The importance of parallel play

What is parallel play?

According to GEMS Education, parallel play is one of many important stages of play that introduce children to social interaction. During parallel play, children aren’t actually playing with each other but rather next to each other. Children may play with the similar toys but still work independently and are not talking to each other. This form of play is most common between 2-3 year olds, but it can happen at any age. 

Why is parallel play important?

Right now, your child is little too young for deep friendships and is still trying to figure out the big world we live in. Parallel play is a great start! Although they aren’t directly interacting, children are still learning social and observational skills. They are taking mental notes of what their friends are doing and eventually can mimic their behavior. Consider this a moment of positive peer pressure! Additionally, children can learn social niceties like taking turns and sharing. This stage is like a bridge that helps them grow their awareness which will lead to more complex activities and social maturity. 

How can you encourage parallel play?

Scheduling a parallel play date is a lot easier than you think! Here are some quick pointers to make sure you get the most out of every play session:

Don’t force it 

As you begin, it’s very important to let your child embrace their independence. If they aren’t interested in play or have something else in mind, don’t force it! During parallel play, you want your child to step out of their comfort zone but feel comfortable returning if they wish.

Bring out all the goods

Don’t hold back! Bricks, blocks, cars, dolls, stuffed animals, coloring books, play dough, and toy sets are all great additions to have on hand for a parallel play session. Specifically, toys that encourage creative thinking and building are perfect for parallel play. It’s important that every child has access to the toys so no one feels left out. We recommend placing the toys in the center of the room and place each child near the pile and allow them to pick which toy strikes their interest. Take a step back and watch from afar!

Remember: it’s okay if they don’t interact!

When you watch children parallel play, it’s easy to wonder why they aren’t playing together or even acknowledging the other children. This is perfectly normal (and encouraged!). The direct interactions will come with time as their social skills develop gradually. For now, sit back and watch what happens. 

Less is more

If you’re introducing your child to parallel play for the first time, it may bring them minor stress. Seeing a wide range of toys with other children may be a new sight for them. To get the most out of this play, keep the number of adults and distractions to a minimum. It’s also a great idea to keep this play to a short duration so they may feel encouraged to try again the next day. Remember, this is a skill-building stage and you should take this at your child’s own pace!

Know when to take it to the next level

Alternatively, if your child has been parallel playing for a while, it’s appropriate to begin encouraging direct interaction. Ask your child to exchange the toy with another friend. If all goes well, you can begin to explore more cooperative forms of play. If not, keep the parallel play strong – they’ll get there on their own time!

Bring the play outdoors!

Who says the play has to stay inside? Take advantage of the spring and summer months by taking the parallel play outside! You can follow all of the above steps no matter the location. We love the idea of parallel playing in a sandbox, kid-sized pool (with supervision, of course), on a picnic blanket, or at the park. 

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