The Power of Parallel Play

May 25, 2023 | 5 min read

As a caregiver, you’re always looking for ways to help your young child develop socially and cognitively. For children between the ages of 2 and 3, so much of the world is explored and best understood through different forms of play.

Obviously, play comes very naturally to most young children. It’s instinctual and provides them with valuable information about the world around them. Under that same umbrella, parallel play is an integral part of a child's development that can have a lasting impact. Parallel play activities refer to when two or more children play side-by-side without interacting with each other. It may look like they are playing alone, but this type of play is actually helping them learn essential skills such as observational and social learning.

Keep reading as we discuss what parallel play is, the benefits it provides, and activities that parents can use to encourage it in their children.

Discover the incredible benefits of parallel play for your child's social and cognitive development. Check out the latest blog post from @NEChildrensHome:Click To Tweet

What is Parallel Play?

Parallel play typically occurs between the ages of 2 and 3, where children play adjacent to each other but not directly with each other. These children may be engaged in similar activities or using the same toys, but their focus remains on their own play rather than interacting with their peers. This stage of play is crucial as it lays the groundwork for future social and cooperative play experiences.

How does Parallel Play differ from other forms of play?

As children grow, they progress through different stages of play, each with its unique characteristics and developmental benefits:

  • Solitary play (around 0-18 months): At this stage, children play independently and are primarily focused on exploring their environment and developing basic motor skills.
  • Parallel play (around 18 months-36 months): Children play side-by-side without direct interaction, gradually becoming more aware of their peers and beginning to mimic their actions.
  • Associative play (2.5 years to 4 years): Children start to engage in shared activities with a focus on common interests rather than structured collaboration.
  • Cooperative play (around 4-6 years): Children actively collaborate on a shared goal, learning to communicate, negotiate, and problem-solve together.

While all these stages are essential for a child's social and cognitive development, parallel play bridges solitary play and more complex forms of social interaction. It’s the first step in their natural development of play that starts to incorporate others, even if they’re not playing directly with each other.

Looking for ways to help your child develop essential social skills? Explore the wonders of parallel play with our latest blog post from @NEChildrensHome:Click To Tweet

The Benefits of Parallel Play

Parallel play has been found to offer numerous benefits for a child's social and cognitive development. This type of play encourages children to develop their own interests and allows them to explore their surroundings without feeling pressured to interact with others.

Additionally, parallel play can improve a child's communication and language skills as they learn to observe and respond to the actions of their peers. It also helps to promote problem-solving skills and encourages creativity as children are given the opportunity to come up with their own solutions to challenges they encounter during play.

Here are some more benefits of actively practicing parallel play:

  • Building social awareness: As children observe and imitate their peers, they begin to understand social cues, norms, and expectations.
  • Developing language skills: Parallel play exposes children to new vocabulary and language structures as they listen to their peers' conversations and narratives.
  • Fostering creativity: Children can draw inspiration from their peers during parallel play, sparking their imagination and creativity.
  • Enhancing problem-solving skills: By observing how others approach challenges, children can develop their problem-solving abilities and learn different strategies for overcoming obstacles.
  • Promoting independence: Parallel play encourages children to explore their interests and develop confidence in their abilities without relying on constant adult intervention.

Supporting Parallel Play at Home

Encouraging parallel play among young children can be challenging, but it's an important part of their social and cognitive development. If you're looking for practical tips to help your little ones engage in parallel play, there are several strategies you can try. Here are some ideas to get you started:

By following these tips, you can help your children develop important social and cognitive skills while also having fun and enjoying their playtime.

  • Create a conducive environment: Set up a dedicated play area with enough space for multiple children to play comfortably side-by-side.
  • Provide similar toys and materials: Offer multiple sets of similar toys or art supplies to reduce competition and promote parallel play.
  • Arrange playdates: Schedule regular playdates with other children of the same age group to provide opportunities for parallel play.
  • Encourage communication: Even though your children may not be playing together, they can still benefit from talking to each other and describing what they're doing.
  • Model parallel play: Engage in an activity alongside your child, demonstrating how to share space and resources without directly interacting.
  • Respect their space: Allow your child to explore and engage in parallel play at their own pace, intervening only when necessary to facilitate positive interactions.

Building on the Foundation of Parallel Play

As your little one grows and explores the world around them, it's important to provide them with opportunities to develop their social skills.

Here are some ideas to help support their growth:

  • Engaging in group activities: Encourage your child to participate in team sports, clubs, or classes where they can practice cooperation and collaboration.
  • Exploring role-playing games: Provide opportunities for your child to engage in imaginative play, such as dress-up or pretend scenarios, to help develop empathy and understanding of others' perspectives.
  • Reading books about friendship: Share stories emphasizing kindness, cooperation, and positive relationships.

By creating a conducive environment, providing similar toys, scheduling playdates, modeling, and respecting your child's space, parents and caregivers can promote parallel play and enhance their child's social and cognitive development at home. This way, their children can develop parallel play skills, become more confident, socially adept, and creative, and have an easier time forging positive relationships.

At NCHS, we are dedicated to providing a safe and loving home for every child. Reach out to our team to see what support we can provide to your and your family today.