December 5, 2016

Child Therapy: Play milestones

In one of our past posts, we discussed the importance of imaginary play. There are other significant play milestones before the emergence of imaginary play. In order to encourage play milestones, remember to OWL: Observe, wait, and listen. Observe what your child is interested in, wait for your child to respond, and listen for communication during play. Get on the level of your child, follow their lead, and engage in the magical world of play.

Developmental Play Milestones:

0-4 months: Play mainly directed by parents

  • Joint attention, when the caregiver and child are engaged in the same object, should be emerging around this time. Use objects the child is interested in while initiating these types of play movements.

4-8 months: Engage in sensory-motor play

  • At this age, children will explore the objects around them by using their senses; touch, smell, hear, and of course, taste. As you probably have noticed, children will start to put everything in their mouths. Be cautious of leaving small objects in reach of young children.

9-12 months: Exploratory play

  • Gross and speech developmental accomplishments will be occurring during these months. As children begin to crawl, walk, and talk, their learning and playing environment expands. Children play through exploration of the world around them.

12-36 months: Symbolic play

  • Fine motor skills will begin to emerge and will be to initiate more tactile play. Instead of throwing, touching, or banging toys, they will begin to understand the intended function. The child may stack blocks, pretend drink out of a cup, and/or talk on a toy phone.

5-3.5 years: Parallel play

  • Parallel play is witnessed during play dates, daycare, or preschool. The child is playing independently but with relatable toys to the child next to them. For example, Jake may play with a dump truck while sitting next to Mike, who is playing with a pick-up truck. Jake and Mike are within speaking distance, but do not engage in playful conversations. The children are aware of one another, but do not quite interact yet.

3-5 years: Pretend/ imaginary play

  • Pretend play is the magical time for fairies, doctors, pirates, and policemen to flood your living room. Children will love to dress up and impersonate other people at this stage of their life. They will reenact different experiences in their own lives and practice putting themselves in other people’s shoes.

4-6 years Cooperative play

  • Cooperative play involves an organized purpose for play. Children may organize a soccer game, play “house” by acting as mom and dad, or play a board game. Children will be creative with different types of play and all children involved will have a role in the process.
  • Watching a child interact through the world of play is an exciting time for parents. Allow enough room and time for children to develop their imaginary mind. Release your inner child inside and bond with your child during playtime. Next week, we will discuss appropriate toys for children at each play stage.



Frost, J.L., Wortham S.C., & Reifel, S.(2010), Characteristics of social play. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/characteristics-social-play/

“Learning, Play, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.

“The Magic of Play: How It Inspires & Aids Early Development.” KidsHealth. Ed. Mary L. Gavin. The Nemours Foundation, July 2014. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.

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