As children grow, they become increasingly independent in all aspects of their development: eating, sleeping, and, of course, playing! One of the many stages of play that children discover is parallel play.
This style of play is typically learned by the age of two and is incredibly important for your toddler’s development as they age. In this article, we will cover what parallel play is, how to support it, and give several examples for you to try with your kids.
What Is Parallel Play?
Parallel play is a play style in which children will play independently and side-by-side. Children usually start parallel play around two years old, but this development can occur earlier or later. It helps children to learn peer regulation, observation skills, working with and getting along with others, as well as working independently.
Parallel play is a crucial stepping stone to proper social interaction. At this age, children will more than likely not directly communicate with each other. Instead, they will keep an eye on each other and often mimic what the other is doing. If you watch closely, you’ll likely begin to notice that parallel play is more about the presence of other children of the same age rather than direct cooperation.
What Are Some Benefits of Parallel Play?
Parallel play provides several social benefits to children and helps improve play-based learning strategies. Part of parallel play requires independent exploration.
During this playtime, children begin to learn the following strategies:
- Trial and error.
- Discovery through experience.
- Sensory approaches such as touch, taste, and sight.
- Exposure to new materials and play spaces.
The social skills gained through parallel play are also crucial to further development as children age. These skills include:
- Mimicking behaviors: Children may not directly interact with each other, but they are always observing each other for new ideas or strategies on how to explore their creations.
- Personal space: As children play, they will learn to acknowledge and give other kids more room to play. Initially, this may begin with the need to give themselves space, but it will translate to giving others space as well.
- Waiting turns: One of the most challenging skills to teach is patience. During parallel play, children are able to experience what it is to share and wait for others to finish playing with a toy or using tools.
What Are Some Examples of Parallel Play?
Parallel play is best achieved through creative exercises or games.
One of the simplest ways to help your child instigate parallel play is to set up playdates with other children of a similar age. This way, the children will share the same play space while being able to do their own thing.
Over time, these play dates can help your child learn about and with their peers, feel comfortable around other kids, and develop relationships with them. Continuing to pursue play dates will also allow for an easier transition into the next stage of play: associative play.
Even though they’ll always be our babies to us, our toddlers will grow into big kids and then tweens. It’s essential to continue supporting social interactions during this time; while the term “playdates” might be swapped for “hanging out,” older kids thrive with peer-to-peer time.
Coloring and Drawing
This simple arts and crafts project is a lot of fun for kids of all ages. Kids (and adults who are kids at heart) will enjoy getting those creative juices flowing! Each child will have a picture to color or page to draw on. They can either have access to their personal sets of art supplies or share them when they get a little older or more comfortable around their peers.
Make sure to give the children observable access to each others’ pieces to encourage observation and imitation. They can learn from each other and create their methods and strategies to color their picture. It is good to encourage the kids to observe and learn from one another if you see that they may not be doing so.
Arts and crafts, particularly drawing and painting, are fantastic at improving gross and fine motor skills in growing children. Forming the muscle strength and coordination necessary to hold a pencil takes time, making preschoolers an ideal group for this parallel play activity.
The arts aren’t only beneficial for small hands and growing minds; everyone can get a boost from creative sessions. While children around six years or older might not engage in parallel play in the strictest definition, they do enjoy quitting sitting in each other’s company. This proves a wonderful opportunity to decompress after a long school day and chat about nothing and everything.
Build Sand Castles
Parallel play is not simply an indoor activity. If you can arrange a playdate at the beach or in a sandbox, get the kids outside and let them build sand castles.
Just as with the previous activities, it is important for the children to be able to observe and learn from one another. Also, they can begin sharing tools and buckets to create their masterpieces. This is a fantastic way to get out in the sun and the fresh air while helping your child’s development.
If you want your child to be more active, you can always throw a dance party! Dancing in the same space not only provides ample opportunity for observation and quick and easy imitation, but it also burns all of that energy that your tot has stored away since morning. Plus, it leaves little to no mess behind when the play date is finished.
Dancing is also a great way to help your child progress into the next step of play development: associative play. You may find that the children want to try to dance together or just smile and giggle from afar. Ultimately, they interact during the activity, even if they don’t quite have a common goal just yet.
Dance classes can be a powerful force for good in the lives of older children too. Dance can introduce them to new friends, boost self-esteem, and improve mood. Similar to parallel play, dance routines involve little talking but work to build interpersonal connections and teamwork.
Building blocks are another great way to get children to think on the creative side. A bunch of blocks allows children the space to bring their imagination to life. While it is another easy observe-and-imitate activity, these blocks can provide hours of fun for young ones.
Sensory tables are great for parallel play because of the numerous stations and items to play with. This table can include water, play-doh, sand, rice, and even sealed bottles filled with various shiny items. Children will have the opportunity to watch each other interact with the different stations and learn how the different items work together and separately.
How Do I Support Parallel Play?
This is an easy one: Encourage your child to watch their peers while they play and incorporate new ideas into their play. You are supporting parallel play simply by providing opportunities for your child to play with others. Most of the development during this play stage is natural and will come in its own time.
Parallel play is a crucial part of the development of growing children. They acquire necessary social skills and learning strategies during this time in their life, and it is imperative that they have ample chances to let those skills blossom. This will create valuable habits like learning from trial and error, discovery through experience, and exposure to new materials and spaces.
The social skills that come with parallel play are also significant. Your child will learn to observe how others create and then mimic those behaviors until they can incorporate them into their own strategies or ideas.
Most ways that children can engage in parallel play involve creative outlets such as drawing, painting, dancing, and building. They use their imagination to create something new and then share it with others.
By encouraging your child to participate in these activities, you are actively engaging them in parallel play and encouraging them to take more steps into the developmental process, whether they realize it or not.