By Regina G. Posadas
Picture this: You bring your toddler to the park, eager and excited for him to meet other kids his age and to explore his surroundings. But when you get there, your little boy just looks around wide eyed and doesn’t talk or play with anyone. Should you be worried?
Well, if you’re a parent who’s clued in on play and its stages, you’d know that this is just a phase your son is going through and not something to lose sleep over. You’d also stay positive and keep bringing your child to the park anyway because you know that over time and as he gets older, he would become more enthusiastic, active, and involved during playtimes.
Indeed, like life, play has different stages: solitary, onlooker, parallel, associative, and cooperative. I learned this from developmental-behavioral pediatrician Dr. Lourdes Bernadette “Tippy” Sumpaico-Tanchanco and her informative talk in behalf of Promil Gold Four during the sixth Baby, Kids & Family Expo Philippines held at the Megatrade Hall of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City.
Here is Dr. Tippy’s brief description of each stage and the ages it covers:
Solitary Play (under three years)
The child plays alone, focuses on his own activity, and is unaware or uninterested in what others are doing. Like a little boy cheerfully playing solo with his musical toy on the floor, unmindful of the other people in the room.
Onlooker Play (two to three years)
The child watches others play but does not engage in it. He may talk or ask questions about the play but not join it. Like a girl observing two other kids on the playground who are riding on the seesaw.
Parallel Play (two and a half to four years)
The child plays separately but close to others often mimicking their actions. This is often seen as the beginning of more complex social play. For example, a child will run when he sees another child running but they do not talk.
Associative Play (three to four years)
The child is interested in playing with others and interacts with others during play, but the activity is not coordinated. Like two boys playing close to each other in the sandbox. One boy asks the other about his toy truck after the other boy pours sand on it. Later, he will point to the small shovel that’s beside the toy truck and talk about it.
Cooperative Play (four-and-a-half to six years)
The child is interested both in the people playing and in the activity. The activity is organized and the participants are assigned roles. This is the beginning of teamwork. Example, relay games where kids take turns to run, walk, or pass a toy and they have to tap the child next to them in line.
Because children learn best through play, moms and dads need to provide them with opportunities to play and learn, said Dr. Tippy. “Children who play are happier and perform better in class. Maraming nade-develop (So many things develop) when we let our children play. Their brains develop when they play, along with their motor skills, confidence, memory, cognitive skills, and language, lalo na kung lagi natin silang kinakausap habang naglalaro (especially when we always talk to them while they’re playing).”
Play also keeps our children active and healthy, which is a big challenge in this age of gadgets, online gaming, and electronic media. When they play, their strength, agility, and coordination are developed. Cognitively, play gives children a better understanding of the world, and helps them build ideas and concepts, solve problems, and be more creative. Socio-emotionally, play makes kids aware of their strengths and limitations, gain a sense of achievement, develop self-esteem, and socialize with peers.
To ensure better, happier, and more fulfilling playtimes with your children, consider these other facts about play and learning, advised Dr. Tippy:
- Children are active learners. They observe and listen even if you don’t teach them.
- Children’s learning is influenced by
- the environment
- early dispositions, perceptions, temperament, and emotions
The parents’ role is to guide and encourage their children, like when they’re just starting to walk, because there are skills too difficult for a child to master on his own, and not everything can be done through trial and error.
- Children learn through a combination of physical experience, social interaction, and reflection.
- Children’s learning styles differ. Some learn better when they see things, some like to move, others prefer to listen, and so on.
- When children play, they focus on the activity, the doing rather than the end result. In contrast, adults usually focus on the result, wanting their child “to win,” “to be number one,” or “to be the best.” Ease up on the expectations and let your child play without pressure.
Dr. Tippy Sumpaico-Tanchanco practices at The Medical City and at the MedMom Institute for Human Development in Pasig City. www.med-mom.com