Children learn through play, so this can be an opportunity to develop speech and language skills. For example: commenting on what the child is doing during play. This allows the modelling of correct vocabulary, without increasing the demands on a child. A child’s style of play will change and develop as they get older. Please see below for further information. 

Play Development 

This is a guide to how we expect children to develop their play skills.  All children develop at different rates so if you are worried then please see our referral guide to check if you need to make a referral.


Stages of Play

0-3 months​

Unoccupied play ​

  • A lot of body movements e.g.  with arms, legs, hands, and feet ​

  • Your child is discovering how their body moves 

3-24 months​

Solitary play ​

  • Child prefers to play on their own 

2 years​

Spectator/onlooker play ​

  • Child begins to watch other children playing but does not join in and play with them 

2-3 years​

Parallel play ​

  • Child plays alongside other children but not with them 

3-4 years​

Associate play ​

  • Some interaction with children playing around them e.g. a group of children playing on the slide or climbing frame ​

4 years +​

Cooperative play​

  • When a child plays together with others and is interested in both the activity and the children they are playing with 


References: (2023


Strategies to support development of play

  • Join the child in his play. Play alongside and copy his play.
  • Try not to lead or direct the child’s play. Allow him to play with the toy the way he wants to.
  • Comment on what the child is doing during play, using one or two word phrases:e.g. “Car up.”, “Wheel round.”
  • Don’t use language to direct the play or to ask questions. 
  • Copy the child’s play, so you have the same toy as each other/or a toy that you can do the same sort of things with: e.g. Two different objects than can both spin.
  • Copy the child’s play, stopping and starting every so often. Look for signs that he is noticing your is aware that he is being copies.
  • Move from playing alongside the child to swapping toys between you: e.g. Two objects that spin.
  • Swap toys and watch for awareness that he knows you are spinning the toys too.
  • Then move towards SHARING a toy: e.g. An object which spins.
  • Once you are sure the child is aware of you and your ‘spinner’, try having one ‘spinner’ between the two of you. To start with, the child’s turn will need to be a lot longer than yours, but slowly build up your turn and reduce his.
  • Use different toys that can be played with in the same way for different sessions: e.g. Different ‘spinners’.
  • When the child is enjoying playing with you, then introduce other sorts of toys.
  • Begin to show the child, different ways of playing with a particular toy. e.g. Child splashes in the water, show him how to pour the water in a funnel.
  • Encourage the child to watch your ‘play’ – making it interesting and fun.
  • Encourage the child to copy you play – and to anticipate what will happen in the play.


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