As children develop they will move from individual play to group play. How an older child chooses to play may depend on how they feel at the moment or a personal preference. The way most children play usually varies from day to day and situation to situation.
There are three basic forms of play:
Babies usually like to spend much of their time playing on their own. They are exploring all aspects of their environment from the sound of their own voice and the feel of their own body parts to those of others. They want to gaze upon, grab, suck and rattle any object that comes their way.
Older children at times will also prefer to play on their own. They may spend hours making up stories with their GI Joes or Barbie Dolls. They like to build, draw, paint, invent and explore by themselves. They hopefully will also like to read and even write on their own.
From the age of two to about three, children move to playing alongside other children without much interaction with each other. They may be engaged in similar activities or totally different activities but they like being around others their own age. Even though it may appear that they don’t care about the presence of the other children, just try separating them and you will see this contact from a far is very important to them.
By the age of three, children are ready for preschool. They are potty trained, able to communicate and socialize with others. They are able to share ideas and toys. Through interactive play they begin to learn social skills such as sharing and taking turns. They also develop the ability to collaborate on the “theme” of the play activity. The children not adults should institute play themes and structure. Adults should only intervene when children exhibit the need for coaching on social and problem solving skills.
Finally, children also like to play with adults. This can be one to one or in a group. It is important that parents spend time playing with their children. It is fun. Let the kids set the pace and become a part of their world. No need to teach or preach, just enjoy the experience.
Note: It is OK for kids to frequently engage in solitary play. However, the need to develop social and communication skills requires a balance. If a child ONLY plays by himself, it may indicate a problem. Don’t hesitate to talk to an expert such as your child’s pediatrician or teacher if you have concerns.