Unit One: What is play?


Unit Goals

By the completion of this unit participants will be able to:

  • List the six patterns of play
  • Identify the six patterns of play
  • Define the six patterns of play behavior

A warm-up exercise


Pin.gifPlease reflect on the following questions and share your ideas with group members.

  • From your perspective, how do you define play?
  • Think of examples in your life when you participated in play activities.
  • What were the qualities of the events and interactions that classify them as play?

Six Patterns of Play

This course couples Parten's (1932) patterns of social play with Vygotsky's social-cultural perspective on play. Although Parten considered the patterns of social play as representing a developmental sequence, current findings reveal that these patterns are regularly manifested in the play of older children (Hughes, 2010). Therefore,in this course, Parten's classification is not intended as a developmental measure, but rather as a tool to describe observed play behaviors.[1]

  • Solitary: The child plays alone with little regard to children around him. For example, a child might be concentrating on a puzzle without showing interest in the activities of peers.[2]
  • Onlooker: The child watches another child or children at play. This child is involved as a spectator who may question or make suggestions but not participate in the actual activity. For example, a child might observe peers pretending to rescue a baby bird and offer comments on how to bandage the wing.[3]
  • Parallel: Children play next to each other, participating in similar but separate activities. For example, two children sitting in adjacent chairs might be silently engaging in an identical but separate beading activity.[4]
  • Associative: Children are focused on separate activities but demonstrate behaviors such as sharing, lending, turn-taking, and attending to peers. For example, two or more children may be sculpting with clay, while each is producing a separate work of art, there might be a discussion about their work, sharing of sculpting tools, or a conversation about a topic of interest.[5]
  • Cooperative:Two or more children are engaged in a play activity which has a common goal. In order to reach desired outcomes, group members fulfill individual roles. For example, two or more children have the common goal of building a block structure which can only be realized with full participation of the group members.[6]
  • Sociodramatic: Incorporates social and symbolic play. For example, two or more children decide to play the roles of customer and salesperson at a toy store. For a detailed description of Vygotsky's perspective on pretense or sociodramatic play, please follow the link to the last paragraph on page 426-427.[7]

Unit One Activity

Pin.gifBefore proceeding to the unit activity link, take a moment to review, reflect and discuss the information on the the six types of play with your group. If working independently, please post your responses on the discussion page, and respond/react to participants discussions. Topics you may want to incorporate into your discussions might include some of the following ideas:

  • Characteristics of each type of play
  • Contexts in your educational setting where you might observe the varied types of play
  • Examples of activities that correlate with each type of play

To begin, please click the activity link

120px-100_0998.jpg Activity


  1. Hughes,F.P.(2010).Children, Play, and Development (Fourth Ed.).Thousand Oaks, California:(Sage Publishing), 103.
  2. Ibid., 101.
  3. Ibid., 101.
  4. Ibid., 102.
  5. Ibid., 102.
  6. Lloyd,P., Fernyhough, C.(1999). Lev Vygotsky: Critical Assessments, Volume 2. New York: (Routledge) 126-127. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books.


Keeping Imaginative Play In the Kindergarten Classroom

Unit Two

Unit Three

Unit Four

Course Summary

Course Evaluation