Tag Archives: play

Stages of Play

While we may be well-versed on gross motor or language stages of development, the sequence unfolding in a child’s play is often overlooked.

It was Parten in the early 1930s who theorized that children progress through a series of six different types of play sequentially based on their maturity and social experiences. These stages include:

1. unoccupied play
2. solitary or independent play
3. onlooker play
4. parallel play
5. associative play, and
6. cooperative play

The final stage- cooperative play- tends to draw the most attention.

For cooperative play to unfold naturally, the child must be willing and able to let go of his own urges and desires, preferring instead to negotiate a middle ground where two or more may work together towards a common goal.

This is not something that can be taught by an adult. Rather it evolves over an individual’s personal uninterrupted cumulative play experiences with himself, his family, and the groups with which he is associated.

The disagreement in Parten’s Play Stage Theory lies in whether these stages evolve in sequence- for if they were, it would be uncommon to witness something like Toddler Cooperative Play. Cooperative Play activities are often reserved for the more mature elementary age child who has developed the ability to self-regulate to this complexity.

Yet, when children have grown up together in the center under the gentle guidance of a Primary Caregiver, we witness these cooperative play activities much earlier. Toddlers who are not only cared for by one primary adult, but who also have remained in consistent peer groups over an extended time, demonstrate the natural aptitude for cooperative play much earlier than the anticipated six year bench mark.

Without adult pressure to “share” and without redirection to adult guided activities, children supported in free, uninterrupted play activities evolve through the play sequence at a seemingly accelerated rate. This cooperative model amongst peers translates to the child’s desire and interest to work cooperatively with the adult- be it in a caregiving, academics, or simply keeping the classroom peace

Photo: David Vigliotti
Photo: David Vigliotti

Photo: David Vigliotti
Photo: David Vigliotti

Photo: David Vigliotti
Photo: David Vigliotti

Photo: David Vigliotti
Photo: David Vigliotti

Photo: David Vigliotti
Photo: David Vigliotti

Photo David Vigliotti
Photo David Vigliotti

“We can hope that men will understand that the interest of all are the same, that hope lies in cooperation. We can then perhaps keep PEACE.”
Alva Myrdal

What is PLAY?


Play is what the child does.

It is an important part of the development of learning.

Toddler Play

“Real” play is the process by which a child interacts in his or her environment in such a way that it is SPONTANEOUS and FREE.

Play is inner-directed and non-goal orientated.


Play should never be corrected.  It is a child’s choice that is respected and should not be interrupted without an apology.


Play provides a natural outlet for a child’s curiosity, anxiety, and social experiences.  Play services a need for a child’s mastery.  It is the opportunity by which a child works out his or her life’s “struggles” and learns how to fit into society.


In play, there is no contest.


No right or wrong.

No win or lose.

RIE BabyPlay exists for play’s sake.

Written by Beverly A. Kovach,MN


Infant Play the RIE way

At the 24th Annual RIE Infant/Toddler Conference entitled PROTECTING FREE PLAY IN THE EARLIEST YEARS:  WHAT WE CAN DO, I was asked to present on the Role of the Adult at Little Learners Lodge during infant play.

The RIE philosophy of play can look very different from other approaches where the adult role is centered on the teacher as the educator with a planned agenda for the day’s learning.  Or where babies are viewed as needing adult initiated stimulation or entertainment.  Or, perhaps, where crying or frustration are things to avoid or solve for the child.


Adults facilitating PLAY using the RIE Approach take on the role as Play Facilitator rather than that of orchestrator.  When adults attempt to teach play, with the best of intentions we interfere with the infant’s natural and intrinsic play process.

While not centered physically, the adult’s role during play is central- focused first on cultivating a rich and securely attached relationship between baby and her preferred adult.  The adult’s play role further includes:

  • preparing the environment
  • understanding child development
  • maintaining play objects
  • handling disputes as needed
  • being a frame of reference
  • being emotionally present in the moment, and

Sometimes you don’t even need to see the adult to observe the Educarer’s (Magda Gerber’s term for the infant educator) presence in the child’s play.  Take a few moments to observe Baby G at play.  What do you see happening?  Why is this possible?

When infants move freely during what Magda Gerber referred to as “Want’s Nothing” time, they do what they know best.  They play.  This baby is intentional and persevering.

Although not visible in the video, the adult (Alysse) plays a central role in the quality of this baby’s play.  Baby G is in a state of well-being having been re-fueled under Alysse’s sensitive and respectful care.  G’s play objects have been carefully chosen by her Educarer, simple but increasingly complicated cognitively based on her individual development.  Baby G’s parents have been included in the discussion of free play and she is clothed in a way that allows for unrestricted and comfortable exploration.

Observing Baby G at play under the facilitation of her primary caregiver Alysse, we can see she is secure, comfortable, and balanced physically and emotionally.  She is able to develop meaningful connections with her play objects as she explores her environment which has been thoughtfully prepared with her individual interests and developmental readiness in mind.  Through her self-initiated action, Baby G connects physically and cognitively seemingly teaching herself as she constructs her world.

“A child needs to be in a state of well-being in order to play.”  -Beverly Kovach, Author of BEING WITH BABIES

The Best Moments Caught Off Tape

The best moments in your baby’s life are often not caught on camera.

They unfold.

When you recognize it,  you know – leaving to get the camera will miss the event.  Or disrupt it from happening at all.

The frustration of not being able to get to your camera quickly evaporates and after a deep breath, you are free to be the sole witness, etching the moment in your long-term memory bank.  As a bonus, that fully aware sensitive observation also effortlessly provides you with the necessary information to meet your child’s needs.

Trapped as an observer without a camera, the adult notices even at play, a baby will need a preferred adult’s guidance to check in with to see that where they are is a good place to be;  to share in an accomplishment;  to hold onto an assortment of gathered objects;  to know when they have reached their physical limits cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically.

And to provide the necessary support -not to rescue her- but to build the confidence in her own capabilities to keep moving forward.

While the best moments in your baby’s life are often caught off tape- sometimes you do get lucky.

Here during a demonstration of what might be a five minute sensitive observation by a caregiver, we almost overlook the baby in the back at play with his bowls as little girl in the foreground connects with her primary teacher.  But then, as she moves off screen, something special happens-  a child’s new discovery of the properties of nature.

<iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/45944630&#8243; width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen>The Scientist at Play from MMP School on Vimeo.