Playing – by far the best part of being a child – is more than just fun and games. It’s the way that children explore, integrate, and master the world around them. According to the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, play is the work of childhood, and as children develop they progress from playing simple games of peek-a-boo to make-believe to, well, spending hours on their Nintendo DS!
At around the age of three, however, you may notice your child demonstrating rather odd playing habits. She might seek out other children, only to plop down next to them to play by herself. This desire to play next to instead of with others is called ‘parallel play’, which stems from the fact that children of this age don’t yet have the necessary skills for playing together – namely, co-operation. However, they are generally responsive to directions and able to take turns, so there are some things you can do to encourage your child to engage with others. For example taking turns throwing a ball to your child and her friends when they come to play or encouraging older siblings to play with your toddler will both teach her how to play co-operatively with others. Rest assured, however, that your child will naturally learn to play with others in her own good time anyway.