Types of Play That Are Important In Child Development

Types of play that children exhibit, from solitary to cooperative, can signal their state of social development.

Types of play that children exhibit, from solitary to cooperative, can signal their state of social development.

Types of play are central to children’s development.

In fact, the pioneering developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky thought that, in the preschool years, play is the leading source of development.

Through play children learn and practice many basic social skills.

They develop a sense of self, learn to interact with other children, how to make friends, how to lie and how to role-play.

The classic study of how play develops in children was carried out by Mildred Parten in the late 1920s at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota (Parten, 1933).

She closely observed children between the ages of 2 and 5 years and categorised the types of play.

Parten collected data by systematically sampling the children’s behaviour.

She observed them for pre-arranged 1 minute periods which were varied systematically.

Types of play

The thing to notice is that the first four types of play don’t involve much interaction with others, while the last two do.

Unlike Jean Piaget who saw types of play in primarily cognitive developmental terms, Parten emphasised the idea that learning to play is learning how to relate to others.

While children shift between the types of play, what Parten noticed was that as they grew up, children participated less in the first four types of play and more in the last two – those which involved greater interaction.

1. Unoccupied types of play

In the first type of play, the infant does not really appear to be playing at all.

The child is relatively stationary and appears to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose.

This is because everything is new to the child, so even the smallest or most mundane object is full of wonder.

There is nothing for parents to do at this stage of developing, as babies know what to do instinctively: they just explore their world at the own pace.

2. Solitary (independent) play

The second type of play is when the child mostly plays on their own.

Generally, the child is completely engrossed in playing and does not seem to notice other children.

Blocks, stuffed animals, costumes, toy-figures often hold endless fascination for children in this stage.

This type of play is most often seen in children between 2 and 3 years-old.

Children that are more extraverted may not spend long on this stage, while more introverted children may continue with solitary play for longer.

3. Onlooker play

For the third type of play, the child takes an interest in other children’s play but does not join in.

They may ask questions or just talk to other children, but the main activity is simply to watch.

Onlooker play is common around three-years-old.

The child is learning how to play from the other children.

4. Parallel types of play

The fourth type of play involves children playing alongside each other, but not quite together.

The child mimics other children’s play but doesn’t actively engage with them.

For example, they may use the same toy or copy what the other child is doing with the toy.

While the children may not appear to be paying much attention to each other, this is an illusion.

They are actually watching closely as they learn.

This is the final type of play before children truly learn to connect with others.

5. Associative play

By around age five, children are learning to relate to each other more.

In the associated type of play, they are more clearly involved with with what the other children or child is doing.

In fact, they are now more interested in each other than the toys they are using.

For example, two children in this stage might each build their tower out of blocks, but be talking to each other at the same time.

This is the first category that involves strong social interaction between the children while they play.

6. Cooperative types of play

All the stages come together in this type of play.

Now children — typically of around four and five-years-old — start to cooperate with others.

They will now build their towers together, try to complete a puzzle together and compete in a board game.

At this stage come organisation enters children’s play, for example the playing has some goal and children often adopt roles and act as a group.

Criticism of these 6 types of play

Critics have pointed out that children do not necessarily go through this sequence of types of play.

Some toddlers may be able to play cooperatively and playing on their own is not necessarily a sign of immaturity in an older child.

The type of play that children indulge in is also influenced by the situation they are in.

For example, familiarity with the other children will make the more likely to interact.

More types of play

While these six steps were the main types of play that Parten described, there have since been many different typologies.

Here are some more common types of play:

  • Fantasy/dramatic play: dressing-up or role-playing are both examples of dramatic or fantasy play.
  • Symbolic play: Jokes, drawing, colouring and singing are all examples of symbolic play.
  • Physical play: for developing physical skills.
  • Constructive play: teaches children to build, manipulate and cooperate.
  • Competitive play: children learn rules, being part of a team and how to cope with winning and losing.

→ This article is part of a series on 10 crucial developmental psychology studies:

  1. When infant memory develops
  2. The mirror test for babies
  3. How children learn new concepts
  4. The importance of attachment styles
  5. When infants learn to imitate others
  6. Theory of mind reveals the social world
  7. Understanding object permanence
  8. How infants learn their first word
  9. The six types of play
  10. Piaget’s stages of development theory

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What Is Object Permanence In Piaget’s Theory?

Object permanence In Piaget’s theory is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when we can’t actually see them.

Object permanence In Piaget’s theory is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when we can’t actually see them.

Object permanence, or object constancy, in developmental psychology is understanding that things continue to exist, even if you cannot seem them.

Infants younger than around 4-7 months in age do not yet understand object permanence.

Understanding object permanence is a key part of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

What is object permanence?

Before they can develop an understanding of object permanence, young children must have a mental representation of an object.

Without understanding object permanence, though, young children must wonder where the world goes when they close their eyes.

Perhaps young infants, brand new in the world, experience their environment as a kind of nonsensical dream in which even the simplest properties of objects surprise them.

Or, perhaps they do have some intuitive understanding that objects continue to exist even when they can’t be directly experienced?

This is the question psychologists have been trying to answer while researching what infants in their first year of life understand about ‘object permanence’.

Jean Piaget’s theory of object permanence

From his research, Piaget concluded that children couldn’t properly grasp the concept of object permanence until they were at least 12 months of age.

In a typical experiment Piaget would show a toy to an infant, then hide it or take it away.

Piaget would then watch to see if the child searched for the toy.

From experiments like these, Piaget developed a six-stage theory of object permanence:

  1. 0–1 months: Reflexes – First babies use their reflexes to understand and explore the world. Their awareness of objects is poor, as is their eyesight.
  2. 1–4 months: Primary circular reactions – Babies start to notice some objects and movements are enjoyable. They discover their feet, arms and hands.
  3. 4–8 months: Secondary circular reactions – These are when babies do something to create a reaction, such as reaching for an object that is partially hidden. However, babies do not yet reach for hidden objects, perhaps suggesting a lack of understanding of object permanence.
  4. 8–12 months: Coordination of secondary circular reactions – One of the most important stages for cognitive development. Now the infant is goal-directed. This is when the earliest understanding of object permanence starts. Children can pull objects out from hidden locations.
  5. 12–18 months: Tertiary circular reaction – The child starts using trial-and-error to learn and solve new problems. The child can retrieve an object when it is hidden several times, as long as they can see it first.
  6. 18–24 months: Invention of new means through mental combination – A full understanding of object permanence occurs at this age. A child can understand when objects are hidden in containers. In Piaget’s theory, this is because children have developed mental representations. They can imagine the object without being able to see it.

Criticism of Piaget’s theory

Piaget has often been criticised for underestimating children’s abilities, in particular of object permanence.

Piaget’s ideas were challenged by a series of studies on object permanence carried out by Professor Renee Baillargeon from the University of Illinois and colleagues (e.g. Baillargeon & DeVos, 1986).

These studies used children’s apparent surprise at ‘impossible’ events to try and work out whether they understood object permanence.

Examples of modern object permanence research

In one study infants as young as 6.5 months watched a toy car travelling down a ramp.

Half way through its journey, though, it went behind a screen out of the baby’s view before exiting the other side, once more visible.

In one condition the infants saw a block placed behind the screen in the way of the toy car.

And yet when the car was released, experimental trickery was used so that the block didn’t stop the car’s progress.

Miraculously it still appeared from the other side of the screen.

This ‘impossible’ condition was compared with another condition where the block was placed near, but not in the way of, the car’s progress – the ‘possible’ condition.

Baillargeon found that the infants looked reliably longer at the seemingly impossible scenario.

This suggested they understood that the block continued to exist despite the fact they couldn’t actually see it.

They also must have understood that the car could not pass through the block.

This seems like reasonable evidence that infants can understand object permanence.

Object permanence from 3.5 months-of-age

In further studies Professor Baillargeon tested all sorts of variations on this theme.

Toy rabbits, toy mice and carrots were all used, with some defying the laws of nature in the ‘impossible’ conditions and others studiously following them in the ‘possible’ conditions.

Each time, though, infants looked longer at the apparently impossible events, perhaps wondering if they were dreaming.

These studies have now shown that infants as young as 3.5 months seem to have a basic grasp of object permanence.

While others have argued for alternative explanations and interpretations, when all these studies are taken together the idea that children understand object permanence is arguably the simplest explanation.

Infants are intuitive physicists

Using these results Baillargeon and others have argued that young infants are not necessarily trapped in a world of shapes which have little meaning for them.

Instead they seem to be intuitive physicists who can carry out rudimentary reasoning about physical concepts like gravity, inertia and object permanence.

So, perhaps infants don’t perceive the world as a completely nonsensical dream.

Sure, they have many new things to learn and many things surprise them, but they do seem to understand some fundamentals about how the world works from very early on.

→ This article is part of a series on 10 crucial developmental psychology studies:

  1. When infant memory develops
  2. The mirror test for babies
  3. How children learn new concepts
  4. The importance of attachment styles
  5. When infants learn to imitate others
  6. Theory of mind reveals the social world
  7. Understanding object permanence
  8. How infants learn their first word
  9. The six types of play
  10. Piaget’s stages of development theory

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When Babies Start Preferring Mom — Later Than You Think

Babies do not start preferring mom until later than you think.

Babies do not start preferring mom until later than you think.

A misconception often entertained by rookie psychology students is that babies develop a very quick psychological connection to their mothers, perhaps within hours or days of birth.

The reality is, though, that newborn babies don’t have much of a clue what’s going on right after birth.

Although mother (and father) are likely to very quickly form close attachments to their offspring, from the baby’s perspective it takes longer, much longer.

Newborn babies do not begin to prefer mother, father or anyone at first.

When babies start preferring mom

In fact, it usually takes infants until they’re about 2 or 3 months old before they start to show a strong preference for mom, dad or anyone.

While a baby is primed for social interaction soon after birth, its abilities are pretty limited.

Here’s the timeline (Simpson, 1999):

  • After 16 hours babies prefer the sound of human language to other noises (at least they start making rhythmic body movements which psychologists assume means they’re excited). But they don’t show any preference for particular voices.
  • After 2 days babies can tell the difference between their mothers’ faces and that of a stranger, but they still appear to show no preference.
  • After 3 days babies clearly prefer human voices, especially their mother’s.
  • After 3-5 weeks babies become especially interested in faces, and particularly in their mother’s eyes.

Overall, though, the preference for the mother (or other caregiver) is usually fairly weak at first.

Real communication from the baby’s perspective probably doesn’t begin until they’re about 3 or 4 months old.

At around that time they start to initiate social contact with their mothers.

Only between about 3 and 7 months of age do babies start to show a strong preference or attachment for mothers, fathers or members of their own family in general.

Newborn preference for mom

This misconception that babies show a preference for mom very quickly may stem from the study of other animals.

Famously, ducks and geese will ‘imprint on’ and follow around the first thing they see after they hatch.

Konrad Lorenz, a pioneer in ethology (animal psychology) found that newly born geese would imprint on him, then try to follow him everywhere, as though he were their mother.

Babies are much more fickle and probably wouldn’t follow you anywhere, even if they could.

The misconception might also stem from a confusion with research from the 1970s that found there was a critical ‘sensitive period’ shortly after birth that was particularly important for bonding between mother and baby.

Again, this research refers to the mother’s bonding with the baby and not vice versa.

Also, as later researchers have pointed out, this so-called critical period turns out not to be that critical at all.

Attachment between mother, father or another caregiver and child can successfully be done at a later stage, just as well as early on.

→ This post is part of a series on 10 myths about the mind.

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The Best 2 Strategies For Raising Happier And Wealthier Children

The two best parenting strategies help raise the happiest, wealthiest and most moral children.

The two best parenting strategies help raise the happiest, wealthiest and most moral children.

Research finds that the happiest, wealthiest, most moral and smartest children are raised by parents who:

  1. Pay their children a lot of positive attention,
  2. and use supportive child-rearing techniques.

In contrast, parents who combine a strict upbringing with positive attention tend to produce children who are less happy.

These children were, however, just as academically and financially successful.

Naturally, harsh parents produce children with the most negative mentalities who felt the least secure.

Children raised by easygoing parents, though, perform relatively poorly.

They were second only to those raised by harsh parents for low levels of security, financial success, and happiness.

The conclusions come from a Japanese study of 5,000 men and women.

For the research, an online survey asked people a series of question about their relationships with their parents during childhood.

These included statements like:

  • “My parents trusted me.”
  • “I felt like my family had no interest in me.”

From this, the researchers found six different types of child-rearing:

“Supportive: High or average levels of independence, high levels of trust, high levels of interest shown in child, large amount of time spent together.

Strict: Low levels of independence, medium-to-high levels of trust, strict or fairly strict, medium-to-high levels of interest shown in child, many rules.

Indulgent: High or average levels of trust, not strict at all, time spent together is average or longer than average.

Easygoing: Low levels of interest shown in child, not strict at all, small amount of time spent together, few rules.

Harsh: Low levels of interest shown in child, low levels of independence, low levels of trust, strict.

Average: Average levels for all key factors.”

These findings are from a discussion paper by Professors Kazuo Nishimura and Tadashi Yagi to be presented at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan.

Why Some People Don’t Learn From Their Mistakes

Not learning from mistakes? Part of the reason is down to childhood and how people weigh risk and reward.

Not learning from mistakes? Part of the reason is down to childhood and how people weigh risk and reward.

Adults who don’t learn from their mistakes often have had stressful childhoods and find it harder to sense risky situations approaching, research finds.

As a result, looming health, financial or legal problems could be more difficult to spot for people who were maltreated early in life.

But when the bad luck hits, people who have had stressful childhoods get hit harder — perhaps because it is more of a surprise.

Professor Seth Pollak, who led the study, said:

“It’s not that people are overtly deciding to take these negative risks, or do things that might get them in trouble.

It may very well be that their brains are not really processing the information that should tell them they are headed to a bad place, that this is not the right step to take.”

Study on why people don’t learn from their mistakes

For the study, young adults — some of whom were highly stressed as children — were given a series of tests of risk and reward.

The study showed that those who were maltreated at around 8-years-old found it harder to learn from their mistakes and to sense that loss was coming.

They made the same poor decisions when weighing risks against reward over and over again.

Professor Pollak said:

“It was our observation not that they couldn’t do math, but that they weren’t really attending to the right things.

We didn’t see people improving over time.

You might say, ‘Well, they don’t get how it works.’

But the people with high-stress childhoods, even after many trials, they weren’t using negative feedback to change their behavior and improve.”

Brain scans also revealed that there was relatively low activity in areas related to loss as people were considering their choice — helps to explain why some people don’t learn from their mistakes.

Professor Pollak continued:

“And then, when they would lose, we’d see more activity than expected—an overreaction—in the part of the brain that responds to reward, which makes sense.

If you didn’t catch the cue that you were likely to lose, you’re probably going to be pretty shocked when you don’t win.”

Professor Rasmus Birn, the study’s first author, said they want to expand this finding:

“Now that we have this finding, we can use it to guide us to look at specific networks in the brain that are active and functionally connected.

We may find that childhood stress reshapes the way communication happens across the brain.”

The study was published in the journal PNAS (Birn et al., 2017).

Childhood Spanking Leads To These Mental Health Problems

55% of people reported childhood spankings, with men more likely to have been spanked than women.

55% of people reported childhood spankings, with men more likely to have been spanked than women.

Childhood spanking can lead to many adult mental health problems, research concludes.

Adults spanked as children are more likely to feel depressed, drink too much, use illegal drugs and attempt suicide.

Dr Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, who led the research, said:

“Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems.”

Childhood spanking research

The study involved over 8,300 people aged 19 to 97.

They were asked how often they endured childhood spankings and whether they were abused in any way.

55 percent reported childhood spankings, with men more likely to have been spanked than women.

Those who were spanked had a higher risk of being depressed as adults, along with increased risk of other mental health problems.

It is important to avoid harsh parenting at all costs, said Dr Shawna Lee, an expert in the effects of child mistreatment:

“This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors.

Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

The study was published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect (Merrick et al., 2017).

Cool Kid Problems: What Happens To Them After High School

Cool kid problems mean that despite being popular in high school, things can go wrong after that.

Cool kid problems mean that despite being popular in high school, things can go wrong after that.

Teenagers who try to ‘act cool’ in early adolescence grow up to experience a range of problems in early adulthood, research finds.

‘Cool kids’ tend to do things like hang out with more attractive people, become romantically involved at an early age and engage in delinquent activity (smoking, drinking and petty crimes).

However, by the age of 22, these ‘cool kids’ are rated as less socially competent than their peers.

They were also more likely to have substance abuse problems and to be engaged in criminal activities.

Cool kid problems

The conclusions come from a study of 183 teens who were followed from the age of 13 through to the age of 23.

They all attended public schools and were from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds.

Professor Joseph P. Allen, the study’s first author, said:

“It appears that while so-called ‘cool’ teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens.

So they became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed.

These previously cool teens appeared less competent – socially and otherwise – than their less-cool peers by the time they reached young adulthood.”

The study was published in the journal Child Development (Allen et al., 2014).

The Psychology Of Play: Why Kids And Adults Should Play Outside

Research on the psychology of play suggests that both children and adults benefit.

Research on the psychology of play suggests that both children and adults benefit.

Children who play outdoors have a stronger sense of purpose and self-fulfilment than those who don’t, a study finds.

The study, published in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, found that kids who were outdoors playing for between 5 to 10 hours a week had a stronger spiritual connection to the Earth (Van Wieren & Kellert, 2013).

The study’s lead author, Gretel Van Wieren, said:

“These values are incredibly important to human development and well-being.

We were surprised by the results.

Before we did the study, we asked, ‘Is it just a myth that children have this deep connection with nature?’

But we found it to be true in pretty profound ways.”

The small study of the psychology of play involving 10 children from a mostly Christian background (7 of the 10) examined how they interacted with the natural world through in-depth interviews, diaries and simple observation.

The children who spent more time outside felt more humbled by nature’s power as well as feeling a sense of belonging in the world.

Being outdoors more also enhanced the children’s appreciation of beauty.

These children took greater notice of colour, symmetry and balance in nature as well as displaying greater imagination and curiosity themselves.

Van Wieren continued:

“This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean?

Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways.

So it’s a scary question: How will this affect our children and how are we going to respond?”

In a fascinating coda, the researchers also interviewed the parents and it emerged that the children who spent the most time outdoors had parents who had done the same when they were children.

The parents felt that this experience had significantly shaped their adult lives.

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Early Life Stress Has A Lasting Impact On The Brain

Toxic early life stress may critically affect memory, learning and the way emotions are processed.

Toxic early life stress may critically affect memory, learning and the way emotions are processed.

Chronic early life stress — like that from abuse, neglect or poverty — can have a lasting impact on the developing brain, according to research.

Toxic stress at an early age may critically affect memory, learning and the way emotions are processed, finds a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The research investigated exactly why early life stress can lead to such a wide range of negative outcomes later in life, including depression, anxiety, poor educational achievement and also physical problems (Hanson et al., 2014).

Seth Pollak, co-leader of the study, said:

“We haven’t really understood why things that happen when you’re 2, 3, 4 years old stay with you and have a lasting impact.

Given how costly these early stressful experiences are for society…unless we understand what part of the brain is affected, we won’t be able to tailor something to do about it.”

Study of early life stress

The researchers recruited 128 children at around the age of 12 who had experienced neglect, abuse or other serious, chronic stressors in the first few years of their lives.

The children and their caregivers were interviewed about their early life experiences and any behavioural problems they now had.

Their brains were also scanned, with a special focus on the hippocampus and amygdala, both of which are heavily involved in how the brain processes emotions.

The results from these children were compared with other children from middle-class backgrounds who had not been maltreated.

What emerged was that those who had suffered chronic stress in early life had smaller amygdalas than those who had not.

In addition, those who were from very poor backgrounds or who had been physically abused also had smaller hippocampi.

While the implications of the reduced size of the amygdala is unknown, a smaller hippocampus is a recognised risk factor for negative outcomes.

Unsurprisingly the children who’d suffered early life stress also had more behavioural problems, and the smaller the affected brain structures were, the greater the behavioural problems.

Seth Pollak said:

“For me, it’s an important reminder that as a society we need to attend to the types of experiences children are having.

We are shaping the people these individuals will become.”

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1 in 5 Children Experience Something Worse Than Parental Abuse (M)

The severe effect on adult mental health of an experience suffered by one in five children.

The severe effect on adult mental health of an experience suffered by one in five children.

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