 months

Good news for first-time parents at this stage: no need to go on a spending spree for toys right away! Because at this age, babies don’t have the cognitive ability to differentiate between a toy and other items.

Skills such as building relations, observing and hand-to-eye coordination improve when you talk to them, read to them and sing or play them music. They start impersonating and mimicking what they see. So, start practicing those big, broad facial expressions – kids love them!

Introducing your baby to toys of different shapes, colors, textures and sights is great for their development. Although we do not recommend letting your children play with LEGO DUPLO toys before the age of 1½ years, you can still introduce your baby to the shapes and colors at a safe distance. Better yet, you can build some of the sets and use them as decorative display pieces for the nursery.

Alone play – 5 months to 1½ years

Your little one grows from being a baby into being a toddler with very specific tastes and strong opinions. At the end of this stage, they’re also reaching the age when it’s appropriate to give them LEGO DUPLO sets to play with!

They begin to express emotions through play, recognizing animals and everyday objects. LEGO DUPLO bricks are designed to support this development and you’ll find that many of the sets are full of animals, bricks with eyes and elements for houses that children of this age will find familiar and fun.

Our larger LEGO DUPLO bricks, twice the size of the LEGO system bricks, are made for small hands and ensure a safe play experience for toddlers. Introducing your children to LEGO DUPLO at about 18 months (1 and a half years) and up fuels their creativity and imagination and helps to improve your children’s fine motor skills: for example, when figuring out how to click two bricks together by trying, and trying, and trying again until… click!

Onlooker play – 2 to 3 years

At this stage, children begin observing other children as they play, learning from them and beginning to understand social boundaries associated with playing.

Alongside this, more emotions emerge which can sometimes cause frustration. That’s why LEGO DUPLO sets often include animals or people and the bricks are designed in fun shapes, with faces and vivid colors, helping your children understand their feelings and express them through play.

As their fine motor skills develop, so does their ability to build bigger with LEGO DUPLO. Children also begin to grow confident in their ABCs and 123s, so naturally, we’ve included bricks with numbers and letters in many of our LEGO DUPLO sets to support this development.

As your children start to make sense of the world, they may start recognizing characters from their favorite shows (making a trip to the mall a fun experience for parents…) and become interested in building their own stories.

Parallel play – 2 to 4 years

Parents might find that they spend more time trying to catch up with their children at this age because they’ve become more active. Not to worry! Just reach for the LEGO DUPLO bricks which are designed to be played with anywhere at any time.

Children can begin playing with the more advanced LEGO DUPLO sets, strengthening their self-expression and creative skills as they begin creating stories, worlds and plots of their own.

But what exactly is what is parallel play? Closely connected to the onlooker stage, it’s when children are playing side-by-side but not necessarily interacting with one another. Although not playing together, this stage helps develop their social skills and understanding of empathy.

Associative play – 3 to 4+ years

What is associative play? It’s when your children start engaging in activities with other children. They start collaborating and sharing toys and further develop their social skills.

At this stage, some children might find that LEGO DUPLO isn’t challenging enough and start looking towards the standard LEGO bricks. Our 4+ range is dedicated to bridging the gap between LEGO DUPLO and the rest of that big, wide, LEGO world.

Cooperative play – 3 to 4+ years

This may come as no surprise, but a lot of development and improvement of skills continue throughout this final stage.

What is cooperative play? The main difference between associative play and cooperative play is that your children begin to play with others in a way that is directed toward a common goal.

Their imagination develops further, making way for pretend-play and taking on different roles. With a diverse cast of characters and endless opportunities for world-building, this is exactly what LEGO DUPLO and our 4+ range are made for.

LEGO DUPLO sets take your children by the hand through each stage and always have child development in mind. Our sets are made to inspire, excite, educate and support your children so they can continue Learning Through Play.

Want to know more about the best toys for learning through play? We have a whole resource dedicated to showing you the best LEGO DUPLO sets for each age group.

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