Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Parten's Categories of Play

I have taken Tray to a playground in the town where my college is located a few times and after he has exhausted himself out on the slide and starts playing in the sand, I find myself people watching. It's interesting to me to watch different children (almost all older and more mobile than Tray) play and interact and it turned the magic light bulb on for this post. In my developmental psychology class we discussed Mildred Parten's research regarding the correlation between children's play patterns and their social development. The research grouped play into six categories which illustrated the degree of children's social development. it fascinates me to be able to see concepts and research come to life (call me a geek, it's ok!)

1.  Unoccupied behavior describes the child who doesn't really seem to be playing but watches anything of momentary interest. This is my son when we first arrive on the playground; he likes to sit back and take it all in before he makes a decision about what he wants me to help him play on. He watches the other children, the trees, the cars entering and leaving the parking lot and after a while points, grunts and attempts to tell me what's interesting in his little one and two words sentences.

2. Onlooker behavior describes the child who spends most of the time watching other children play, may talk to them, but does not enter into the play. I've seen several little ones engage in this type of behavior, so intent and curious but not ready to make the move.

3. Solitary independent play describes the behavior of children who play alone with toys or objects that are different from those used by children near them but they make no effort to join in the other children's play.

4. Parallel play describes the behavior of children who play independently among other children and who play with similar toys as used by the other children (although not necessarily in the same way). They tend to play beside others without influencing the other children's play. This is the play my son assumes after his unoccupied behavior. I've seen so many children around his age do the same thing, all relatively close to each other but playing away in their own little world rather uninterested or shy.

5. Associative play describes behavior of children who play with others, taking, borrowing and lending toys, following others, and deciding who is playing in the group. Children engaged in this category play similarly is not identically, there is no division of labor or organization surrounding any goal in the activity. The children appear to be more interested in being in the company of the other children than in the actual activity that is going on.

6. Cooperative or organized supplementary play describes the behavior of children who play in groups organized around a goal, rather it be to make something, play a formal game, or dramatize a situation. One or two children control who belongs in the group and also direct the activities, the others in the group take on different roles, supplementing each other's efforts. The last time Tray and I were at the playground a group of little girls were cooperatively playing together and just listening to the level of organization of the game astounded me; they couldn't have been older than 8 but the amount of rules to remember had me guessing!

Socially, Tray is cautious but he is also 15 months and after a given amount of time spent observing he generally decides to explore what interests him. I've also found that on different days he plays differently which is perhaps dictated by his perception of the uncertainty of a situation. How do your little ones play?

Wishing you a pot o' gold, and all the joy your heart can hold. Thanks for reading!