15 Parallel Play Examples

15 Parallel Play ExamplesReviewed By Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

➡️ Study Card
parallel play definition and examples
➡️ Introduction

Parallel play is when children play next to each other, but do not interact. The kids are sitting next to each other, they are engaged in a play activity, but they don’t talk to each other or engage in any type of interaction.

Dr. Mildren Parten (1932) identified 6 stages of play that occur during the first five years of childhood.

Parallel play can usually be observed in children between the ages of 18 months to 2 years.

Here is Parten’s original definition of parallel play:

“The child plays independently, but the activity he chooses naturally brings him among other children. He plays with toys that are like those which the children around him are using, but he plays with the toy as he sees fit, and does not try to influence or modify the activity of the children near him. He plays beside rather than with the other children There is no attempt to control the coming or going of children in the group” (p. 250).

Parallel Play Examples

1. Building with Blocks

children playing with building blocks

In a classroom, two toddlers sit next to each other, each with their own set of building blocks. One child might build a tower while the other constructs a bridge. They don’t directly communicate but occasionally glance at each other’s creations. This type of play allows them to observe different building techniques and develop their own skills independently.

2. Drawing and Coloring

children drawing at a table

At a table, two young children sit with paper and crayons, each focused on their own drawing. They might share the crayons without speaking, choosing different colors as they create their own pictures. By watching each other, they pick up new ideas and techniques without direct interaction. This helps them develop fine motor skills and creativity in a shared yet individual activity.

3. Sandbox Play

children playing in a sandbox

In a sandbox, two kids play side by side with their own sets of toys, like shovels and buckets. One child builds a sandcastle while the other digs a tunnel, both engrossed in their projects. They don’t collaborate but may look at each other’s work, gaining inspiration. This type of play fosters independence and spatial awareness while allowing them to enjoy each other’s company.

4. Playing with Dolls

playing with dolls

Two children sit on a rug, each playing with their own dolls and dollhouses. One child might be dressing a doll while the other arranges furniture in the dollhouse. They don’t interact but occasionally peek at what the other is doing, sometimes mimicking actions. This parallel play helps them develop social and imaginative skills by observing and copying behaviors.

5. Riding Tricycles

children on tricycles

At a playground, two toddlers ride tricycles around a paved area. They ride in circles or follow different paths without trying to race or interact with each other. They are aware of the other’s presence and might adjust their paths to avoid collisions. This activity helps them develop gross motor skills and coordination while learning to navigate shared spaces independently.

6. Playing with Cars and Trucks

children playing with cars and trucks

On a play mat with roads and buildings printed on it, two children sit and push their own cars and trucks around. One child might drive a car to a pretend grocery store while the other takes a truck to a construction site. They do not engage in conversation but occasionally glance at each other’s movements. This parallel play helps them develop fine motor skills and understand concepts of movement and transportation.

7. Doing Puzzles

children doing puzzles

Two kids sit at a table, each with their own jigsaw puzzle. One is working on a farm animal puzzle while the other is piecing together a picture of a park. They don’t help each other but might look at how the other approaches their puzzle. This type of play enhances problem-solving skills and patience as they focus on their individual tasks.

8. Crafting with Playdough

children playing with playdough

At a playdough station, two children sit next to each other, each with their own ball of playdough and tools. One child is making a snake, rolling the dough into a long coil, while the other is pressing shapes with cookie cutters. They do not share their creations but might watch how the other manipulates the dough. This activity promotes creativity and hand-eye coordination as they explore different ways to shape the playdough.

9. Reading Picture Books

children reading picture books

In a reading corner, two toddlers sit side by side, each with their own picture book. One child flips through a book about animals, pointing at pictures, while the other looks at a story about trucks. They don’t read aloud or share what they see but occasionally glance at each other’s books. This parallel play helps develop their interest in reading and storytelling independently while enjoying each other’s presence.

10. Playing with Action Figures

children playing with action figures

Two kids sit on the floor, each with a set of action figures from different themes. One child might be reenacting a battle scene while the other is setting up a camp with their figures. They don’t interact with each other’s play scenarios but may observe and adopt similar actions. This type of play fosters imagination and narrative skills as they create their own stories alongside one another.

11. Water Table Play

children playing at water station

At a water table, two children stand side by side, each with their own set of cups, boats, and water wheels. One child might be pouring water into a funnel while the other is floating a boat. They do not talk to each other but occasionally watch what the other is doing with interest. This type of play enhances sensory exploration and fine motor skills as they experiment with water independently.

12. Gardening

boys gardening

In a small garden patch, two kids kneel next to each other, each with their own set of gardening tools and plants. One child might be digging a hole to plant a flower while the other is watering a seedling. They don’t collaborate but may look at each other’s progress and methods. This parallel play helps them learn about nature and develop patience and responsibility through individual tasks.

13. Playing Musical Instruments

kids playing instruments

In a music room, two children sit with different instruments, such as a xylophone and a drum. One child is tapping out a rhythm on the xylophone while the other is beating the drum. They don’t play together but might listen to the sounds the other makes. This type of play encourages musical exploration and auditory development while allowing them to express themselves independently.

14. Cooking in a Play Kitchen

cooking

Two kids stand in a play kitchen, each using different sets of play food and utensils. One child might be pretending to cook a pizza while the other is making a salad. They do not share their food or discuss their dishes but occasionally peek at each other’s pretend meals. This parallel play supports imaginative play and role-playing skills as they create their own culinary scenarios.

15. Swinging on Swings

kids on swings

At a playground, two children sit on adjacent swings, each pumping their legs to move back and forth. One child swings high while the other swings low, focusing on their own rhythm. They don’t interact but may watch each other’s swinging techniques. This activity helps develop physical coordination and balance while enjoying the presence of a peer without direct engagement.

Conclusion

Parallel play is an interesting phenomenon in the stages of play. Although children are capable of speaking, they prefer not to do so.

Instead, they prefer to be in close proximity to each other, but yet, don’t interact. Parallel play helps children develop their motor skills and understand boundaries and seems to be a necessary step on the way to more social behavior.

➡️ References and Further Reading

References

Barragan, R. C., & Dweck, C. S. (2014). Rethinking natural altruism: Simple reciprocal interactions trigger children’s benevolence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(48), 17071-17074. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1419408111

Parten, M. (1932). Social participation among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology27(3): 243–269. Retrieved from: https://www.mcidenver.edu/childdev/SocialParticipationamongpreschoolchildren.pdf

Savitsky, J. C., & Watson, M. J. (1975). Patterns of proxemic behavior among preschool children. Representative Research in Social Psychology, 6(2), 109–113.

Vygotsky, L. S.(1967).Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child.Soviet Psychology,5(3),6-18. https://doi.org/0.2753/RPO1061-040505036

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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