9 Types of Preschool Play

When a preschooler plays, he's learning all kinds of skills and lessons! Here are nine types of play and how to spot them.

Click on an item in the set below to see more info.

1. Unoccupied Behavior is When Your Child Keeps Himself Busy

What It Is: Watches anything that is exciting. Self-occupies.

What It Looks Like: Sits in one spot and looks around room. Plays with her own body. Stands around. Gets on and off chairs. Follows an adult or teacher.

2. Onlooker Behavior is When Your Child Watches Others

What It Is: Observes play of specific groups without actively participating.

What It Looks Like: Watches other children play. Stands or sits speaking distance from other children. Occasionally asks questions and speaks to children being observed.

3. Solitary Play is When Your Child Plays By Herself, Apart From Others

What It Is: Plays alone.

What It Looks Like: Pursues own play independently with separate set of toys. Does not regard other children.

4. Parallel Play is When Your Child Plays By Himself, Alongside Others

What It Is: Plays independently, alongside other children.

What It Looks Like: Sits near other children, but plays alone. Chooses toys that are similar to surrounding peers. Uses toys as she wants without interacting with others.

5. Associative Play is When Your Child Plays With Others During a Shared Activity

What It Is: Interacts with other children concerning the shared activity.

What It Looks Like: Borrows and loans toys. Interacts with other kids through play pieces. The play does not have an organized goal or product. Distribution of materials is not purposeful. Playmates focus on their own self-interests.

6. Cooperative Play is When Your Child Works With Others Towards a Goal

What It Is: Social interaction and purposeful play.

What It Looks Like: Playing a formal board game. Competitive interaction. Creating a material product. Acting out real-life situations.

Social Participation Typically Happens as Your Child Gets Older

What It Is: Parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play.

What It Looks Like: As preschool children get older they are seen more often engaging in social play. While preschoolers tend to play alone, they broaden their social horizons by playing with a larger variety of peers.

7. Sociodramatic Play is When Your Child Role-Plays Real-Life Situations

What It Is: Children role-play real life situations using their imaginations in social and symbolic play.

What It Looks Like: Takes on a make-believe role to imitate a scene. Substitutes objects for other materials through pretend. Continues with a theme in play for over 10 minutes. At least 2 people interact in play through conversation.

8. Emotional Play is When Your Child Conveys Her Emotions

What It Is: Experiences and expresses feelings through play.

What It Looks Like: Play can help children lessen anxiety and understand difficult experiences. Communicates joyful, sad, angry, and aggressive feelings. Acting out feelings can help children feel in control of emotions.

9. Role Play is When Your Kid Takes On New Roles

What It Is: Sociodramatic play that allows children to grow emotionally by taking on new roles.

What It Looks Like: Acts out emotions and experiences of the role they are playing. Understands differences in perspectives, thinking, and problem-solving.

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